While the original Evolution didn't exactly take the RPG world by storm, critics gave credit where it was due: namely, to the entertaining battle system and the lively, memorable characters. Its limited scope, cut-and-dried narrative, and stupor-inducing dungeon design, however, weren't the subject of much praise. Unfortunately, many of these same elements often work to undermine any progress its sequel might have made.
From the start, Evolution 2: Far off Promise works hard to sell you its lovable, vibrant characters. Fortunately, the pitch is a good one - it's hard not to be charmed by the whippy Mag Launcher and his band of endearing cohorts. From the gauzy, intense Yurka to the rough and swarthy Carcano, all the characters you'll encounter are imbued with a tangible life that's often comic and that is at other times convincingly human. Indeed, it's tempting to say that Evolution 2's character designs steal the show.
But we can't forget the RPG framework surrounding the cast. Though there's little here that challenges any expectations you might have concerning the genre, the system is, at the very least, a very minimal vehicle for the thoughtful characters. The plot involves, once more, the adventures of the young Mag Launcher, the head of a household known to spawn legendary adventurers. His house having fallen from grace, Mag must accumulate enough booty to pay off the family debt. This leads to his continued employment by The Society - a far-reaching archeological organization - which hires him to scour dangerous locales for ancient artifacts.
All the excursions are based out of Museville, the game's central (and only) town, where The Society's campus is located. The drill is all too familiar - Mag and his posse are sent on a quest, where they hustle to a dungeon and kill or collect whatever has to be killed or collected. During the downtime between excursions, the plot is furthered, though never to a satisfactory extent. In truth, you really do get to feel that the great characters deserve more thoughtful treatment.
The original game's battle system was retained for the sequel. Essentially, every participant occupies a space on a grid, and most special attacks affect areas, rather than individual creatures (aside, of course, from a few attacks that require a single, specific target). There is a wide range of attacks available, both in terms of aesthetics and areas of effect. Cyframe users can heavily customize their gear sets, which allows for diversely armed characters, each with very cool attacks. Each character also has special talents, which actually seem more like colorful additions than serious battle assets. Mag, for example, can receive a present from Linear, which boosts his ego, and in turn, his attack attributes.
With all its small, neat touches, it's a shame that the battle system surfaces only during the relatively dull dungeon crawls (which, unfortunately, make up a majority of the game). While the dungeons' layouts are predesigned, it seems as if the artists had very little to work with. Every floor in a particular dungeon looks roughly identical to the last. Enemies get more powerful and traps become more plentiful as you ascend, but you're left with the feeling that you're exploring slight variations of the same level. And given that these dungeons can get pretty long (upward of ten levels), such a monotonous design decision seems like a big no-no.
In spite of the game's uniformity, the graphics manage to shine. The characters, though by no means technical marvels, are masterfully designed and, in a very minimalist way, ingeniously animated. The game features a third-person view mode (in addition to the traditional, overhead RPG perspective) that truly helps to bring the world to life. The game's environments are decently realized, looking like something out of an early 20th-century adventure pulp, and the dungeons, while horribly uniform, are decently modeled. The audio production is also decent, boasting subtitled Japanese voice work and Sting's take on your standard arsenal of RPG themes.
In the end, Evolution 2 leaves you with the feeling that its cast of charming characters deserves a more effective vehicle. While the entire production is technically proficient, it's apparent that many elements crucial to an RPG's success were skimped on, leaving you feeling a bit disappointed that there isn't more to the game.