Monday, August 31, 2009

PS2 look: Evergrace

I love the Playstation 2. In fact I would go as far to say as it is my favorite videogame console. Even today I'm continuing to find worthwhile games to play on and I'm comfortable in the knowledge that there's many more I still need to get around to. It hasn't always been this great though as like most console launches the PS2's was pretty dire. Sure there were quite a few games but most of them really didn't hold up well beyond the first month let alone several years later. Evergrace just happens to be one of those titles.

It's obvious you know where this is going and I actually apologize for doing this piece as I don't particularly enjoy looking at bad games. Sure some writers enjoy talking about things of poor quality since it allows them the chance to use all of their snarkiest comments and really show off but I'm just not interested in that. I was aware when I bought Evergrace that it wasn't all that great but I chalked it up to people simply being disappointed that at first the PS2's library wasn't all that and a bag of chips. While every game has a chance of reviewing worse now than it did when it came out I was still willing to give this game the benefit of a doubt. 

The second lowest rating I can give a game is "In-offensive". If a game is in-offensive that means it does nothing great, good, or even passable but it's extremely easy and features some compelling idea that makes the player want to stick around despite all faults. These games tend to have a solid concept but something major was lost or never worked out in the design phase so the development team simply glossed over it and made the game so easy that gamers wouldn't have anything to complain about..or so they assume. One of the benefits of this generation is that since development costs are so high most companies can't afford to do any worse than in-offensive. Evergrace however does not qualify for an in-offensive rating.

The game starts off with a man & a woman teleported to some strange new world. You start the game as either one of them and can switch between them at the multitude of savepoints placed around the world. The man is better at close-range combat while the woman has mastery of the bow & arrow. The goal is to solve minor puzzles, kill monsters, move the story along, and maybe fight a few bosses. Most importantly however is the dress-up system. By finding pieces of armor or buying them in the store the player can dress their character up in all kinds of wacky outfits in order to increase their stats. There's no real way to level-up aside from collecting certain fruits so most of the time you'll be killing respawning creatures to raise money to buy/upgrade your outfits as well as weapons. Almost all of the equipment has some sort of elemental affinity applied to it to encourage swapping for whatever encounter that comes next. 

While there is some variety to the settings the world of Evergrace is very tiny and linear. The path to the next area is always very obvious and the only difficulty from the puzzles comes from how obtuse some of them are. Despite the 3D graphics the game doesn't really do anything that couldn't have been pulled off by some older action-rpg like Crystalis on the NES. Aside from the deeper equipment system there's not anything this game does that couldn't be done just as well on much older hardware.

The combat in this game is extremely simple. There are a number of abilities that are unlocked via upgrading equipment but for the most they don't really matter. All you have to do is walk up to an enemy and hit them until they die. This is tempered somewhat by a stamina gauge that fills up in-between strikes. Though you can hit the enemy before the gauge fills up entirely it will result in less damage and possibly the enemy deflecting the blow. Several enemies can guard as well but they fall just as easily if you wait for them to strike(on-screen indicators actually pop up when the enemy is about to attack). While you're just as susceptible to damage you can carry up to 9 healing potions that restore your life entirely. These are cheap, typically found off enemy corpses, and can be bought from any save crystal. All of the elements are in place for an in-offensive game but as I mentioned before Evergrace doesn't fit that criteria.

The biggest failing or falling I could say is the game's usage of instant-death pits. Evergrace was developed by From Software. I'll be talking more about them in future reviews since while their output is all over the place in terms of quality they really shine at providing a unique experience. One standard found in nearly all From titles is the rule that if you fall off a cliff you'll die instantly. This first came up in their breakthrough King's Field series so it's only natural that it would make an appearance in other games. Evergrace handles them terribly however. It's not enough that the characters can't jump but while they're given a hover skill it can't be used to cross any chasms. In fact as soon as you step off a cliff you will drop like a rock...shot out of a cannon. This wouldn't be such a big deal either except as you progress the levels start to include more pits to fall in. My breaking point was this fire area with lava everywhere, monsters that shot projectiles designed solely to knock people into pits, and worst of all not completely clear spots where the player must drop down from a higher place to the ground below to continue.

In-offensive games are really only worthwhile when there are no other games to play. When I mean no other games I literally mean no other games. As you might remember this is how I managed to get through Mazes of Fate not too long ago. Evergrace would have been in the same boat since despite my substantial library of games I would have continued to play it until I finished it. However the prevalence of terribly-designed insta-death sections was more than enough to knock a bit of sense in my head and remind me that it's not always worth the trouble to complete such a game just to give my thoughts on it. I apologize for denying everyone out there a detailed look at a horrendous game but that's just how it goes.

I didn't complete the game and I have no intention of doing so. If you're somebody who feels wronged by my treatment of this game because you played through it then feel free to let me know. It won't change my thoughts on this game but it would be interesting to know when you played through it. 

I paid probably $4 including shipping for this game from somebody off of ebay so in the end it doesn't really matter what I say as Evergrace's time has already passed long ago. There was a sequel but it never saw release outside of Japan so it isn't really on my radar. Sure I could import it if I felt like it but the original is just a bad game. This is an even better reason to consider importing as From probably fixed the biggest problem with the title and improved the other aspects to make at least a better game than the last. In the end though I guess I'm just not in the mood and I've got far too many games as it is.

I just noticed that Evergrace 2 is available in the US under the name Forever Kingdom. I should have figured as such since From Software is behind both games and they both feature equipment sub-systems. Forever Kingdom also introduces a bizarre system where the player controls three people and if one of them takes damage the other two are damaged as well. I'm not sure why but I kind of want to give this a shot even though it's probably due to morbid curiousity more than anything else.

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