Game Description: Evolution is a classic RPG that acts in true RPG style: an engrossing adventure with a story that unfolds as you progress through the game. You play Mag Launcher, the youngest in a family of adventurers, who has a taste for danger and the courage to back it up. Mag and his group of ragtag explorers are in search of an ancient artifact known as Evolutia, and the search will take your party to dungeons, forests, and caves that house some of the deadliest creatures in the land. See if you can lead your party to Evolutia and continue the Launcher family tradition with Evolution.
A quick look at the newest game releases will reveal that, more than ever, the industry is obsessed with providing the most dreary and hopeless environments for people to play through. It may be from a growing belief that gamers have 'grown up' and anything that isn't grim is for kids. And this is really relevant now thanks to a new generation of consoles and PCs grabbing much attention in the industry and developers are using this opportunity to show off their latest games. That's why a game like Ubi Soft's Evolution is such a breath of fresh air. From start to finish, Evolution avoids the melodramatic storyline and goes headlong in the direction of light-hearted humor and charm. As the first and only RPG on the Sega Dreamcast, Evolution is a sign of good things to come.
Everything in Evolution emits a charm and sense of humor that is lacking in the RPGs currently garnering industry attention. For one, the lead character, Mag Launcher (all the characters in the game are named after weapons munitions), is not like the standoff-ish Squall from Final Fantasy VIII. Instead, he is a happy-go-lucky kid who goes about his day in a totally upbeat mood. This optimistic and light-hearted nature is further exploited by the games supporting cast. In addition to his friend, Linear Cannon, Mag can travel with oddball characters like his uppity butler, Gre Naid, a voluptuous adventeress, Pepper Box, and an annoying little girl called Chain Gun. Each is full of personality and bring loads of humor to the game just when the story needs a kick.
Evolution also brings us a very unique look. Being the first 128-Bit RPG on the market, the high-resolution (640x480) graphics and 3D environments and characters can be considered a given. But what impressed me was that the developer, Sting, did a great overall job with the games graphic direction by creating a game with consistently rich colors and crisp textures. The characters in the game have a rather eclectic look to them; with gaudy clothes and anime-heavy designs, it's to the developers credit that this translation to 3D was made so well. As icing on the cake, Sting managed to add mapped facial animations to each character. During the course of conversations or even during battles, this feature punctuates the games most poignant moments, from the most hilarious to the most grim (these were rare), and further brings the characters to life. In the context of a press release, a feature like this can seem miniscule, but when observed in action, it adds to the game in an important way and should be appreciated.
The games biggest surprise for me was the combat system. While still a turn-based system at heart, Evolution's combat system places much more emphasis on battle formation than any other RPG of its kind. During a battle, each character is placed on one of three grids that extend from the foreground to the background. If, for example, Mag was at the front of the formation, he would have much more powerful attacks than a party member who was one or two grids behind him. Conversely, his defensive abilities would also be much weaker being that he is so close to the enemies (making him much more susceptible to attacks). And, if he decides to move back in the formation, he will naturally improve his chances defensively but at the expense of his offense.
But I know the question todays RPG gamers have (especially those who've play Square's PlayStation Final Fantasy games) is: how are the spells and attack animations? Well, unlike those aforementioned games, the spell and fighting animations are not at all exorbitant; in fact, they are actually quite enjoyable. Wanting to cram more personality into yet another part of the game, Sting has created some of the most unique animations you can find in an RPG. Almost every attack or grouping of spells comes with a unique animation. Take, for instance, Mag's Cyframe attacks. Since a Cyframe is a machine part used to enhance ones own human abilities, Mag gets to do some off-the-wall attacks that can range from multi-combo hits to earth shattering maneuvers (that can wipe out all the enemies onscreen). Each is unique and full of the prerequisite wow-factor that oftentimes carry RPGs nowadays. On the other side of this coin are the humorous moves of the snooty butler, Gre Naid, whose attacks are generally there for comic relief (which is fine, because they do do the job). Gre's version of a Sleep Spell involves him walking over to the enemy and lecturing them until they slip into a coma. Even more bizarre is an attack where he feeds the enemies poisoned or spicy foods (the look on his face while he's doing it is priceless). All the while, thankfully, there are little to no load times for the animations and they are short enough to make one forget about the loading torture that is Final Fantasy VIII.
Hearing me go on about the combat system as I did, it would be a correct assumption that the games focus is on the fighting. Evolution's main selling point is its randomly generated dungeons; this simply means that I could revisit the same dungeon repeatedly and never get the same layout (which garners thoughts of high replay value and sounds great on paper) but after seeing it in action, I can't say that it does the job. As you might expect, the designs of the dungeons can be quite simple, meaning long corridors or hallways that lead into medium- to large-sized rooms. Randomly, the rooms are placed in different spots but I believe it's the corridors that do the most moving and therein lies the problem. The corridors could sometimes range from incredibly long to incredibly short but either way, I was usually lead in circles as most of the corridors connected to form loops or U-turns.
As if that wasn't enough, Sting decided to thrown in more than a fair share of traps to screw up my journey. Usually, I'd have no problem with that but this game went a little overboard. There is guaranteed to be a trap located in every room so navigation is always tricky but after running into a few traps, I resorted to the cheesy tactic of hugging the wall to get through an area unhurt. Granted, some traps do well like replenishing all of the crew's hit points but most of them do dastardly things like wiping out my entire inventory of health items or blinding my crew. As an aside, there is a rare item, which is sometimes made available, that can show me where all the traps are and what they did but it was not worth looking for because it would only drag the game on. Speaking of dragging on, Evolution is a tease when it comes to battles. The enemies are in plain sight so I could easily pick and choose when I wanted to fight, but when it came to bosses, even after I wiped out every monster in a dungeon, I found that I was still lacking in Hit Points to defeat them. This meant a lot of backtracking to take on even more monsters and having the fight so much can get truly tedious, especially when you consider that there can be as many as 20 floors in each dungeon. Eventually, it gets to be too much.
