Evolution 2: Far Off Promise

Game Description: Mag Launcher and his crew are back for more role-playing adventures on the Dreamcast with Evolution 2. Delving deeper into the story and characters than did its predecessor, Evolution 2 starts by showing how Mag's dungeon-exploring exploits have gained him a little notoriety, leading Dr. Whitehead to invite him on a new expedition. This sequel adds a new character to the cast, Yurka, but there's reason to suspect his motivations. You'll fight battles both day and night, collect treasure, and solve puzzles that bring you further into the game's story. Evolution 2 features 3D characters, a third-person perspective, Visual Memory Unit support, and a turn-based battle engine that's easy to learn.

Evolution 2: Far Off Promise – Review

I always appreciate a game that succeeds in trying new things. Having become bored-to-tears with the current state of role-playing games, I've been searching for a game that digs its own unique little fox hole on the battlefield of cookie-cutter RPG epics. I think I might have found one in a quirky little thing of a game called Evolution 2.

The sequel to Dreamcast's very first RPG, Evolution: World Of Sacred Device, Evolution 2: Far Off Promise doesn't tell a particularly enthralling story, nor does it provide much of a break from the familiar RPG fighting. What it does do is take a more logical and fun approach to a genre that has changed very little over the years. Although they all sport similarly ridiculous names (perhaps as a parody), the characters in Evolution 2 aren't the brooding, melodramatic losses that infest every other RPG. Quite the contrary, they're almost always smiling and jumping around.

The game's young lead, Mag, is a happy adventurer who can hardly wait for his next job. His cohorts include a pompous butler named Gre; a whiny little pain-in-the-ass named Chain; a timid, skinny twig of a girl called Linear and the no-nonsense flirt, Pepper. Evolution 2 imaginatively combines this wacky cast with a different and lighthearted game philosophy to give the game energy and charm. Here we have adventurers who don't use swords and shields in their battles. They fight with frying pans, wooden mallets, giant bowling balls, vacuums, megaphones and propellers. They heal and strengthen each other by shouting words of encouragement and exchanging gifts.

Evolution 2 caught my attention in many other ways once I got into it. This game is set up a bit differently than the rest of its ilk. There's no pointless walking around on a world map waiting for invisible beasties to attack you. Instead you jump straight into the fray, and try to imagine this—you can actually see the monsters in the places you explore, so you can avoid them if you want to. Not only that, but you can even sneak up behind enemies and surprise them to get the advantage in a fight, and they can do the same to you. This is also a game that says, "Look, there's no way in hell a giant rat, a cockroach or a rhinoceros is going to leave behind money after you kill it—that doesn't make any sense. Animals don't carry cash around, so in this game you have to earn your money in different, more sensible ways." Indeed, in Evolution 2 you make your living by working for The Society—an upper-class university that commissions Mag to find artifacts for one of its museums. After each successful excursion, Mag and his team are compensated for their work. Money can also be earned by collecting "appraisal items." These are prehistoric valuables you find throughout your quests that the museum will buy from you, but they can also be stored and combined with each other to create "rare appraisal items," which are worth even more money. Now why can't other games think of simple, logical things like this?

Evolution 2 isn't a very long game. It can be completed in under 15 hours—so by typical RPG standards it's a pretty short affair. The game keeps itself brief by cutting out the unnecessary traveling and fighting in between destinations and instead focuses strictly on exploring labyrinthian dungeons and fighting the many monsters in them. This is both a good and a bad thing in my opinion. It's good because the gameplay is simple and tightly focused. It's bad because since dungeon hacking is all you do in the game, it can become extremely tedious. Despite the fact that you can pick your own fights with the monsters, there's no less fighting in Evolution 2 than in other RPGs that feature random enemy encounters. You still have to fight to gain experience and attack points, and most of the time there's no getting around an enemy that's in your way. The game does have a fun fighting system that allows for many ways to attack, and you can plan your strategy through various battle formations, but it still isn't enough to keep the action from becoming monotonous.

All of the game's dungeons basically play exactly the same, which makes it easy to lose interest. The variety of monsters and the level design never changes much while you're playing through a particular dungeon, so it always feels like the same thing over and over again. As the game progresses, the dungeons only take longer to complete, so it's easy to lose your patience and just try to find the exits as fast as you can. The dungeons are filled with numerous traps and hidden rooms to keep you on your toes, but there isn't enough differentiation in the gameplay from dungeon to dungeon to really make the game break out from the standard RPG mold. Also worth noting is the item management, which can be a real pain. This is true especially at the beginning, when you're very limited as to how much the team can carry. Later in the game, you acquire various backpacks that allow you to carry more, but even then you're forced to constantly drop items in dungeons to make room for others you find.

