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Evergrace (PlayStation 2) artwork

Evergrace (PlayStation 2) review


"Graceless"


Strong starts are as common as dirt. Think about it: how many video games have you played that kicked off with an awesome intro movie or a sweet prelude sequence, but petered out as the campaign advanced? Hell, some of them start to crumble the instant you move the player character. Such is the case with the PlayStation 2 launch RPG Evergrace.

This FromSoftware vehicle kicks off with a serene, peaceful theme. A camera rushes across a gorgeous landscape before rising over a lush forest. There, you watch one of the two selectable protagonists stand before an immense tree before it sends him off to another realm. A choir sings gloriously while stringed and percussion instruments assist in creating a semi-romantic cut. "You're going to visit a world of absolute wonder and beauty," this FMV seems to boast.

Throughout this adventure, you'll hear more of Kota Hoshino's otherworldly soundtrack, created with a mixture of synthesized beats, traditional Japanese instruments and voice editing. No, he didn't hire a whole choir of vocalists, but edited samples of his own voice to create what he calls an "ethnic sound." In that respect, he nailed the game's score, crafting music befitting of a fictional foreign culture that should add some depth to this adventure.

However, once you work you way through the Rieubane Empire, you realize that isn't the case...

Rather, you visit your share of plain, ordinary environments, with only superficial hints of a dead civilization scattered throughout the land. You might see a fallen pillar or an old monument, but you don't discover anything so grand that you wish you could examine the whole world. Worse than that, the campaign itself is a linear, level-by-level affair, rather than an open or semi-open world rife with exploration. You abide a pretty tight rail, only given the opportunity to search divergent pathways and corridors occasionally. Even then, a fair number of areas only lead to dead ends or sometimes an empty chest. Though it can be worth your while (you do sometimes locate special equipment), exploration doesn't reward you often enough to matter.

You do glimpse the occasional imaginative set piece, such as huge conch shells jutting from the ground or elaborately designed chambers that hold massive sentinels. However, most of the land you visit barely exudes style or culture, and mostly consists of run of the mill fantasy trappings. As a result, Hoshino's excellent work fails to bolster the fantastical elements, coming off instead as quirky or weird. It also doesn't help that you run into a lot of off-the-wall junk as you advance. A bird's nest that acts as a helmet? A frying pan weapon, complete with a fried egg stuck to it? Content like this isn't "otherworldly," it's just silly and further paints the soundtrack as nonsensical.

On the flip side, you do end up facing a lot of really strange, colorful creatures. FromSoft didn't pack this product with a bunch of grimdark adversaries, but pit you against multi-colored insects, melon-shaped rats, magenta creatures and neon demons. If the previously described drab environs help in any way, they at least serve as a contrast to the wickedly vivid bestiary on offer.

Even if you were to ignore all of these clashing styles and enjoy the experience as a standard action-RPG, you won't be entirely thrilled. Mostly, this is due to tiresome (and sometimes frustrating) combat and dated mechanics. For one thing, you can't rotate the camera using the right thumbstick. Yeah, this is one of those games; the old type that force you to use a shoulder button to readjust the lens. On top of that, you can't lock onto targets, so you need to follow your foes and constantly press a button to refocus the camera so you can successfully land a blow. Sometimes, your opponent moves when you're getting situated and you need to reposition yourself just to score one shot.

The worst comes near the end of the campaign, where you battle an old man who teleports all over the battlefield. Before you can even bring him into the camera's view, he hits you with multiple projectiles, some of which inflict a status ailment on you. Yeah, it gets worse, too; if you don't get to him damn near immediately, he'll teleport away. In other words, you need to be Johnny-on-the-spot while negotiating a tricky camera without any sort of lock-on feature. But hey, at least he doesn't nail you from off screen and throw you into a pit, as many other foes do. When that occurs, you don't respawn somewhere else on the map, less a few hit points. You just die.

Yeah, pits instantly kill you, and they're everywhere, and you fall into them often if you're not super cautious. Because that's just what a game with awkward camera mechanics needed...

Bear in mind that these are the worst cases Evergrace has to offer, and are by no means representative of every skirmish provided. For the most part, you chop up a bunch of dumb beasts who might sometimes get a blow in. They're mostly easy to fell, especially since your standard attack is nothing more than a single whack. Of course, this also means that even the best fights boil down to a tedious thud.....thud.....thud.....thud..... or a couple of quick flashes of magic.

You might wonder what From's selling point was with this title, and honestly I'm still wondering it. The only standout feature it possesses revolves around collecting and upgrading weapons and armor, each of which visibly transform you while providing elemental resistance, physical support and potential access to a new spell. For instance, if you wield a hammer and put on a fire-based breastplate, you'll be able to slam the opposition with a defense-ignoring special blow, or immolate them with fire magic.

However, these neat dress up mechanics come with a price. Almost all of the game's puzzles revolve around either standing in front of a statue while wearing a particular getup or hitting a switch of sorts with an elemental strike. Each situation provides clues that couldn't be more obvious if they were replaced with huge signs that told you exactly what to don. Every time one of these segments crops up, you enter your menu and change out of your personally tailored array of goods, all so you can stand in front of a statue for two seconds, then return to the menu to put your preferred duds back on. Ugh, it's Crystalis all over again.

By the time you reach the conclusion, you couldn't be more eager to depart this bizarre hell world. Evergrace's campaign feels less like a trip through a wonderland, and more akin to battling through a fever dream. It's hard to think that a game that promised boundless wonder in its early outs eventually devolved into an awkward, clumsy, mediocre RPG with a decent soundtrack. Its weirdness makes it easy to appreciate, but its irritating mechanics and puzzles render it difficult to enjoy.

2/5

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (December 08, 2019)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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