Sunday, 20 April 2014

Evoland (PC) - Part 1

Evoland title screen logo
Today on Super Adventures I'm taking a look at indie RPG Evoland!

I've been curious about this one for a while, as the premise is pretty much genius. To quote the official site:
"Evoland is a game and a story. The story of action adventure gaming as seen in the Zelda or Final Fantasy series, starting with the early age of action RPGs, when a few pixels were enough to make us dream for hours. New players will discover a bit of video game history and a very fun gameplay, and veterans will also enjoy a host of references to legendary titles scattered along the game."
It's an action RPG about the history of action RPGs, though judging by that bright pixelly title screen and the '1986-2013' copyright, I'm guessing it's going to be leaning towards the Japanese console RPG side of the genre.

The Evoland I'm playing is actually based on a browser game of the same name created for the 24th Ludum Dare contest in just 30 hours. That might not sound so encouraging, but Evoland Classic managed to beat 1400 other games in the end to take first place, so I'm taking it as a good sign. I mean I'm not getting my hopes too high, I had to give the game administrator privileges before it'd even recognise my controller, but c'mon this could be cool.

Uh?

The history of action RPGs begins with a monochrome Final Fantasy hero who can only walk right? Say what? Are we starting with the 'broken Game Boy' era or something? It definitely looks like they've put an LCD screen filter on it.

I suppose it could be trying to illustrate how early console games in general were monochrome, with a limited range of motion, but... well, they weren't. Even Computer Space, the first commerical game ever, gave players the run of the screen and four whole buttons to play with, and the earliest of early home Pong machines displayed more than a strip of screen to look at.

Adventure (Atari 2600)
I mean here's the first action-adventure game ever made, which came out in 1979 on one of the first home games machines you could recognise as being a console: the Atari 2600. At least I'm pretty sure it's the first game in the adventure genre... as it's called Adventure.

It's in colour, I have a full range of motion, and I'm a bloody yellow square! Early home video games weren't really known for their detailed graphics, especially the ones that had to display the hero as a Pong ball sprite.


10 SECONDS LATER.


Huh, Evoland introduced Zelda-style flick-screen movement between areas, only to drop it three screens later and give me a treasure chest full of smooth scrolling!

You know, now I think about it, this green-tinted monochrome is almost certainly meant to be emulating the look of early computer RPGs running on a monitor.

Ultima (Apple II)
I honestly don't know a great deal about the early days of home computers, but it's my understanding that by the time that RPGs had evolved to the point where players could run around in third person, they were generally running on colour machines like the Apple II, like 1981's Ultima here for instance.

The hero from The Dungeon
Sure there were monochrome dungeon crawls like The Dungeon running on university PLATO mainframes back in '75, and there's the genre defining Rogue of course (with its graphics basically typed onto the screen as text), but you wouldn't likely mistake any of them for a Game Boy game either.

Crap, I just opened a chest full of Monsters. I've got to be more careful about what boxes I open in this in future.

I like how getting monsters is presented as a natural evolution in action RPGs that took place shortly after getting full scrolling, as if there were years of single player action games without a single enemy in them.

I've found a sword as well, which means that the game's metamorphosis into a basic Zelda clone is now complete.

The Legend of Zelda (NES)
In Zelda the enemies tend to put up more of a fight though, even from the start. Plus in Zelda you get an inventory and hit points! And COLOUR! Plus look at the resolution difference.

I've found a save point! Only one save slot though, which is probably a sign of its browser game roots. 

Evoland save disk icon
I like the save disk icon though. Legend of Zelda was a launch title for Famicom Disk System in Japan, so it really did save to floppy disks. Granted they looked nothing like this 3½-inch disk here, but whatever, it's nice art, it makes a great save icon, and it's not like anyone said this was meant to be a console game right now anyway!

Even so I couldn't resist pixelling up what an FDS disk icon could've looked like:
A free gift for anyone making their own Evoland clone.
Here's an interesting fact that I just learned from wikipedia (so you know it has to be true): not only was Legend of Zelda the first console game to have save games, but the next year it was one of the first cartridge games to have battery backed up save games as well.

It did not have save points however.

OMG! Color!!

Feel free to scroll up a couple of screens if you want to see how this compares to the real NES.

Evoland Classic (PC)
It definitely doesn't look all that similar to the original browser version of the game, though they've been running along similar lines when it comes to content.

To be honest I prefer Evoland Classic's hero art. He looks more like a sprite from some ancient pre-Zelda game and the way he waggles his ears when he walks is awesome. This is the sideways walking animation by the way.

Whoa hang on, the game's evolved the point where it has a plot now, and I don't even have to crack open the manual to read it! "An ancient evil has finally resurfaced to threaten the world of Evolandia," huh? This is because I opened that box isn't it?

Speaking of checking the manual, I'm a little surprised that the game hasn't made even one joke about how clumsy and unintuitive early RPGs were. Ultima seems to assign a different command to pretty much every button on the keyboard and even Dragon Warrior shoves a big list of possible actions in the player's face whenever they try using something.

