Evolution Worlds review
Not Quite An Evolution


When it comes to the RPG genre it's no secret that the Gamecube is not overflowing with them. Unlike the little brother handheld it seems that Nintendo's home console just doesn't have the same kind of draw for these kinds of games. Therefore when a RPG does appear the fans look in great anticipation, but disappoint looms. Evolution Worlds isn't bad per se, but it's not good either.

This game is essentially a merger of two other games that came out on the Dreamcast, with parts lopped off to make room on the disc. This may explain why the first and second parts of the game feel so disconnected, but I won't hold that against it.

Combat consists of three characters on a 3 x 3 grid, and the positioning of characters determines damage values. Those at the front deal and take more damage, while those holding up the rear inflict and receive less damage. Characters can move in battle and certain moves will also affect placements, which influences the strategy.

Characters with cyframes can equip attachments to open up a variety of skill options. New slots can be added using hard to find items too, which opens up a whole range of options. That said, a lot of the attacking ones felt somewhat redundant. Picking between Mag's fist and hammer, for example, didn't really seem to make much difference, so I have to question the point of including so many moves that don't differ that much. Characters without cyframes (essentially restricted to Linear and Gre) can also learn skills, albeit without the branching multi-choice options.

Aside from the combat moves you also get some support skills, along the lines of the usual healing and stat boosts common to the genre. Typically stat boosts are restricted to boss fights, but having healing is always welcome.

Using these skills generally requires FP, and the stronger the move the more FP is used. These points are regained through doing basic actions (standard attack, move or guard) and through special items.

There are a variety of other basic options available in battle too. You have the option of using a cost free basic attack, guard against incoming damage, use an item or attempt to run away. Status ailments like the classic poison feature here too, along with the necessary means to cure them.

Turn order is done on an individual basis, with icons lined up on the right side to show who will act in what order. Some actions will cause you to wait longer than others, so while a high power attack will push you to the back of the queue a guard action might slot you in halfway.

All in all the combat mechanics consist of things we seen in most RPGs aside from the grid positioning system. The enemies could do with a rethink though. They aren't bad as such, but visuals aside there isn't a whole lot of variety to them. Special skills seem too identical so often the differences between one group and an earlier group is how hard they hit. Naturally exceptions apply, and especially for the bosses that help break things up, but more variety in enemy behaviour would be a nice perk.

The real problems with the game come in the form of length and repetition. Despite being two games merged into one the game is still on the short side. There aren't a whole lot of dungeons to explore, and most of them are not particularly long. Especially in terms of RPGs the lifespan just falls far too short. There is an attempt to shove sidequests in there, but these can be quite questionable. The tower of despair is very repetitive with its random floor layouts and appraising items involves trekking through this and other places a lot just to try and pick up items.

Repetition also plays a major role. Much of this is thanks to the uninspired design of the ruins you're sent to explore. Part of the game is made up of randomized dungeons that change layout as you move between floors, and while I can appreciate the idea and the work behind it the concept leads to all randomized dungeons feeling too samey. Every floor is flat and, aside from the exits, consist of three things - enemies, treasure and traps. All these are randomly placed though and are generally the same things so while this has an element of enjoyment at first this soon fades away and after a while you've seen it all already and simply rearranging the layout doesn't disguise this.

The preset dungeons have no excuse though. Despite having a fixed design these places feel just as samey. There's no real interaction in there aside from fighting enemies. There is a better sense of design direction than the random dungeons so it avoids the bizarre mishmash of rooms and passages, but these soon become tiring as it's still more or less the same thing and it's not as if they last long to begin with.

The two towns you explore between ruins (yes, only two) are better designed, though alas you don't get access to both at once. The first village is a small location with a pretty linear road through, but there are people to chat to and a few important locations like a shop and upgrade place. This village is accessible right up until finishing the first segment (so about 3 levels time), at which point you transition to the larger city. This city is a lot more open than its linear counterpart, and contains a few more important locales like the lottery area, tower of despair and the society that assigns all the tasks to you. It actually feels like a city and just adds to the disappointment that it's basically the only one you're going to see from this point (short of starting a new playthrough and seeing old linear village again).

The story itself feels somewhat too cliche and underdeveloped, along with the aforementioned disconnected feeling, as merging two games means having two entirely different stories happening one after the other, but at least the backstory serves as a means to give reason to proceedings. Linear's the girl with the huge secret and is generally the focus of the bad guy movements while Mag is the go-getter spiky haired adventurer you swears to protect her (a task I'm not too convinced he's qualified for). The first part has the totally unoriginal evil empire of some origin after her, then the antagonist becomes this mysterious boy who seems to know more about Linear than anyone.

There is a whole cast of characters to back them up, but honestly who cares? Gre Nade's the butler, Chain Gun's the ruin explorer rival, Pepper Box is the (supposedly) hot adventurer and Carcaino is the bandit with a heart. There, I've just explained the only details you'll ever get about the completely one dimensional characters supporting Mag and Linear. These people simply are not developed beyond initial impressions, with Linear really being the only major standout and Mag making some progress.

The visuals are pretty much Dreamcast graphics, so they look pretty decent but hardly pushing the hardware onboard the Gamecube. There is an odd clash though in the form of the pre-rendered cutscenes, which look so different from the ingame graphics it almost looks silly. Seriously, if you're not going to make the whole game look like that why bother?

The character designs do have quite the appeal about them, with an anime-styled cute appearance to practically everyone. Outfits are pretty much as stylish (or outlandish, whichever you prefer) as you'd expect from the genre, although Chain looks strange strapped into her cyframe that covers most of her body. The game's appearance in general can be fairly bright most of the time too, especially when in outdoor locations like the city and the bandit hideout.

The music is pretty much what you'd expect from an fantasy themed game, and it covers the range of things like upbeat city, desert fortress and moody ruins. I can't say anything was done with exceptional success but for what is needed it works.

The voice talent is quite good though. A lot of the game is voiced and the voice actors do put forward a lot of effort to match the energetic tones of the onscreen characters, both during conversations and in battle. The dialogue itself isn't particularly deep but it's enjoyable and makes the concept of a mostly one dimensional cast slightly more bearable.

So yes, back to the original statement I made. Evolution Worlds is neither good nor bad. Combat is pretty interesting and it has some nice ideas, but repetitive design and a short lifespan drag it back. It could work as a solid entry level RPG as it doesn't go quite as heavy as others in the genre, but the Gamecube has more substantial offerings that you may want to check out instead.

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