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Evolution comes under close scrutiny as the first "real" RPG for the Dreamcast system. Does it live up to the expectations of a true next-generation gaming experience? Does it deliver the realism and cinematics that this new hardware is capable of? The answer is: not really. Evolution centers around Mag Launcher, a jaunty young man with a mop of spiky red hair and a cybernetic frame strapped to his back. The CYFRAME is a large device from which a cartoonish white hand can protrude and whack enemies during battles, or it can be used for such things as zipping down a rope to escape a collapsing ruin, as shown in the opening movie. He is joined by the mysterious and silent Linear Cannon, a blond waif with huge pink eyes and strange powers. His faithful butler Gre Nade, the foxy Pepper Box, or the strange, small, and creepy kid Chain Gun can make up the third member of your party. The plot centers around Mag and company's excursions into ruins scattered throughout the Northrop Continent as they scour these huge multilevel dungeons for treasure and get rewarded at the mysterious Society that is devoted to these explorations. In fact, at least 95 percent of the game takes place in these dungeons, which can last for over four hours each. Fortunately, it is possible to save your progress in the dungeon between floors if you do not have the time in your schedule to commit to such a lengthy exploration. All told, dungeon crawling makes up about 15 of the 16 hours it takes to conquer this game, but only about 30 minutes center around Mag and his friends. Just who is the enigmatic Linear, and where did she come from? Why is Eugen, the commander of a huge military force, so interested in her? What does she have to do with the CYFRAME Evolutia? And just what happened to Mag's father? As the game progresses, the plot becomes more frequent, even affording a smattering of full-motion video throughout the final hour of the game.
The highest-quality facet of the game has to be its battles. In fact, it is easy to presume that most of the development time and effort in this game went into the battle engine. These are above-average turn-based battles with a multitude of special attacks and spells, where extremely detailed and attractive characters and enemies fight it out in full polygon glory. In fact, the graphics in these battles quite effortlessly surpass those of Final Fantasy VIII as seen in the Brave Fencer Musashi demo, while perhaps lacking that game's artistic scope. Not only do the battles look gorgeous, they are also possessed of a real technical excellence as well. There is a feature unique to this game that really deserves to be adopted by developers everywhere: Down the right side of the screen is a meter with characters and enemies represented in order of battle priority, allowing you to engage in a level of tactical planning almost unknown in RPG turn-based battles of yore. The enemies and players are each arranged in three lines; the further one has to run to attack, the less damage it is capable of doing. Some spells and special attacks only affect one line of enemies or characters, while others are all-encompassing. This adds another tactical element to the strategy of battle planning in Evolution, which can become a necessity to master, as the game becomes extremely difficult the further one proceeds through it.
The graphics are of uneven quality; while the battles are stunning, the dungeons are completely boring and utilitarian. Bare corridors stretch almost endlessly, and while the texture maps are certainly of extremely high quality, they can easily become quite uninteresting after a short while. The dungeons rotate freely using the L and R buttons on the underside of the Dreamcast controller, and there is an automapping feature to make the exploration as painless as possible. But after four hours in one dungeon, the games does have a tendency to become somewhat tedious. The save feature between floors will be most welcome to almost all who play this game.
Really, when rating this game one has to question what the basis is for a truly enjoyable RPG experience. As stated, the plot is dull, hopelessly clichéd, and almost completely absent for a great deal of the game. That said, there is still enjoyment and quality to be found here in the exploration and conquering of the dungeons and bosses that await. While the game is above average, the weak plot does keep it from becoming a classic of the genre. There is no real reason why this game should not make the Dreamcast launch in the US; it's a genuinely satisfying experience, even if it is a bit textbook in execution and scope. --Christian Nutt
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