Evoland is a curious case of an interesting idea and the fine line between inspiration and shameless replication. It starts off as a game with a concept quite unlike anything I’ve seen before, and is incredibly charming and interesting. It’s an adventure through adventure games, and RPGs themselves, throughout history. And for the first two-thirds of the game, while it’s still introducing mechanics through its unique evolution feature, cleverly and lightly drawing inspiration from the likes of The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy and Diablo, it’s a great time. Towards the end, unfortunately, it crosses that fine line into shameless territory, and loses much of it’s own identity in the process.
As I mentioned, Evoland begins with a brilliant concept that works to great effect; for the first couple of hours (roughly 4 hours in length). You’ll start in a monochrome, 8-bit world, and through opening chests scattered throughout the levels the visuals, gameplay, music, and all else progress through the ages in rapid succession. It’ll go from 8-bit, to 16-bit, to 3-D, and eventually even full HD. Through this feature new abilities, combat styles, additional party-members and more are unlocked. In the time where the game is literally evolving, it’s fantastic fun and a succinct summary of a few genres over their early days.
The games that most obviously inspire Evoland are the original Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy VII in particular. The two main gameplay styles consistent throughout are the action-adventure combat present in Zelda, and the turn-based battles of Final Fantasy. In one particular dungeon, it completely transforms into a Diablo style hack-and-slash, complete with loot pick-ups and hordes of enemies to plow through. When Evoland is light drawing from or cleverly emulating these styles of play, it’s an enjoyable experience, with a neat personality all its own.
Unfortunately, that charm and personality fade away in the latter third. Towards the beginning, Evoland lacks a narrative in any capacity, and honestly, I would have been totally content playing through it in its entirety without much exposition as long as it continued using its interesting evolution mechanic. Eventually, the story becomes, verbatim, that of Final Fantasy VII. From the characters (many of their names are a letter away from FFVII’s main characters), to the story beats and the main villain. It also completely abandons the evolution feature that made it so initially interesting. It stops being a neat classic-inspired adventure with something to set it apart from the pack, and becomes a less-than-stellar, seemingly shameless imitation.
Despite losing momentum in the latter third, there is some enjoyment to be had in playing Evoland. It presents old ideas in a completely new way for much of its duration, and as a whole it’s a good bit of fun. The point to which it imitates towards its conclusion is too spot-on, but not necessarily enough to ruin the entire experience.