The E.V.O. Series Retrospective (Part 1)

With EVO (the video game tournament) right around the corner, I thought now would be as good a time as ever to talk about E.V.O.... the video game series!

As I youth, I loved the games Enix made in the days before the Square-Enix merger. ActRaiser, in particular, is one of my childhood favorites. Along with Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest was one of the first serious RPGs I ever played! SoulBlazer was pretty cool, too!

Enix games were usually difficult, some of them were rough around the edges in the translation department, but I loved them, nonetheless!

Enix was, in practice, a publishing house, not a game development studio. Some of their games shared composers, sometimes they shared artists but their games were only loosely related. Still, I felt they knew how to pick 'em! There were these recurring themes of high fantasy, science fiction on a big scale and an exploration of Godhood that gave their games a big, epic, regal feeling!

A pair of games that handled the tried-and-true Enix tropes was the E.V.O. series. The first game in the series, (46 Okunen Monogatari: The Shinka Ron, popularly fan titled "E.V.O.: The Theory of Evolution") is generally unknown unless you're a Japanese PC gaming nerd or are an obsessive weirdo.... like me! The second game, 46 Okunen Monogatari: Harukanaru Eden E ("E.V.O.: Search for Eden", to Americans) is a cult title for the SNES. Let's have ourselves a rundown of the EVO duology:

46 Okunen Monogatari: The Shinka Ron by Almanic Corp was released in 1990 for the PC-9801. An obscure game, for an obscure gaming console; this is an RPG wherein you play as a creature who is chosen by Gaia, Spirit of the Earth to be a Champion in the fight against Lucifer, who appears as a gigantic nude Marylin Monroe.

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Starting off as a fish in a world before land, our protagonist changes his base form as he endures many different time periods millions and some times even billions of years apart. The narrative is divided into 6 eras: The World Before Land, Early Reptiles, Age of the Dinosaurs, End of the Dinosaurs, Mammals and a Utopian Future. This game reminds me a little bit of a lesser known Maxis game that came out around the same time: SimEarth.

The story has both creationist and anthropological angles. Almanac consulted teachers and researchers to aid them in the process of writing this game. But don't think you're being preached at or getting a science lesson, this game, while it gives the player plenty to ponder about, primarily exists for entertainment value. I mean, while there are many kinds of dinosaurs and proto-humans, there are also impossible fantasy creatures, magic powers, moon men and Atlantis.

The combat is both remarkably simple and undeniably primitive. The battles remind me of Dragon Quest's early days, but they're even simpler. Your character doesn't have equipment, armor or potions as you'd expect in a game from this genre. Rather, you have to keep your DNA well balanced and in check in an algebraic grid. You use EVO points, your EXP earned from battles to raise your 4 stats: Strength, Resistance, Stamina, and Intelligence. You are going to be frequently tweaking them as there's no one-size-fits-all solution for your stats.

You raise enough of a certain stat, and you're able to Evolve into another creature. Really, if we're going to be pedantic here, it's a metamorphosis and not evolution.

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The thing is, there's a certain evolutionary path that's required to beat each chapter, and consequently the game. If you don't follow the path the game expects of you, the game sics bad endings on you. This can be obnoxious, (because at that point I say "NOOOO, I have to scroll through all that dialogue again!!!") but I will admit that some of them (like the one you get when you're transformed into a Dragon Quest Slime) are actually pretty funny. Others like the one when you get eaten alive make me sick to my stomach.

You felt unusually tired and listless. A carrion beast fluttering in the skies above filled your blurry vision. Pain from fatigue and hunger begin to flow from your body. You are aware that you are dying, and that thought brings with it a small amount of fear. And yet, your limbs are completely paralyzed. ‘Are those flying creatures going to devour me?’ In a corner of your failing consciousness, you dully begin to comprehend your own death, It is a strangely calming thought, and your fear dissipates. ‘They... eat me, I survive... I eat them... they survive.’ It isn’t that different.

OH!! OH eww noooo. Did Stephen King write this game?

But then there are funny endings like the one when you're observed in a museum and that makes me laugh.

Even with its epic scope, there is a lowkey quaintness to The Shinka Ron. The eras tend to end in an anti-climactic fashion. For example, the trick of getting through the end of the 2nd dinosaur era is to avoid confrontations with the T-Rexes and let the meteors do them in, rather than have a big blowout with them.

Taking place in a perfect society of transhumans who have opened up their third eye with psychic powers, the final chapter is downbeat save for the final confrontation with Lucifer: you both become giants and duel in space! She destroys your body, but then you're rebuilt by Gaia using the life force of every single creature that has ever lived. The final blow destroys every atom in her body leaving the universe safe from evil. Evolution stops, Humanity becomes One and departs Earth, along with Gaia to explore the Universe. That's cool!

(Stay tuned for Part 2…)