Not only is Evoland extraordinarily funny, but also a creative, clever and well executed homage.
What if a video game told the story of the medium itself? What if the gameplay modernized as you progressed with the game’s story? That’s the premise behind Evoland: A Short Story of Adventure Video Games Evolution, a title that takes you on a journey through the history of video games. More precisely, through the history of the action-adventure and RPG genres, allowing you to unlock new mechanics, technologies, gameplay systems and graphical styles along the way. Evoland draws inspiration from the Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Quest and Diablo series and this is used to parody most of the tropes and classic elements that those series are famous for. Still, the most compelling aspect of Evoland is that most of the unlockables are used in some truly creative ways.
The basic commands, the ability to equip weapons, the inclusion of enemies, the concept of sound, save points or the fact that there’s a simple storyline are all elements that you find as in-game collectibles. As you progress, you’re taken through multiple eras that are represented by the use of different technologies. So while the game opens with the monochrome 2D visuals so characteristic of the Game Boy era, you eventually unlock Mode 7, pre-rendered backgrounds, 3D mode and HD textures, to name but a few.
Those who have played the aforementioned series will find a slew of references. A currency called Glis, magical crystals, an enemy called Kefka’s Ghost and a character named Sid are but a few of the allusions that will make sense to Final Fantasy fans. As you can imagine, the game has a great sense of humor and there are plenty of references to classic franchises: when you gain the ability to enter houses, the message: “You can now freely invade people’s houses” appears; when a girl asks the main character’s name a few minutes after talking to him for the first time, the game says: “The girl finally noticed you’re a human being;” when you find the Camera Zoom item, the game says: “You look very cool when you get an item” and the list of examples goes on and on.
Although Evoland is a parody that makes constant references to some of the most popular action-adventure/RPG games ever made, it’s an entertaining game in its own right. Nevertheless, a huge part of what makes Evoland so fun is finding all the references to classic series, so if you haven’t played any Final Fantasy or The Legend of Zelda, most of the humorous references won’t make much sense to you.
From a technical standpoint, the different visual styles and graphic filters are put to great use. Alternating between old-school and modern graphics eventually becomes a core mechanic that you need to take advantage of in order to progress with the story. While this transition allows the developers to show one of Evoland’s best features, it also integrates quite well into the experience. It definitely helps that the transition between 2D and 3D is so smooth, since slowdowns would totally break the illusion.
But once the initial hit of nostalgia wears off, faults begin to emerge. As I previously mentioned, some of the jokes fall flat and won’t be appealing to everyone. Although the humorous references are a huge part of what makes Evoland so entertaining, some of the jokes are so broad that even those who haven’t played every single Final Fantasy title will still understand what is being referenced. However, be ready to find some obscure allusions as well.
Then there’s a card minigame that’s very similar to Triple Triad (the card game in Final Fantasy VIII,) but with less cards and extremely simplistic rules. While this minigame was well received back in the day, I don’t understand the decision behind the inclusion of pretty much the same game in Evoland. Maybe it’s supposed to be yet another funny reference, but I feel like the card game could have used some new rules or at least more challenging opponents to make it a worthwhile diversion instead of a soulless minigame.
Finally, the game is a bit on the short side. It took me around five hours to get 86% of the unlockable items and I didn’t feel the need to replay entire sections again just to get a few hidden stars or cards. I must say that the length of the game is still quite appropriate taking into account that the main idea isn’t to level up so that you can fight overpowered bosses. Instead, the idea is to be exposed to as many jokes to the source material as possible and in this regard, Evoland never fails to deliver.
In the end, Evoland, is much more than a simple parody game. Of course, you need to have played some of the referenced games to find this experience compelling. Undoubtedly, one of the most impressive parts about this game is the ability to transition between eras in the blink of an eye. Thankfully, Evoland uses that in a novel and creative way.