It's hard not to like a game that's filled with so many good ideas, especially one that's so technically sound. Evolution 2 features brightly colored visuals, well-written subtitles and a fantastic musical score. And if you can live with the nature of the repetitive dungeon fighting, the game actually plays pretty well. However, I couldn't help but think that the game was merely a foundation for something that could have been much more. The game can be played from a helicopter view of the action or a behind-the-back view that brings Evolution 2's world up close and personal. While in the third-person perspective though, I never felt the atmosphere of this world like I should have. Everything looks good, but the game never truly comes to life. There just isn't enough to do in this world for it to feel like anything else but a game. It's all combat and preparing for combat. While playing, I kept wondering what Evolution 2 might have been like had it not limited itself and had maybe gone for that epic feel. Instead it stays small and different—which is admirable—but why settle for cruising altitude when you can achieve orbit?

If you can endure the many hours of dungeon exploring and monster fighting, you won't be rewarded by the game's story, either. The characters are fun to watch, but the plot isn't very interesting, and before it's all over the story deteriorates into the boy having to save the girl from the evil guy. However, I did like how the game grades your performance at the end. If you can meet certain criteria upon finishing the game (collecting all the appraisal items, fighting more monsters, making better time), you'll be treated to different outcomes, so the incentive is there to play the game better. The game is also filled with frenetic, slap-stick Japanese dialogue that will leave you in stitches.

I played another Dreamcast RPG last year called Time Stalkers that shared many of the basic concepts found in Evolution 2. Time Stalkers was lousy because it couldn't find a way to make its ideas work. Evolution 2 is the game Time Stalkers wanted to be. It manages to live up to its creativity by employing smart and useful ideas that actually move the genre forward, and it sustains its uniqueness with fun energy and a much-appreciated sense of humor. There's a lot to like in this game, but ultimately its limited scope almost reduces it to an "RPG lite." To a certain extent, that was enough for me. Then again, I would've have liked to have seen what else this game could have achieved had it tried just a little harder. Rating: 7.0 out of 10

Evolution 2: Far Off Promise – Second Opinion

From Bens review of Evolution 2, I can tell he didnt play the first part. I know because the sentiments he expressed about the sequel are very similar to my critique of the original. Those exposed to the series for the first time—whether it be part one or two—are bound to have a positive reaction. The unusually lighthearted, comedic and good-natured feel to both games make for a very likable and approachable initial experience. The only problem is that being different for the sake of being different will only cover your mistakes for so long and get you so far. Evolution 2 is a classic case of creators resting on their laurels and going back to the well too many times with the same old material.

The first Evolution game was far from perfect, but I still have a soft spot for it because it had a fresh take on the RPG genre. The game may have been overly repetitive in design, but I hardly ever noticed because I was still getting to know these wonderfully personable characters; appreciating the joyful graphics; figuring out the nuances of the battles; and still trying to see what new abilities and attacks my party would learn along the way.

The problem with the sequel is that it follows the exact same structure as the original with very little deviation, improvement or even refinement. The game never really bothers to introduce any significant new characters or game mechanics. Heck, even the quirky "abilities" that I loved so much in the original were merely ported over in the sequel rather than coming up with entirely new ones. To be fair, there may have been some new attacks or general differences in the gameplay and characters, but nothing significant to the degree that really caught my attention.

So without any new innovations to keep me interested (or distracted), I was forced to focus on the titles more fundamental elements, like gameplay and design. What I found much more apparent this time around was how boring, repetitive and unchallenging the game could be. No longer impressed by style, I had to focus on what little substance that was there. That basically entailed one annoying battle after another with dull-as-dirt monsters and sleep-inducing dungeon layouts. The only thing that drew any sparks for me were the boss battles (and that was mostly because I knew the stage was close to finish, and I could take a nap since I was already feeling so groggy).

Its really all a shame because the developers had in their hands a decent creative commodity that could easily be stretched out into a long-running franchise. But instead of going back to the drawing board and reevaluating what worked and what didnt from the original, the developers basically rehashed the same title twice. That philosophy unfortunately is contradictory to what I liked about the original title to begin with. The developers need to identify those innovative qualities from the original, redefine them, come up with more exciting ideas, and fix all the old problems as well (sounds like recipe for almost any sequel actually). Maybe then well have on our hands a classic title in the making and not another forgettable RPG amidst a sea of mediocrity.

Though keep in mind that this review comes from someone who played and enjoyed the original. If you are new to the series, there may still be some enjoyment to be had from the positive qualities that Ben and I mentioned about the sequel. Rating: 5 out of 10

Evolution 2: Far Off Promise – Consumer Guide

According to ESRB, this game contains: Mild Animated Violence, Use of Tobacco & Alcohol

As far as parents are concerned, Evolution 2 doesn't really deserve its "Teen" rating. Aside from the occasional cute animal dropping dead to the ground during a battle, this is a game that younger gamers will probably enjoy. Evolution 2 is even a good introduction into the world of RPGs for the kids who haven't experienced it.

RPG fans will probably want a bit more to chew on than what Evolution 2 offers, but if they look hard, they might find enough there to stay busy and entertained.

Dreamcast owners would be wise to give this game a chance. It's fun in its approach and contains a surprisingly deep battle system that underlies the game's child-like atmosphere. And don't forget that this game is now pretty cheap, so even if you don't like it much you won't be out much more than $15.