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The Most Ironic Game Title since Final Fantasy II
I can honestly say, from the start, that I wish Evolution: World of Sacred Device was about ten hours longer; not due to any great love I possess for the game, but rather, had I not known beforehand that the game only takes about twelve hours to complete, I probably would have given up well before the end. While not necessarily an irredeemably bad game, Evolution is rife with frustratingly unpolished elements, which render it largely unrewarding for all but the most fervent completionists.
The game is a dungeon crawler at heart, and carries with it nearly all of the genre's typical characteristics/flaws (depending on your point of view). There is only one town, which serves little use other than as a quick stopover between dungeons. The nonessential townspeople are essentially the only source of exposition on the game's characters, but you'll learn little from talking to them that can't be found in the instruction booklet's dossiers, which should speak volumes for the depth of Evolution's plot.
The storyline is loosely based around the exploits of youthful adventurer Mag Launcher, and his quest to restore his family name by paying off the horrendous debt his parents somehow acquired before heading off on their own adventures. To achieve this end, as well as establish his own name as a top-notch explorer, Mag works for the Academic Society which manages his debt, exploring ruins and entrusting his findings to their care.
As with many dungeon crawlers, the plot serves largely as a loose device to fill space in between the various dungeons; which is unfortunate, as the ruins themselves are wholly tedious to explore, and the game's wonderful characters deserve far more attention than they are given. Mag is joined in his adventures by his family butler Gre Nade, requisite tease Pepper Box, mysteriously silent Linear Cannon, and erstwhile rival/secret admirer/flying aerosol can Chain Gun, as they race to uncover the secrets of the legendary device known as Evolutia. The characters are wonderfully expressive, despite the somewhat bland 3-D graphics that restrict most of the rest of the game. The dialogue, though awkward in translation at times, is serviceable, occasionally bordering on humorous, and serves to make the plot sequences fairly enjoyable.
The dungeons, on the other hand, as the focal point of the gameplay, could have stood quite a bit more polish. Most notable is an utter lack of variety; floors are randomly generated, and consist of extremely bland, generic systems of rooms and passageways, with occasional traps and specific enemy encounters scattered throughout. There is a fairly helpful mini-map, but since there isn't much to see in the dungeon, there isn't much to see on the map, either.
Considering some dungeons run over 20 floors deep, with a mere one change of scenery approximately halfway through each, this can get unbelievably boring over time. The inoffensive and somewhat repetitive soundtrack does not particularly help matters. At the least, players can return to town for a time via portals randomly placed about the floors, and may create temporary saves in between floors.
Combat, meanwhile, is mostly adequate, but nearly fatally flawed in certain out-of-the-way areas. To initiate a fight, Mag simply has to contact one of the monsters wandering the dungeons. Upon doing so, the party will be launched into a turn based fight sequence, in which they will be prompted to use a fairly ordinary array of special abilities, items, and standard attacks to defeat the enemies. The menus are fairly easy to navigate, with individual character abilities divided into loose categories for ease of location. In a similarly helpful manner, turn order for both enemies and players, is denoted in a small sidebar on the combat screen. While this would normally be a useful tool for strategic purposes, for some mind-boggling reason it has been allowed to actually lie to the player. Every so often, for no discernible reason, an enemy or player character will leapfrog up to the top spot on the turn order, which can wreak havoc in a close fight.
Aside from that, Evolution has perhaps one of the most unbalanced initiative systems ever designed. As can be expected, Mag can gain first strike over an enemy party simply by contacting them from behind to begin the battle, and vice versa. By whatever mechanism is used to determine turn priority, then, the advantaged party will usually get at least two consecutive turns without interruption. In one extreme situation, I lost a fight in which the enemies received more than five consecutive turns each at the start of battle. They may have been given more; I can't say for sure, as my fairly well-equipped party was completely annihilated by then.
Winning combat, naturally, earns basic experience points, as well as Technical points to spend on the game's fairly deep skill system. Linear and Gre have fairly long lists of skills of various types, while the rest of the cast use personalized devices known as Cyframes, which can be equipped with parts that carry their own inherent abilities. By the end of the game, even without extraneous leveling, each character will probably have learned about three quarters of their possible skill sets, and nearly every category and part has at least one skill which is useful in one situation or another; so the system is definitely worth exploring.
There are other, smaller flaws, of the technical variety; largely balance issues, that come into play most notably when the party goes up against some of the stronger enemies, and most bosses. Each ruin has one boss, which, like the rest of the enemies, is loosely set to your party's level. Some bosses are ridiculously easy at low levels, but nearly impossible if you run into them late in the game, and vice versa. This can be overcome through player skill or character building, but the latter just adds unnecessary time onto an already tedious game.
It should be noted that Evolution: World of Sacred Device can be generally found for about five bucks at any game store that still sells used Dreamcast games. If you happen to be looking on eBay, or one of its affiliates, you can probably find it, as I did, for about two dollars. Frankly, there are very few games that are absolutely not worth spending two dollars on, and thankfully, Evolution is not one of those games. The skill system in general, is very well done; and the characters are downright adorable, and border on inspiring in design from time to time. But in the end, I can't really recommend this game in good faith to anyone who isn't simply collecting RPGs, regardless of quality. Save your two dollars; there are good reasons this game is that cheap.
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