Evergrace Thoughts UPDATE (2022/02/16)

Actually after posting that review I went and did Yuterald's route up to the point it was the same as Shaluami's. I thought Yuterald's (Darius) route suffered from similar problems to Shaluami's - simple yet tedious puzzles (the mirror cave - once you knew how to make colors from the mirrors, execution was easy, but you had to run a lot.) I enjoyed the above-ground areas, actually, the whole opening sequence up to entering the castle was cool and really felt like proto-Souls.

After learning more about the story - it's kind of funny how similar FromSoft games are story-wise? Is the same person just writing the same story about some dude with a sign being trapped in some weird world? Anyways, that's kind of funny. While minimal and rushed, I did like Yuterald and Shaluami... kind of sad to find out Evergrace 2 is a prequel, but that should also be interesting, I hope...

Original Review

Some thoughts on Evergrace, a 2000 PS2 game by FromSoftware. It's a game where you play as a man and a girl (Sharline). I cleared Sharline's today and might try the man's out if I'm feeling patient (or I might skip to Forever Kingdom, Evergrace's follow-up, if I'm feeling impatient...)

Review of Sharline's Route

You wake up, confused, in a forest cottage, before it's blown up by some baby-angel and an old wizard. A woman helps you, but she's kidnapped. You set out to find her.

The opening moments of the game were my favorite. Wandering around forests, RPG plains, their paths carved through insurpassable, white-stone-mountains, steep cliffs overlooking the sea, a tower-like laboratory floating off to the distance. And in the horizon, a mysterious, tall JRPG tower.

A single NPC in the overworld told me I'd come from some outside world, and the world I was in, was sealed away. He asked for flowers for the grave we were standing near. I complied, walked 100 meters to find the pond with the flowers, and then fell to my death (the pond flows off into an abyss that does not have an invisible wall). I reloaded, returned, and got the flower.

I haven't played much of FromSoft's other work, but it was enlightening to see that almost none of Evergrace's staff worked on Dark or Demon's Souls. However I still see design vocabulary from Evergrace, present in Demon's Souls. I find it suspicious to the extent that Hidetaka Miyazaki has been deified as the genius behind those games, as much as I'm know his contributions were valuable. I feel like Demon's Souls was as much Miyazaki's contributions as it was FromSoft's designers and artists being able to polish and focus the design ideas stewing throughout their past 15 years of games.

For one, the NPCs in Evergrace have a bit of Souls-y-ness to them - vagrants who mumble vaguely about the world, disappear without warning. Items have descriptions, and you can wear all sorts of gear to dress up funny (my favorite was the frying pan with two eggs, and the very large pole that extended off the screen. Bonus points to the literal bucket hat.) There's a single store with a funny elephant clerk who laughs at you when you want to upgrade the fried-egg-filled frying pan. He gives you discounts if you give him mushrooms, and can rate your clothes (I think?) I like those little quirks of personality.

Anyways, after helping the old man with the flowers, I wandered some ruin-filled canyons, with some pretty, golden savanna grass. Every now and then I'd interact with a fountain that healed me instantly (funny enough, bunk beds appear later in the game which do the same thing - even in rooms with enemies! In those rooms, you can tank hits, then talk to the bed to heal instantly. Funny.) ...But back at the beginning area: insects attacked me, mysterious gates presented themselves. Eventually I walked back out to the opening area's plains, strewn with strange insect nests.

Then some woman told me to touch a statue, taking me to a homunculus laboratory, and the game became more dull. The gist of the rest of Sharline's route is you're chasing down the evil magician through his lab. You end up going through a lava cavern and a mysterious tower before ending the route and having to clear the Man's route in order to finish the story.

The art was nice in the remaining areas, quiet and dark, a bit less inspired though - not as magic-feeling as the opening plains. I was reminded a bit of King's Quest 8 or Quest 64.

The puzzles are sometimes interesting, but often weighed down by the slow UI (you have to change clothes for some of them) or visual communication (for one puzzle, you need to wear all blue - but it's not clear which blue armor works and which doesn't...)


