Monday, July 3, 2017

Evoland 2 - 4 hours (8/20 total)

Evoland 2 owes a lot to Chrono Trigger. The mechanics of time travel, the overall shape of the "we must save the future" plot and the presentation of the worldmap are spot-on recreations. But you know what, it's all right. Time travel is really the best possible use of the Evoland series' characteristic multiple graphical styles. The present uses run-of-the-mill indie-rpg 2D sprites, the future is full on 3D, and the past has a greatly simplified presentation (I believe there's a fourth time period, farther in the past, that is Game-Boy-era monochrome, but I haven't reached it.)

If you've played Chrono Trigger, you already know the game's plot - the present is a peaceful time under the rule of a prosperous and benevolent kingdom, but a few generations ago the antecedents of that kingdom waged a brutal war against a race of occult creatures. The game begins when the main characters discover a particular location that has the strange property of connecting two different time periods. The party then travels to a distopian future where large numbers of people have been slaughtered by a mysterious "destroyer" and they resolve to figure out the secret of the time portals and use them to change the future.

It's probably impossible to write a time-travel-themed rpg and not at least reference Chrono Trigger, but man, there are so many callbacks - you get thrown in prison early on in the game, there's a corrupt rich guy you need to manipulate for a key item, the bridge between human and demon territory plays a prominent role in the plot, the food of the future is bland and unfulfilling. I don't know how many of these are deliberate references and how many are just coincidence, but I get a deep sense of familiarity playing this game.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The only problem is that Chrono Trigger is already the goofy, free-wheeling version of Chrono Trigger. Evoland 2 has its funny moments, but nothing as memorable and weird as "am I butterfly dreaming I'm a man or a bowling ball dreaming I'm a plate of sashimi?"

I don't mean to be a curmudgeon here. I get that the Evoland series is trying to be a casual-playing scrapbook of the history of the rpg genre. And when the idea works, it really works. I really liked the Diablo dungeon in the first game. However, at other times, the games' referrences are incredibly shallow. In the first game, you meet a guy named "Sid" who gives you an airship, during the second game's mandatory stealth sequence, you have to sneak around in a cardboard box, the main town in the second game is called "Genova." I'm certainly reminded of games I've loved in the past, but . . . then what?

Luckily, Evoland 2 is a fun game in its own right. It's a Zelda-esque adventure game with dungeon puzzles, collectible special abilities, and simple real-time combat. Games of that sort never really needed anything more than the barest skeleton of a plot. Just a series of excuses to go dungeons, solve puzzles, and fight monsters. For that purpose, a bunch of pop-culture references centered around some bland, but likable characters is good enough.

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