Developed by France-based studio Shiro Games, Evoland is more of an indie developer’s love letter to classic RPGs than it is an RPG. It starts out with that charmingly familiar 8-bit black and green visuals and, as you play through, gradually evolves into something more contemporary . You pick up chests scattered across the game that unlock some changes that most gamers today take for granted today. From seemingly minor aspects like the ability to walk diagonally across tiles to more major and groundbreaking features like pre-rendered backgrounds and dynamic lighting. Some chests also introduce generic classic RPG elements that go would go unnoticed when absent but then seem obviously inherent like those annoying children running around in towns or the two old men asking you if you want to play a mini-game.
The game’s graphical and somewhat mechanical evolution, however, does not reflect how far RPGs have gone in terms of gameplay. The combat covers only the bare minimum of classic RPGs; Evoland isn’t really a game, it’s more of a technological and mechanical interactive showcase. Due to the fact that it was developed independently, the studio did not reach as far as a, let’s say, Final Fantasy XIII but it does reach the Gamecube era which is still really impressive considering the massive technological gap.
Evoland‘s combat mechanics play homage to three distinct styles apparent in classic RPGs. It starts out like Zelda where at first you die after one hit but progresses to the point where you get a HP bar and are able to gain your health back by picking up random enemy heart drops. This serves as the main playstyle throughout the game when the player is within and instance. Turn-based combat is introduced in the open-world complete with gaining XP and levels. As mentioned above, the game only offers the bare minimum and the game is mind-numbingly easy so these turn-based fights quickly grow dull and redundant. There isn’t any space to formulate any sort of strategy because the combat mechanics are so incredibly simple and the enemies pose absolutely no threat.
We’ve all experienced how annoying random encounters can be but we know that in RPGs, pulling through with them is necessary to grind for more XP. In the case of Evoland, it is not a game that focuses on grinding and combat because it is essentially just a showcase. Grinding becomes pointless because in the end run, your grinding won’t really show for much because the enemies are already too easy. There’s just no point. When you gain XP in the open-world, it is unclear whether the XP transfers to your stats while you’re within instances and most of the game is played within instances so, again, it just all feels a bit redundant. I understand that it is all just for show but they should have at least made the combat more fun.
Aside from those two main combat styles, Evoland also squeezes in other tributes to games like Diablo. Shiro Games also incorporates Bomberman‘s skill to use bombs on fragile objects as part of both the Zelda-style combat and the puzzle solving.
In some areas, the player is able to turn back time and make the game look gloriously retro. This plays in to Evoland‘s puzzle solving aspect. The puzzles themselves are quite clever and very familiar at the same time. Though momentarily entertaining, the novelty wears off quickly due to the fact that it is overly reminiscent of classic puzzles. This has all been done before, we’ve all seen these types of puzzles so many times in so many classic RPGs and because of our familiarity, they become quite easy to solve.
One thing I like about Evoland is how it is not oversaturated with videogame references. Plenty of other independently developed titles that have similar premises as Evoland tend to allude classic video games too much that it just feels pretentious. With Evoland, the allusions are subtle and not over the top. The plot, on the other hand, seems intentionally cliche. The game centers around Clinks who is later on joined by Kaeris whose abilities include healing and magic. A corruption takes over their land as nature dies around them. It is up to Clinkz to save the world and defeat the villain Zephyroth by training to become a better fighter, collecting this and that amulet, acquiring a ship built by Kaeris’ uncle Sid, etc. Of course, for a game as small as Evoland, I didn’t really expect a groundbreaking story.
Evoland is enjoyable as long as you don’t treat it as an RPG. It is technologically impressive but falls short of an entertaining experience. If you want to step through and witness the evolution of classic titles that made RPGs they are today then you should definitely play this. However, if you want to revisit and reabsorb all the great developments RPGs have gone through then I suggest you go and actually replay a classic RPG