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Evolution: The World of Sacred Device is the primary game here.
Evolution: Eternal Dungeons will also be mentioned here, due to being a modified NGPC port of the Dreamcast game.
Info about the first section of Evolution Worlds will be noted, but as that's primarily a port of 2, it'll get more limelight in Evolution 2: Far Off Promise.
User 1's NotesEdit
Add anything you feel like adding here.
Evolution 1. I haven't played 2 enough to talk about it, but I fucking love the first.
"Lighthearted" is a decent way to describe Evolution. It kind of bounces around between goofy, silly, cute, funny, even corny, and only gets semi-"serious" sometimes. There's some rather, well not, dark themes, but it's not exactly "pure" either. I guess "upbeat" would be my best way to describe it. It's not entirely "charming", since I doubt everyone will find the appeal in it, but it's hardly to the point of cliche either. I've played games similar to it, in terms of themes and humor, but nothing quite exactly like it. It's got a nice sort of mix that Sting's games tend to have. Skies of Arcadia tends to get credit for its unique spirit in a time of grimness and gritty serious FF-cash ins, but I think Evolution is rather unsung in its attempts to do so a good while before SoA. FF9 as well, but that's another story for another day.
One factor that was somewhat unique at the time was the fact that the main character had a huge debt to be paid off. Now, games where your primary goal was to collect loot were done before, but the fact that this was an integrated part to the game, rather than the main focus came off as quite interesting. particularly in how it ended up being part of the gameplay as well. The fact that your inventory was limited meant that you had to choose between treasure hunting and stocking up on items (or some mixture of both). Assuming you didn't play with a guide, you weren't always quite sure at first on whether a new treasure you hadn't found before was worth a good chunk of money or just worthless junk. This leads into another factor as well: the valuable stuff is naturally more rare, so do you just not bother with the chump change, or do keep the knick-knacks and chip away at your debt slowly, but surely? This is the kind of stuff that made this a worthwhile factor. That, and (minor spoiler) the pleasure of getting a super kickass Cyframe part when you cleared it out. It made your endeavors worth a shit in the long run, especially when you got something useful out of it.
Randomized dungeons were a factor that I still don't think mainstream critics and reviewers really grasp. Roguelike factors tend to be looked down upon, which is honestly bullshit. That said, I think it works strangely well here. Story-wise, it doesn't make much sense, given that these are ancient ruins and all and loot technicallly shouldn't pop up again nor should dungeons be ever-changing, but from a gameplay stance it keeps things quite fresh. Since this is the sort of game where you tend to bounce between the hub town and dungeons rather often, it'd be boring to just go back to the same damn places you already saw, loot the same damn chests and avoid the same damn traps, the latter of the two being located in the same damn spots. Tedious, boring, pointless. Thankfully, Evolution DOESN'T do the same damn shit each dungeon. That said, I do want to note some points about it. Some of the corridors can be a bit small for their own good. This isn't too much of a problem in typical roguelikes, but in a 3D-full range motion where you can have the option of avoiding enemies, it can be a bit of a bitch when you can't avoid bumping into them. I can see why Sting added jumping to alleviate some of the problem, since with some turning you can make a jump around tight corners at times, and also avoid stepping on traps as well. The traps aren't exactly much of an issue, they're typical roguelike stuff. It's nice to see that they also included beneficial traps though. The only problem I have with dungeon design is that there's sometimes certain dungeons that have some minor platforming to them. They aren't too hard, but you can sometimes mess up a bit often. This is because the game wasn't really made for platforming. These don't pop up too often thankfully, but they could have been done better nonetheless.
Some people call Evolution's combat "typical JRPG" stuff, but I don't think that's quite right. The only character's that are flat out "typical" would be Gre and Linear, and given the type of upgrade and battle system this game uses, that's still a bit of a stretch as well. The main meat though, does come from the Cyframe users. I wouldn't call it extremely in-depth, since it's not quite on the scale of, say, Final Fantasy 7, but Cyframes do give versatility to your combat options. It's tempting to just spam the best shit you have, but at the same time, versatility can be cheaper and more effective as well. Like how you can just smack all enemies with Dive Punch, or you can be more efficient and use ailments on them or exploit elemental weaknesses. It depends on your FP (the game's MP equivalent) along with what you're trying to accomplish in the dungeon, as noted above. If you're just trying to hunt for loot then bounce back to town, then yeah, going full brute force with your main part and attack boosters might be your preferred option. Yet, if you're trying to get further in the dungeon, then you might want to fight smarter for the sake of tougher enemies later on, and also consider stealing stuff or having a more endurance-based setup. One neat thing about Evolution's skill system is that unlocking a new skill gives you one free usage of it in battle. Pretty nifty for the sake of a tough fight or boss. It's not perfect however. I'm not exactly fond of the fact that finding new ability parts is rather uncommon, nor that upgrade parts are rather rare as well. In addition, upgrading and improving your cyframe can be quite pricey as well. This goes back to the debt-factor as well, since you have to choose between knocking some debt off and getting stronger parts or better gear.
The item-fusion system is neat, but honestly feels a little unrefined. I was never great at it years ago, and while I'm sure I'd be better at it now, I still don't recall it being exactly super-efficient either. At the same time though, it's smart as well, because when I did figure out how to get some stuff to work, I'd get a better item out of it, that could take the place of two lesser items at times, such as a Naolin Gold over 2 Naolins. You can also upgrade weapons and gear as well, which is a nice touch as well. It's not exactly on the tier of the Atelier games, but it still does a pretty good job, for not being the primary gameplay focus. You could also sell some of your fusion products as well, which is also a nice touch.
Evolution Eternal Dungeons
As mentioned, outside of aesthetics naturally being weaker, damn near EVERYTHING from the Dreamcast release is here. An awesome example of how to do a port right.
That said, the lack of jumping, along with the 4-way tile-based movement makes dungeon exploration a bit different though. Since you can't jump over traps right in the middle of a pathway, you'll have to either activate it or find another way around, if possible. In addition, because everything moves a tile at a time, you can now have "trains" happen like in typical roguelikes. While amusing, it can also be a bit troublesome. At the very least, diagonals aren't an issue, so it's not as bad as some roguelikes, but it can still be a bitch when your HP and FP are low. On the bright side, there's no awkward platforming either.
Evolution Worlds (first section)
If I had known about the E1 shrinking ahead of time, I don't think I'd be as disappointed by it when I played Worlds. Only having 2 dungeons really sucks and the story seems hastily put together given the condensation. On top of that, some of the cyframe parts/skills were cut from 1 and/or modified to be like their equivalents in 2. The skill/part thing isn't a major downer, but still kinda weird. Before I played it, I had hoped that they'd pull something like Resident Evil REmake and put the games on two discs and beating the first would give you bonuses in the second. They really dropped the ball in that regard. Well, what's done is done, I guess. Naturally, I don't recommend picking up Worlds for the sake of E1, but I've heard that the Worlds version of 2 has some extra content in it, which should appeal to its fans.
When all's said and done, I still find Evolution 1 to be a great game. There's people who will disagree, but I've made my case on why I think it is how I see it. Aside from the sequel, port, and remix in Worlds, there wasn't a game quite like it since then, not until Hexyz Force (which also has aspects of Sting's Riviera as well), which I also find to be fucking great.