Anyways, this game feels pretty Souls-ian in that you can wear armor and it looks different on your character. It was funny to wear a literal bucket hat, or fight with a 10-foot pole.

The game felt rushed because its design systems' complexity seem misplaced. One, the element system. Enemies will absorb some elements and be weak to others. The game manual suggests you to purchase enemy info from the store and read up on what weapons and armor to use in your encyclopedia, which is cool-sounding! But in practice, it's easier to swap between two elemental weapons and brute force which one kills the enemy. Overall it feels annoying.

Armor pieces and weapons can have skills. You can only equip one skill at a time, though, and using it depletes that equipment's durability. Other than movement skills (like the sprint move, which was annoying to have to constantly repair and re-equip), skills tend to be 'weapon skills' and 'magic spells'.

Unfortunately magic spells were nearly useless because of how enemy AI works in this game. If an enemy isn't attacking, and you attack, it usually instantly guards, negating your attack. Magic's cast time is so slow that it's really hard to hit the enemy in its vulnerability window. This being an action game means that you might as well ignore magic, since it's easier to poke an enemy 4 times than to try and cast at it 2 times.

I don't understand what most of the weapon skills did - they'd deplete durability and then usually do the same damage(?). There are descriptions but the text is really blurry/tiny in this game (in Japanese at least.)

The camera is hard to use. When you run away from an enemy, the camera rotates towards where you're running - so you lose sight of the enemy. To fight, you have to awkwardly snap the camera around and hope you can time an attack correctly.

Most enemies feel the same to fight. Attack and spell hitboxes are unclear so it's safer to just run around them until you can catch them in an animation. Some of your weapons are really slow, so I ended up using the faster spears the whole time, since the others were almost useless. This felt like it went against the spirit of dressing up funny (which the game used as a marketing term, the 'paper doll' system). The game says Sharline is "good with bows!" and I though bows were cool, until all the enemies started to guard the attack because of how slow bows are.

If you're going to be as immobile as you are in Evergrace, and keep the slow, jump-less melee combat, you kind of need some sort of parry/dodge/defense system to make action engaging. I guess this is how FromSoft ended up with Demon's Souls 9 years later?

Also somehow I missed mentioning, but there's a bizarre system where your health bar is also stamina. If you press an attack button down HARD, your health turns from red to yellow, and you need to wait a bit to attack again. If you tap the attack button, you do a weak or medium attack, which usually does like, no damage. The thing is, I could never tell how damage was affected by my remaining health %. The lower % of health you have, the faster your stamina can hit 100% and you can do a full attack - but was that the same strength as having 100% health? I can't even describe this. I think what they were going for was at lower health you can perform heavy attacks more often (risk reward), but it was hard to tell in practice.

Basically, the game was obviously rushed or mismanaged. There's way too much detail put into elements, the equipment skills, the upgrade paths, and too little attention put into the core system that would make any of that meaningful - the combat!

The result is that most of the levels in Sharline's route feel dull, because they become boring corridors full of enemies that feel the same to fight.

In Summary

Overall, Evergrace felt like it was rushed, or made under crunch, its various RPG systems not amounting to much due to the lackluster action elements. This was a PS2 launch title, so my guess was it was a nightmare of a development cycle. To be a launch title, you need to have good connections and be lucky enough to have a game that you can finish in the 1-2 year window before the platform's release. I wonder how much of FromSoftware's survival to Demon's Souls can be chalked up to them releasing two titles (with at least one, Evergrace, being not great...) at the PS2's launch, where people bought it because it was one of the only games available to play. But I digress...

Maybe Darius (the other character)'s route is better? Idk. It would have the same combat system, so probably not?

I would recommend the first hour or two of Sharline's route. The vibes are good, and it's kind of fun to grind a bit with the janky combat system. Story-wise I guess I do like the vague rpg fantasy overall, so I am curious about Darius's route, and the sequel, Forever Kingdom. I like that this game is short. It took me like 6 hours to beat Sharline's route (with a guide), but at least 1-2 of those was me repeating after cheap deaths or being lost during some of the puzzles with poor design communication.