Evoland 2

There’s a common saying I see for works that rely on references: don’t make references to something better, because it makes the player wish they were playing that instead. Well, what if I told you that there was a game that was bold enough to ask: what if half the game was that?

Back in 2021, I played Shiro Games’ Evoland, a game that I thought was disappointing, if I have to be honest. But you know, sequels usually improve on the faults of their predecessor, and I had Evoland 2, so I thought that I should see if that was the case.

After a beginning that spoofs the original Evoland, a boy named Kuro is thrown into a world where demons and humans fought. After meeting a girl named Fina, the two come across a demon terrorist plot and the two are flung into the past. Teaming up with the demon prince Menos, they try to head back, only to wind up in a far future where a Great Disaster damned the world. Later joining with Magi researcher Velvet, the four go on a great adventure to prevent the Great Disaster and make the world right.

The defining gimmick of Evoland was that the world and its mechanics evolved as you played through the game. However, it eventually reached the point where that part of the game’s identity just became arbitrary and… well, just a gimmick.

However, that aspect is expressed much better in Evoland 2. The game’s graphical style now changes to reflect the era you’re currently in, with the present day featuring the more detailed pixel art styles familiar to indie games today, the future utilizing 3D models and environments, and the past replicating older pixel styles. I think the game looks pretty good in all its art styles. My main complaint would be that the present day style goes too deep with the shadows, though as I’ve mainly played this on the Steam Deck with low brightness, that may just be a consequence of my circumstances..

The previous game featured two dominant gameplay styles: Zelda-ish action-adventure and turn-based JRPG. And the JRPG part was kinda bad. Evoland 2 is more ambitious, in that while Zelda action is the predominant gameplay style, it dips into a wide variety of gameplay styles, from 2D platforming action that might be a bit more reminiscent of Zelda 2 and Bejewled-esque action puzzles.

And those styles are a mixed bag.

The quality of the gameplay styles is very scattershot, where it felt very quantity over quality. A few of the gameplay styles were decent and could stand alongside the main Zelda-ish gameplay, but others felt unrefined. The Chrono Trigger section for some reason throws in arbitrary mechanics that force you to time when to pick an attack move or it will miss, on top of just being real slow to play through. The fighting game spoof felt kinda stiff to play, and it made the climactic moment it was used for feel kinda limp. The optional collectible card game should have just stuck to being a Triple Triad spoof like the original, because you’ll have to go around for opponents you can feasibly beat because the cards have a clear linear power scale.

But there’s an overall issue I have with these homages, and to discuss that, let me talk about my favorite homage: the Professor Layton segment. There’s one big segment of the game where you’re required to solve puzzles to continue the plot, and this segment comes with unique music in the vein of the puzzle music from the Layton games and unique animations in Level-5’s style in response to how you solved the puzzle. There’s really good effort put into this part of the game.

However, it’s not perfect. Playing through this segment, it reminded me that Layton’s gameplay was strengthened by the setup of the DS systems. The top screen always shows information on the puzzle, while Evoland 2’s spoof doesn’t have a way to redisplay information – and if there is a method, it’s not made clear. There was a puzzle I wanted to take notes on because it’s hard for me to organize my thoughts and it reminded me, oh yeah, Layton had a touchscreen note thing for a reason. Furthermore, every puzzle in Layton has a bit of narration explaining how the puzzle is solved afterward, which acts as a good reflection – and spells out the answer for you if you happened to guess. However, Evoland 2 only really does that for one puzzle, so you don’t get the satisfaction you should get from solving a puzzle.

The thing is, after getting through this segment, it just made me think: dang, I never played the sixth game, I want to play that instead. I don’t want to play an unrefined Professor Layton clone, because playing it just made me want to play the perfect vision, the real thing.

And that’s what I felt the whole time: I would rather be playing something else. I played the mediocre Fire Emblem spoof and looked longingly at all the people currently playing Fire Emblem Engage. I played the mediocre rhythm game segment, looked at the demo of the new Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, and thought about playing that instead or bringing my copy of Curtain Call back out. Playing those shmup segments made me think, hey, playing ZeroRanger on the Deck would be pretty fun.

Even if the alternate game segments didn’t make me wish I was playing something else instead, it also made me wish: please stop wasting my time.

You don’t understand my shock and horror that the game kept going beyond 10 hours. Sure, the game changes often to give you constant breaths of fresh air, but these gameplay changes are mostly one-offs – and there’s a lot of one-offs. So, instead of feeling like breaks in the game, they wind up feeling like they’re sucking up your time – especially the more mediocre segments.

This is especially the case if you’re not good at or don’t care about some of the gameplay segments being spoofed. If you just want to play a Zelda-ish game, this is not for you, because you’re required to play through these different segments. Want to just get that Fragment of Fire? Well, you gotta play some mediocre Double Dragon first, idiot.

