EvoLand is a small indie project that was greenlight to Steam talking about 'the story of the evolution of RPGs'. I liked the idea so I decided to take a look at it. I love games where you evolve through concepts by way of unlockables and I love RPGs, and EvoLand scratched both those itches with varying degrees of success.
Some important parts of the RPG history are skipped
The game opens up with a monochrome kind of one-dimensional system where you can only walk right to open a chest that unlocks the ability to walk left. Walking left unlocks 2d proper, but I was left a bit confused by that whole sequence. What RPG is there that you could only walk right? Or only walk left and right in a single line? Which part of the history of games is that supposed to cover? Even the old zelda game was 2d. The style shown here is the old gameboy style, but even then, I'm not sure what game this is supposed to make me think of.
You then walk along, unlock various chests (most of them have mechanics and systems locked inside of them, the others have stars and cards (used to play a triple triad-like game)) and after less than ten minutes, you unlock 16-colors then 32. Like that. Without going over the NES area of RPGs, nor exploring the 16 colors world a bit more. You get a sword and it plays like the old zelda games, except that you die in one hit and are kicked back at the title screen until you unlock having hearts.
Later on, the game becomes 3d but keeps 2d gameplay, even for the zelda segments, Zelda 64 was a big point in gaming history and it added important concepts such as Z-targeting so I would've loved to see it touched a bit.
How I would fix this
Add a little interlude with final fantasy 1-style graphics and music, this is a distinct era of games where you could easily recognize things as such. Maybe a little nod to zelda 64 would've worked too, I know it's not that easy to make that kind of game but if you're going to pay an hommage to playstation 1 rpgs, I think nintendo 64 hits are fair game.
The fun of EvoLand is in the unlocking and the progression...
...not in the actual gameplay. You alternate between zelda-style adventure sections in which you have to solve puzzles by lighting torches and pushing things on switches and killing enemies. That part is okay even tho the swordplay is a bit clumsy and the dungeons can drag on too long. The really fun thing about the game is the chests that grant you new concepts such as having an inventory or NPCs to talk to, not really falling into a whole, dying, then having to restart a dungeon at the last save point.
The RPG parts are a bit better but they are too slow, your mage character can heal forever (like Banon in Final Fantasy 6) so it's kinda difficult to die and the really high encounter rate against the same pack of enemies makes this bit of a chore. There are not tons of items to get for this part since they just increase your stats a bit and the gold is used to buy neat little things like a DVD player (to remove loading times between areas) and more cards to play with. But the battle system doesn't evolve, really. It goes from FF6 to FF7, but that's pretty much it. No appearance of completely turn-based systems nor different ideas like FF10 did.
Then the game goes into weird action-rpg mode where you hit things and numbers pop out and gold/loot drop around. I really enjoyed that part even tho after a while I realized that all the loot was kind of a joke, these items didn't do anything and they didn't make sense. The action-rpg segment lasted long enough and the boss was kind tough so I wished in some way that they did give items with some use.
How I would fix this
Add more things to unlock, maybe the battle system should've started turn-base and you had to unlock the active time component, add ways to avoid random encounter, shorten the dungeons a bit and the amount of grind there is to do while you're walking around on the world map. The whole action-rpg sequence could've used more unlocks too, from what I recall, there's a minimap and that's pretty much it. There are other tropes in the genre, like the blue mana orb, spells and actual loot.
I like EvoLand!
It's a really interesting idea and I love games that unlock gameplay systems as you go along like that flash shooter game, some of the systems could've been executed a little bit better but all and all, it was full of funny stabs at tropes and mechanics used in some RPGs that I've played.