I'm at 256 colours, seriously? That means the game's already evolved its way right through the 80s, up to the SNES and VGA PC era. I've only been playing for three minutes!

"This is almost real graphics, isn't it?" it says underneath, which has me wondering what 'real' is now. I mean all those classic 80s games always real graphics as far as I'm concerned! 

Dragon Slayer (FM-7)
Well okay maybe not this one. 640x400 resolution with only five colours on screen will never look right to me.

Dragon Slayer here came out in 1984 for 8-bit Japanese home computers like the PC-88, MSX and FM-7 and was one of the titles that would've inspired Zelda, so it's a little bit of a shame that Evoland's only reference to computer games is a save disk and a monochrome filter.

An overworld huh? Didn't really see that coming (not before a proper Zeldary dungeon anyway). This art makes me feel like I've wandered into a GBA remake of a Final Fantasy game by mistake.

By the way, it's possible to get this far without collecting upgrades like smooth scrolling, better colours or music, but it kinda breaks it. I found myself walking over mountains with the camera zoomed in when I tried that. Eventually I escaped from the screen altogether and had to walk around blind, so I wouldn't recommend doing that. Unless you're bored.

Evoland Classic (PC)
This is roughly the point that the game diverges from the original browser game, which does have a short dungeon, but no overworld. It also introduces a porn ad banner shortly before the end, which I'm sure is something we all remember appearing in later NES action RPGs.

"Evoland Classic is a time lapse of early action RPG history." More like a time lapse of someone messing around with an old DOS game's setup program, flicking through graphics adapters and trying different sound cards.

Oh shit! The game warned me about random encounters, but it never mentioned anything about them looking so pretty. Uh, I mean the landscape more than the slime monsters.

This is obviously inspired by Final Fantasy's innovative side view turn-based battle system (with an ATB time bar nicked from Final Fantasy V), and the gameplay is exactly the same.

Final Fantasy (NES)
I choose a command from the menu when it's my turn and the slimes hit me when it's not.

The sharp genre shift does kind of make sense I guess, as FF1 come out two years after Zelda in their native Japan, but I'm not sure many people would describe third person turn-based JRPGs as being an evolution of action-adventure games. I mean sure they share a lot of similarities...

Dragon Stomper (Atari 2600)
... but turn-based RPG were moving, fighting and using items on consoles long before action-adventures like Zelda, action RPGs like Hydlide, or turn-based JRPGs like Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior.

I mean look at this game, I'm playing as a white dot trying to kill a purple bug silhouette as big as a church! This is your real history of RPGs right here and I don't know a bloody thing about it. It would've been cool to see how we got from here to Squaresoft SNES games over the course of actual gameplay.


ANOTHER BATTLE LATER.


Hey, my overworld just went all psuedo-3D all of a sudden! Mode 7, it's nice to see you again. This really is starting to look like a SNES game now... if you ignore the fact that's it obviously has a far higher resolution.

Sorry, I'll stop whining now.

Whoa, I opened a box lying in the grass and it teleported a town from Seiken Densetsu 3 onto my head!

I went walking around for a bit and grabbed several screenshots so that I could stitch together this giant-sized image above and compare the art properly.

Seiken Densetsu 3 (SNES)
Wow, Evoland really is the game's twin right now. I've gotta say though, the developers definitely chose their inspiration well this time. Seiken Densetsu 3 has some of the finest and most distinctive art on the Super Nintendo.

                 Evoland tiles | Seiken Densetsu 3 tiles
It's a close match, but if you look at the pixels up close it's obvious that Evoland's town is a meticulously pixelled homage rather than a lazy rip-off. It's been deliberately designed to seem incredibly familiar.

Man, I love this art. This must be the first time in the game that it actually legitimately resembles the part of RPG history I'm supposed to be walking around in.

A shop at last! Though I can't sell anything, buy in bulk, or check equipment stats. In fact the equipment in here is basically just a one off upgrade that boosts my character stats and can't be removed. It's like the developers wanted to imitate Final Fantasy's shop screen purely for the sake of nostalgia rather than making it an important part of gameplay.

Equipment in RPGs is a goal, a reward and gives you choices to make about how you want to spend your hard earned cash and what kind of stat boost will benefit you most. Yeah I know that this is the first shop in a game about evolving gameplay features, but c'mon, it's already 1995 outside.

Ooops, I accidentally brought the shop screen outside with me. Well at least it'll be convenient like this.

Actually this screenshot is from back in the playthrough where I skipped collecting evolution boxes and reality has broken down completely. I'm not sure go any further than this though as they won't let me out of town without getting better gear, and I can't get gear without going back and opening the random encounters evolution chest to earn some cash from fights.

I guess this is my cue to go back to playing it properly.


Continued in part two!

Semi-Random Game Box