Part of what makes the game’s length frustrating is that it never feels like you’re going anywhere. There’s an arbitrary action RPG stat leveling system that persists through the whole game, but with the way the game seems to be balanced, leveling up just puts you on par with later enemies, so it never felt like I was actually getting stronger. And it especially felt that way with the alternate game styles, where stats don’t seem to matter as much, so any sort of growth you may experience in those segments are locked to those one-offs.

And the thing is, I just… don’t understand why this is the game’s gimmick. To be referential? Honestly, with the absurd number of references in this game, probably. Haha, funny joke about Link smashing pots and how Navi is annoying, did you get your jokes from a ’00s gamer webcomic? Come on man.

Sure, on a gameplay level, Evoland 2 may feel extremely tedious. But surely, the story pulls everything together? Well.

The start of the game presents a conflict between humans and demons, where demons were subjugated and are later wiped out in the far future. Surely, stopping this genocide is a major part of the game, especially given that you got the demon prince Menos on your side, right?

Well, surprisingly, no. When presented with the idea of changing time, Fina actually talks down Menos from the idea of saving his race because that’s already settled history in her time period. However! They should all focus on saving everyone she knows from the Great Calamity and… the cast just kinda moves past Fina being an incredibly callous asshole. RIP to your people, but she gotta save her people, I guess.

In fact, by the time Evoland 2 moves into its open world structure, the human-demon conflict kinda winds up feeling like an afterthought. Sure, you engage in a long fucking Fire Emblem-style campaign to defeat the renegade parts of the human empire’s army trying to take over the demon homeland, but all that changes in the demon narrative is that a few of the demons get to live instead of being genocided completely. But they’re cool with it, the few survivors reached enlightenment and are fine with the idea of actually dying one day, actually.

It’s fucking stupid.

Instead, the game is more about the general musings on time travel. You get a feel for the connections between characters and locations across the timeline while the main characters question what they’re doing. Is this event a fixed location in time? What would happen if this event in time was erased?

The problem is that the game couldn’t even commit to these time travel questions.

You do erase the Great Calamity from happening and the final segment to continue the plot shows up. But first, I decided to look around the world to see the consequences of my actions.

The lighting in the main town changes! …And that’s kinda it.

The awful social system that sprung up as a direct result of the Great Calamity is still there. The cult that exists exclusively as a reaction to the Great Calamity is still there. Really, the biggest change is the aforementioned, unsatisfying demon stuff. “What could be the consequences of changing time?” Apparently, fucking nothing, Velvet.

So, for a grand second time, Evoland 2 holds the honor of me just quitting and watching the ending on Youtube, because the game clearly couldn’t care about its core questions. The credits montage does show a few world changes that go unexpressed in the actual game, but the broad strokes of the game’s world is still there.

And speaking of core questions, there’s the issue of Kuro. He clearly has more going on with him, especially after he does a certain something before the big open world shift. However, he’s almost entirely a silent protagonist, and unlike say, Sunny from OMORI, there isn’t enough to define him outside of the actions you do as the player. Besides me not really caring about the mystery behind his character, it’s that the game… honestly doesn’t seem to care that much either. The game does not properly address why he did that “something” at all, even though it’s so pivotal to the story. Everyone was like, “why the fuck did you do that, oh well, let’s move on,” like how the human-demon conflict is treated.

If the message of the game is supposed to be, “you shouldn’t let the past define you,” it succeeds in doing that by just moving onto the next thing then the next thing without stopping to consider anything.

There’s one part of the game that really grabbed me though, and it was the initial segments with the Anomaly. This is the most lore heavy part of the late game treasure hunt, to the point that I wonder why it was paired up with the more arbitrary treasure hunt segments, and the lore was actually a bit interesting. Moving into the gameplay aspect, it takes you to a world where the visuals are glitchy and distorted, resulting in the most memorable visuals in the game. Time and space distort, with segments where you lead time clones around within a repeating time loop and segments where you switch between the 2D and 3D planes of the surrounding environment. The boss battle of this section is a reference to Shadow Link stuff, but it does a unique take on it by having the enemies weaponize the 2D/3D switching mechanics against you instead of, well, just being a Shadow Link reference.

That was easily my favorite part of the game. It was the main reason why I pushed myself to keep going a bit longer instead of quitting way earlier. It’s neat and it does its own stuff without just being a spoof of another game. It showed that Evoland 2 could do some interesting things on its own merits instead of appealing to other stuff, and I wish that it did more of this stuff.

Unfortunately, like a lot of things in the game, this original segment is just another one-off.

I really thought that Evoland 2 would have been a better game. In fact, I started positively, because it really did look like it built off its predecessor in a good way and the world building intrigued me. But the game kept going and going. It shot so many new gameplay styles that I eventually felt like my time was being wasted, and the story started seeming like it was going nowhere interesting.

I hate to say it, but I honestly think that Evoland 2 is a worse game than its predecessor, because at least the first game didn’t last forever and didn’t have narrative potential to squander. Sometimes, doing more just means there’s more mistakes to make. I sincerely think you’re better off just playing the games that Evoland 2 spoofs, because I think its overall whole is mediocre at best.

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