If we all agree that story is king in all the great RPGs, then Evolution comes up short of greatness. After seeing the opening intro and cut-scenes, my interest was peaked. Here, I learned about Mag's father going off to find the elusive Evolutia Cyframe and, in essence, leaving poor Mag to single-handedly repay the mounting family debt. I was also curious about what the deal was with Linear and why she seemed to be so important to everyone. But as the game progressed, this all seemed to be thrown onto the backburner and everything fell into a predictable cycle of sending me off to the ruins (where most of the game is spent) just to come back to town for a few more snippets of cut-scenes. Admittedly, everything builds up towards the end but before you get there, its very easy to forget that there was any tension or conflict to begin with. The lack of any meaningful character interaction also doesnt help Evolution's cause. Progress in the game occurs only after a dungeon is beaten and not through any sort of dialogue. I think a little more emphasis on this side of things would have balanced out the games tone overall. As it stands, Evolution is weighed down by all the action elements.
Considering all the RPGs on store shelves and on the horizon with morbid subject matter, a game like Evolution could be passed up for not going that route. There isnt an end-of-the-world scenario here spanning multiple discs and hours of FMV just to advance a majorly generic storyline. Instead, what you will find in Evolution is a game with an excellent battle system, solid graphics, and a light-hearted story with lots of laughs. In my case, this was such a breath of fresh air that I would consider it a good start for the Dreamcast RPG library.
I agree with Dale that the impressive graphics, relaxed nature, and often-humorous settings of Evolution is what sets it apart from the dozens of other RPGs on the market. At the same time, the goofy antics of the anime-style characters and settings isnt what impressed me most about the game. Rather, it was the games throwback to the olden days, when RPGs were about hacking and slashing your way through monster-filled dungeons in search of treasure, experience, and exotic weapons. Todays console RPGs, like Final Fantasy VIII, seem to have abandoned those elements in favor of complex narratives that reach epic and operatic proportions.
Evolution, on the other hand, is an action-oriented RPG that focuses more on the joys of adventuring through dungeons or, in this case, Ancient Ruins. Players need to carefully equip themselves with the right weapons and items before entering the often-perilous Ancient Ruins not only because of the numerous encounters with beasts and foes, but also because inventory room is excruciatingly limited. This means that players will need to constantly manage their inventory and make tough choices between keeping items and weapons that are presently helpful or exchanging them for found treasures that can be cashed out later. If an adventuring party dies in the ruins, all the found treasures are lost. This creates a constant tension between balancing out the inventory, completing the overall quest, or exiting the dungeon early in order to cash out found treasures to buy weapon and armor upgrades. This dynamic that encompasses much of the gameplay interjected quite of bit of strategizing on my part and kept me interested throughout.
I was also impressed with the battle system as Dale was. Part of what makes adventuring fun is the potential of acquiring new weapons and abilities. Evolution doesnt disappoint in that regard. There are plenty of weapons, skills, and special attacks for characters to gain all along the quest and while some of the attacks are hilariously strange and unusual, they also help keep things refreshing. The grid format that allows characters to move forward and backward also added some interesting gameplay elements. Since many special attacks can only affect a row of enemies or an enemy with a particular placement, strategy is also to force enemies into position by means of special skills and then unleashing the appropriate special attacks thereafter.
While I liked the old-school hack n slash style of play and its accompanying battle system, there are a few serious problems that keep Evolution from being considered great. One bit of strangeness is the way characters cant use their special healing skills outside of combat. This means that if a party is poisoned or hurt, youd have to either use an item in the inventory or wait until the next battle. It was a notable design flaw. Another issue is that despite having tons of weapons, items, and special skills at your disposal, a great deal of those things are practically useless (the improvements made to certain upgraded weapons are hardly apparent). Some items seemed to never perform up to expectations or they are simply ineffective in application. This quality, along with enemies being either too strong or too weak, gave Evolution a sense of unbalanced gameplay and had me wishing that some of the more innovative gameplay elements would be re-incorporated into a more well rounded game.
These aforementioned flaws are still, for the most part, minor quibbles about what is otherwise a very solid and streamlined game. The story is admittedly simplistic and its final conclusion is more an ending for an hour-long TV episode than the typical grand conclusion to a lengthy struggle that RPG fans are now accustomed to. Still, this is a moot point when you consider what Dale and I have said earlier. The pleasure of Evolution comes from the actual adventuring and not from any long and drawn-out epic story of love and war. Anyone who plays Evolution with that understanding shouldnt be disappointed.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Mild Animated Violence, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco & Alcohol
Parents should be aware that they are some suggestive language sprinkled about the game and the main character, Mag Launcher, despite milk being his drink of choice, seems overly obsessed with talking about alcohol. As a catch-22, the game is easy enough that it would be a great gift to younger player or someone new to RPGs.
Dreamcast-owning RPG fans looking for games on the system willl in all honesty have no choice but to pick up Evolution. That's not to say that Evolution isn't a very good game but it is also the only RPG on the system (Eternal Arcadia, Grandia 2 and Phantasy Star Online are quite a ways off).
RPG fans in general should be aware that there are no excessive FMV clips or load times that Square has forced on the gaming public with its last two releases. Also the story is not as deep and reaching. Evolution is fun and light, so I would say it's better for someone looking for a fun diversion while you wait for the other titles to arrive.
Those who prefer RPGs heavy on battle will find a gem in Evolution.