Enix published some terrific hits for the Super Nintendo. ActRaiser, Terranigma, E.V.O…..wait what? What’s E.V.O you say? I’m not talking about the fighting game tournament. I’m talking about E.V.O.: Search for Eden, a hidden Super Nintendo action-RPG about the evolution of life. You are guided by Gaia, the daughter of the Sun and the Earth, to survive and evolve throughout the development of the Earth, while preserving the natural course of life evolution from creatures who wish to take advantage of the powers that come from evolving. Modern games tend to brag on how many years the game spans (remember BioWare bragging about Dragon Age II spanning 10 years?), well E.V.O. spans roughly 4.6 billion years. To say that’s a long time would be a severe understatement. But in actuality, the game isn’t that long.
The gameplay itself actually spans across five chapters, with each chapter taking place during a specific time period. The Cambrian Period, the Ordovician Period, the Carboniferous Period, the Neogene Period, and the Quaternary Period. In simple terms, you start the game as a fish, then you evolve into a reptile, then a dinosaur, and then you are ready to evolve into a mammal near the end of the game. Evolution in the game is where the role playing mechanics come in. You evolve by killing other creatures. Some creatures are weak and docile, while some creatures are out to kill you. And then there are “boss” creatures who will really test your abilities. The more creatures you kill, the more evolution points you accumulate. You use these evolution points to enhance each of your body parts, leading towards a complete evolution of the creature you are playing. The creatures you can evolve into depend on the chapter you are playing. In other words, you can’t play through the entire game as one strong creature. You will have to evolve into multiple strong creatures to make it to the end of the game. If that sounds too daunting, don’t worry. If you die in the game, then you’ll only have to start the current area you’re in over again at the cost of half of your current evolution points. And you can save your progress on the games world map at any time, so you won’t have to worry about losing so much progress over a single game over. And you can replay previously completed areas (only on the current chapter you’re on), so there’s even some sandbox elements to this game, to help you accumulate evolution points if you ever get stuck.
This game could teach you about the evolution of life in its earliest stages, but this is the furthest thing from a traditional educational game. Although it isn’t an educational game, it is strongly encouraged that you pay attention to all the hints given to you, and to not just skim through them. If you just play through the game without fully understanding the evolution mechanics, and how to survive the current environments, then this game will be very challenging to you right when you confront the first boss. If you do adhere to all the advice given to you, and you use that advice wisely, then the game will be moderately difficult instead of destroy-your-controller difficult. The level design itself, save for a few areas, is pretty generic and straight forward. Sure everything looks nice and pretty, but you won’t have to thoroughly go through most of the areas just to advance the game, or find any special items. The soundtrack for this game is composed by Koichi Sugiyama, famous for his work on the Dragon Quest franchise. Some of his compositions were originally made for the spiritual predecessor of the game 46 Okunen Monogatari: The Shinka Ron, released on the PC-Engine by the same company that developed E.V.O. Those tracks were arranged by Motoaki Takenouchi, who once studied under Sugiyama himself. The music does an okay job capturing the moods of each environment, and the mysteries behind your journey through life. Not to say that every single track in the game is ambient. There are times in the game where you’ll hear more quirky than haunting tracks to guide you on your journey.
This game was only released in Japan, and North America. Sorry rest of the world. But if you’re in a country that doesn’t sell this game, and you’re the type that would import games, I would recommend looking this one up. The challenge is (at least) moderate, and thanks to the evolution mechanic, there’s enough customization options to add replay value to the game. The graphics are simple, but not ugly. The soundtrack is nice. Decent, but not terrible. Does a fine job conveying the mood of the game. All in all, E.V.O.: Search for Eden is a fine, yet hidden gem in the Super Nintendo library, with gameplay that would be deemed “ahead of its time” back in the day.
PS: If you’ve ever played I Wanna Be The Guy, then you might recognize one of the tracks in the soundtrack.