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. Rating: 8 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui

Chi Kong Lui

In the 1980s, Chi grew up in small town on the outskirts of New York City called Jackson Heights. Latino actor, John Leguizamo referred to the town as the "melting pot of the world," and while living there, Chi was exposed to many diverse cultures, as well as a bevy of arcade classics such as Pac-Man, Space Ace, Space Harrier and Double Dragon. Chi's love of videogames only seemed to grow as his parents finally caved and bought him an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (after being the only kid in the block without one). In the 1990s, Chi finagled his way into the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts.

Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.

Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers GameCritics.com his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that GameCritics.com will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
Chi Kong Lui

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