Evoland is a love letter to a genre long past its golden age. By combining your favorite elements from The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy and Diablo, it manages to act not only as a nostalgic trip through some of the best gameplay features of the last twenty years, but also as a decent game in its own right. You’ll laugh at the jokes, you’ll get the references, but you’ll also question why so many classic franchises are finding it so hard to re-find their identities, when a small studio like Shiro Games can sum it all up so succinctly.
If, as a child, you imagined yourself as the hero of Hyrule or the adventurer who took on the bad guy and saved the world, you owe it to yourself to try Evoland.
Evoland starts out with flat, 8 bit graphics and with only the ability to move right. After a few paces, you pick up “left,” and from there you pick up the ability to move in four directions. As you explore, you’ll find more and more RPG/Adventure developments – turn-based battle, more health, extra weapons, better graphics, music, real-time combat and more. I’m sure I’m not the only one who, back in the good old days, stared open-mouthed as each of these developments happened, and Evoland gives you a chance to experience that all over again.
If I’m sounding a little nostalgic, a little dreamy, it’s because Evoland can bring that out in you. The evolution of the genre – as it is in Evoland – isn’t just a gimmick, something designed to get (relatively) old people in, but a feature created with a love of gaming. That love of gaming stretches right through the gameplay and has obviously influenced every design decision.
Alternating between Legend of Zelda-style dungeons and Final Fantasy overworlds, you’ll have to master both actual and menu-driven combat, although the latter isn’t really very difficult and never gets a chance to push you. The dungeons, on the other hand, can be brutally unfair, and actually the opening part of the game – where a single hit will kill you – is perhaps the hardest throughout.
You’ll still enjoy it though. Although the most annoying parts of the game will have you swearing into your keyboard, you’ll return for more. It’s not that there’s a great story, because there’s not really. It’s the references that’ll keep you going. From the games mentioned earlier, to modern classics like Skyrim and even through to the likes of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Like unlocking characters in Super Smash Brothers, you’ll delight as you turn every corner and see something new.
Perhaps my biggest surprise was discovering that it wasn’t only the nostalgia keeping me going, but the gameplay itself. Even in the earlier parts of the game, before the better graphics and control schemes, the game itself is very rewarding and holds up very well, even when it’s almost identical to titles released 25 years ago.
It’s not all good news. The different graphical styles and gameplay features means that Evoland is very linear. That wouldn’t be too bad – the games it’s referencing were very linear as well – but it’s also very short. An experienced RPG player will probably blast through it in only a few hours. There’s some collectibles in the form of hidden stars – and there are a few that you’ll really need to hunt for – but these are only for the most dedicated players. There’s also a card game but there aren’t really enough cards (or enough chances to play) to get you as off-focus as much as you would in, say, Final Fantasy IX. The card game itself is fun though.
The biggest problem though, is that you can’t use a controller. Although disappointing, I can deal with the game being too short. I can’t forgive dodging fire balls with WASD though, and 360 controller support is something I hope is added in a future update.
Graphics and Audio
As you play Evoland, the visual style and music will change massively. Part of the enjoyment of the game is collecting new features, new innovations, and that includes sound effects, colour and more. Although it’s quite a linear progression, and definitely planned out in a certain way by the developers, it’s handled very smoothly and each iteration of the graphics is gorgeous (or at least as gorgeous as you’d expect). The level design is very nicely done as well, although with only one dungeon/location set in each style, I suppose there was no need to stretch ideas further than they needed to go.
The audio is excellent. Like the Rutles took on the Beatles, Evoland manages to tease on the leitmotifs of Nobuo Uematsu and his contemporaries without ever getting too close. All the music sounds beautifully nostalgic without ever feeling too familiar. It’s handled very well.
I loved every minute of Evoland, my only disappointment coming from just how short it is. Just as I was beginning to warm to the characters and control scheme, it was over. Like any decent love letter, Evoland is short and sweet and leaves you wanting more.