The E.V.O. Series Retrospective (Part 2)

Welcome to the second and final part of our look at the E.V.O. series by Almanic and Enix. If you missed Part 1, be sure to click the nifty blue highlighted hyperlink.

2 years after The Shinka Ron, Enix released 46 Okunen Monogatari ~Harukanaru Eden E~ (E.V.O.: Search for Eden to Americans), for the Super Famicom and Super NES. This is the only game in the series to have a release outside of Japan. Search for Eden is mostly KNOWN -- irony of ironies-- for being an obscure game. But few have played it and even less actually own a physical copy. I knew of this game because one of my elementary school buddies impulsively bought it from a shady pawn shop way back in 2002. Little did we know at the time that he basically got his hands on a crown jewel.

Making a dolphin out of the protagonist during the Age of Mammals.

Making a dolphin out of the protagonist during the Age of Mammals.

The second game in the E.V.O. series is not really a sequel, it's not really a remake. It's more an alternate version or re-imagining. Search for Eden has a similar premise to The Shinka Ron, but the storyline is mostly influenced by science fiction rather than the original's fantasy and mythology slant. You're still Gaia's champion in the Survival of the Fittest, you're still an organism who adapts and changes bodies between the geological ages (there's 5 here instead of 6), but here the course of evolution is being thrown off by the misguided intentions of well-meaning aliens rather than the mischief of Lucifer. Wait a minute, how is it even possible for "the course of evolution to be thrown off"? It's not like evolution is pre-determined. Wouldn't that fall more into the field of Intelligent Design? Ugh, whatever.

The Shinka Ron was a traditional Japanese RPG, but Search for Eden is a 2D action game with RPG elements: you eat other enemies to obtain EVO Points, which are the game's experience points. Rather than navigating a DNA matrix, in between combat you use the EVO Points to Evolve your body parts: jaws, horns, legs, tail, and so-on. Though this system, you can create a real freak of nature.

Some sort of deer thing during The Dawn of Man.

Some sort of deer thing during The Dawn of Man.

Every time you Evolve a body part, your HP is refilled. This can be used as a way to cheese yourself out of tricky situations and near deaths, as the timing is somewhat lenient. Dying cuts your EVO points in half upon revival. You really don't want to die and do all that grinding again, so this Refill tactic is a great way of taking advantage of a developer oversight.

The physics of Search for Eden are not my favorite. You can move in four directions when you're a bird or a fish, you can jump when you're a land animal, but something about the feeling of the game is off. I think it feels most natural when you're a fish or a bird. Search for Eden’s platforming sections are not handled very well at all.

Beyond that, the stun lock is the worst. Any time you get hit, they game makes you feel it. Every little blow feels like punishment.

Boss battles can take a bite out of you, and are usually the hardest parts of the game. That's when the HP Refill tactic from Evolving a body part can really come in handy.

Becoming a lion monstrosity during the Ice Age.

Becoming a lion monstrosity during the Ice Age.

As interesting as the premise of the game is, as much fun as it can be to make your own creature, you'll soon come to find that Search for Eden relies too much on grinding. Frankly, after The World Before Land era hooked me in, the game fell apart pretty early for me in the second era: Early Creatures of Land. At this point in the game, many of the levels are barely a few screens long and the only objective is to get from one side of the screen to another. You can eat all of the enemies in sight for their experience points, but you don't have to.

Things get a little bit more obnoxious during the Dinosaur Era: same simple A-to-B stages with not much interesting going on with the same repetitive, and frankly, terrible 18-note instrumental polluting the experience. (Although I kind of like the Ice Age variation of it). The highlights of this part of the game are becoming a Birdman and a Dragon, but the game kind of drags at this point.

The level design becomes much more interesting in the Age of Cavemen. You still have to be careful with how you Evolve and where and when you save. You can royally screw yourself in the later stages if you Evolve too recklessly.

Search for Eden has some of the most cold-blooded moments of any Super NES game. You kill a Yeti and his Wife, leaving their child parentless, the game forces you to witness the extinction of the dinosaurs after you have spent an entire segment getting to know them and then you get to interact with their spirits after the die. Your character essentially spends billions of years committing genocide of other species, using time travel as a form of safety to avoid catastrophic events such as the meteor impact that killed the dinosaurs and the game has the audacity to suggest that this is morally just because you have Gaia's blessing. That is some warped thinking that had me scratching my head after I put my controller down. Super Mario World doesn't lay these kinds of moral and philosophical conundrums on me.

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The alleged big twist of Search for Eden is the final boss is a single-celled organism called Bolbox. I say “alleged” because there is no real build up to this moment. Bolbox is apparently the ringleader of all opposing animals and is trying to defeat you in combat to prove that he's the ultimate life form... or the right to claim that he's the first sentient creature ever... it's a little confusing because the translation is not the best. The fight is a signature scene of the game, and Bolbox's death rattles are still horrifying to this day.

Again, like the first game, E.V.O.: Search for Eden is neat because of it’s premise and it’s main evolution gimmick. There's a certain degree of excitement to be had using your custom creature as an avatar to travel through the stages of pre-history. There's a certain degree of satisfaction to be found watching the Earth develop over time. Sure. However, the level design is not up to par with some of the better 2D action games of the time, and the game becomes kind of a drag about 1/3 through. It gets to the point where unless you're an enthusiast or if you're getting a kick out of evolving your creature, the game starts to feel like a chore.

Both E.V.O. games use the Theory of Evolution, Religion, and Mythology to tell epic speculative fiction stories in the video game medium. The first one leans more towards the fantastical, and the second one is on the sci-fi side of things. They set the stage for biological simulation games like Spore, Evolution: The Game of Intelligent Life, Seaman, SimLife. However, they're tedious in their own ways and are expensive and obscure. So I would approach both games with caution unless you're ready to dedicate a bunch of time to experimenting with the design of your critter.

What are your experiences with the E.V.O. games? Let us know below!