There is a reason behind Nintendo’s Virtual Console titles, the new Rare Replay for Xbox One, and Capcom’s upcoming Mega Man Legacy Collection: these companies know that nostalgia is a powerful thing. Shiro Games’ newest title, Evoland II: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder, shows exactly how powerful nostalgia can be.
Evoland II tells the story of Kuro, a red-headed young man who awakens in a forest with no memory of who he is or where he comes from. From there, he meets a spunky and intelligent young woman named Fina, and together they embark on a time-travelling adventure to solve the mysteries of Kuro’s past, and eventually, save the world from demonic destruction. Along the way, they meet new friends and allies who join the party, each of whom have similar yet distinct abilities to aid Kuro and Fina throughout their quest.
The story of Evoland II isn’t wholly original, but it is fairly compelling and quite interesting. It feels a bit like one part Star Ocean: The Second Story, and two parts Chrono Trigger – with a dash of every other RPG ever. In fact, the similarities between this game and Chrono Trigger are numerous. The time-travelling plot device and Kuro’s appearance are the most immediately noticeable, but the comparisons do not end there. Fina seems very much like a more juvenile version of Marle, and later in the game you meet Velvet, who is nothing more than a purple-haired Lucca. There may be a lot that these two games have in common, but sharing plot elements and characters with an incredible game like Chrono Trigger certainly serves Evoland II well.
In its most basic form, Evoland II is a retro-themed adventure RPG with one of the most interesting gameplay features I have ever seen. The game begins in the past, with Kuro in some sort of forced combat training simulation. During this brief introduction, the graphics and color scheme make it feel like you are playing on an original GameBoy. But from that moment on, as you jump forward and backward through time, the visuals evolve and devolve with each time period you enter. Kuro and Fina travel through worlds of upscaled 8-bit graphics similar to what you’d see on the GameBoy Advance, 16-bit SNES style regions, and eventually full 3D worlds.
The ever-changing appearance of Evoland II is one of the game’s greatest features, because it helps separate each portion of the title and makes every act unique and memorable. Even during the slower moments, I found myself wanting to push forward so that I could see the next visual development. When playing in 8 or 16-bit worlds you feel right at home, as if you’re playing your favorite retro 2D action RPGs. Most of the combat is old-school hack-and-slash action, with occasional reprieves of platforming, and the early gameplay reminds me of the pre-Ocarina of Time Zelda games. When Evoland II opens up and Kuro and Fina enter a full 3D world, however, the game gets really interesting, and introduces not only new graphics, but new styles of combat and gameplay as well.
In the gorgeous and colorful 3D world, you still take part in hack-and-slash RPG combat, but you are also able to fight your enemies in classic side-view beat ’em up fights, Street Fighter-style, as well as traverse caverns and mountains with Mario-esque platforming. You can even dismantle hordes of flying enemies in top-down aerial battles that makes you feel like you’re playing Galaga at the arcade. The ever-evolving graphics of Evoland II are great, but pale in comparison to the vast array of gameplay styles you experience.
It isn’t all just cutesy fun and games in Kuro’s world, either. Once you’ve been properly introduced to the game, the difficulty level skyrockets, especially in terms of boss fights and puzzle complexity. In fact, I am ashamed to admit that I even had to drop the difficulty level from “Classic” to “Too Young to Die” on more than one occasion to beat a particularly challenging boss fight. The multiple combat styles that Evoland II presents you with also enhances the difficulty. Each style is fun and addictive, but since there are so many, it also means that you never really get used to any one style in particular.
Evoland II cleverly markets itself as a game that pays homage to the great video games of the past. Throughout the title, you encounter endless tongue-in-cheek references to the most influential games of all time, including a time-travelling boy in green who wreaks havoc on townspeople by smashing all their pots while shouting “hi-yah!”, four rodents wearing colored masks that call themselves the Ninja Squirrels, the opportunity to have other characters refer to Kuro as Super Morio, pictures of Chocobos and minor characters named Biggs and Wedge, and on and on. With all the explicit and veiled references to past games, the only thing about Evoland that disappoints me is that there are no moments of classic turn-based combat to be found. Considering how important turn-based combat was to early RPGs, this single omission feels like a lost opportunity in what is otherwise an astounding game.
Evoland II won’t go down in history as one of the greatest games of all time, simply due to its limited release and independent development, but it is certainly one of the most enjoyable and entertaining games that I have ever played. The ever-changing visuals, gameplay and combat styles keep the title moving forward during the hours of simple story progression and grinding, and between the moments of classic action RPG combat, puzzle solving and platforming, Evoland II has something for everybody.
Do you miss the days of the irritatingly difficult, pattern-based boss fights of Mega Man? Play Evoland II. Do you feel like you need a break from action-heavy and story-light first-person shooters? Play Evoland II. Are you looking for a deep, funny, and addictive game that will keep you entertained for hours and days on end? Play Evoland II.
Evoland II is available for Windows users on August 25, with a Mac and Linux release TBA.
Evoland II pays homage to the great games of the past in this near-perfect action RPG.