Nearly a year after the its U.S. launch, Dreamcast owners still have a small number RPGs to choose from. While numerous high-profile projects are due to see an American release either this Winter or early in 2001, few currently released games have managed to garner much attention. Enter Evolution: World of Sacred Device, a traditional turn-based RPG / dungeon-crawl from Sting. With charming characters and impressive graphics, Evolution was the first post-PSX RPG to stand a chance of being a real success, but it fell short of potential due to a shockingly short length and sudden ending. However, enough aspects of Evolution were enjoyable for it to gain cult-hit status and warrant a sequel that hit stores towards the end of June.

Who says anime style characters don't mix w/next-gen graphics?
Gentlemen prefer blondes

    Technically speaking, almost every aspect of Evolution was done very well. The charming cast of five playable characters each has a name derived from ammunition or weaponry: Mag Launcher, Linear Cannon, Chain Gun, Gre Nade, and Pepper Box. Mag is the last remaining member of the famous Launcher family, renowned for a strong lineage of the world's best adventurers. The Linear family's hopes and pride now rest in the hands of young Mag, Evolution's hero. Unfortunately, Mag also inherited the family debt, a source of shame to his famous name. Under the watchful eye of Gre, the Launcher family butler and an acclaimed adventurer himself, Mag's goal is to make enough money to get his family out of debt through adventuring and make his father proud. Mag's father disappeared five years ago while exploring, only to have the mysterious young girl Linear return to his home with a note, instructing Gre and Mag to take care of her. Innocent and shy, Linear never speaks, although she's always by Mag's side. Rounding out the team are the brash Chain Gun, whose family has long rivaled the Launcher family in both exploring and everything else, and Pepper Box, an adventurer from another town looking for exploration opportunities worthy of her skills.

    Everything in Evolution is centered around the small town of Pannama. Included in this town is The Society, an archaeological foundation which sends adventurers to the various ruins across the continent, purchasing artifacts from them upon their return. The Launcher family's debt is owed to The Society -- every time Mag completes a dungeon, part of his earnings will go to repay that debt. The most valuable treasures to be found are CyFrames, weapons which a person can wear to grant them numerous battle or exploration abilities, and the most powerful CyFrame ever though to exist is the legendary Evolutia. Of course, not everyone wants the CyFrame Evolutia for historical purposes, and that's where the protagonists come in to play. The 8th Imperial Army is also seeking the Evolutia, which leads to constant clashes with Mag and crew, while Mag's father was said to be on the verge of finding it before his disappearance.

    Although the entire story setup may seem overly cliché, they manage to be thoroughly enjoyable, largely due to their presentation. The character models in Evolution are well done, and while they don't hit the level of realism found in other Dreamcast games, they serve the RPG genre well. The younger characters -- Chain, Linear, and Mag -- have SD portions, while Gre and Pepper are a bit more realistic, though still cartoonish in appearance. Sting made good use of various anime-style facial expressions, which help portray comedy and other emotions on the characters when appropriate. The soundtrack also adds to the atmosphere, with catchy, memorable tunes that fit the game's "1930's Indiana Jones" approach well.

 I think the damned lamp is big enough
Mmm, mmm, plaid.

    Characters equip a variety of standard RPG equipment, with certain pieces adding elemental or status changes. Two characters, Gre and Linear, equip various weapons while the rest require use of CyFrames. For the weapon users, defeating enemies accrues skill points, which can be assigned . Gre and Linear each have a set list of skill types, such as Cure magic, and each skill type has upwards of 10 individual skills to be learned. By choosing that skill type in the techs menu, the player can look at which cure magic she has yet to learn, and distribute skill points accordingly. Characters who wear CyFrames follow the same basic formula, but with more equipment also being necessary to learn additional techs. All CyFrames have three equipment slots to begin with, and what is placed in these slots determines the character's fighting abilities. If the player was to equip "Hand Parts, Level 1" to Mag's CyFrame, hand-based fighting techniques would become available to spend skill points on. From here, players can mix and match what type of parts they want to use, with available techniques dependant on what they have equipped to their CyFrame.

    All battles and exploration take place inside ruins, which are randomly generated level by level. Progress is made by going floor to floor, with dungeons ranging from around 15 floors to nearly 30. Traps and monsters are randomly inserted into every floor, and a variety of tools help you find your way around them with little trouble. Some tools may show you the entire map of a floor at once (which normally is filled out as you explore) or make you invisible to the enemy, while traps vary between the usual array of status ailments and some that actually help through lowering enemy levels or restoring health.

    Battles begin when the player comes into physical contact with an enemy. The angle of contact is worth paying attention to, as a careful approach from behind can result in a few free rounds of attacking. Battles themselves are turn-based, with each side placed on a three-by-three square grid. The closer an attacker to his target, the more damage they will deal. Input is entirely menu based, with the standard RPG-fare choices of attacking, defending, using an item, and using a special move. Special moves, the aforementioned techniques learned via skill points, can be used when the character has sufficient tech points. These can be acquired through regular attacks or using restorative items, although it's easier to run out of them than you may think. Through this battle formula breaks little new ground, fans of tradition turn-based fighting won't be disappointed.

Background?  We don't need no stinkin' background, man.
He's got spunk!

    With all the major bases being covered, why didn't Evolution make a bigger mark? Because it prepared a well-rounded game package and then gave the player precious little of it. The average player can finish Evolution in as little as nine hours, an incredibly short time for a traditional RPG. While the ruins were enjoyable, only a total of five were included in the entire game. Although the tunes were notably catchy, it felt as if there were no more than a dozen total, remixes aside. The enemies found in every dungeon were drawn from the same 15 creatures, barring an occasional palette swap. Despite a gimmick that allows for re-exploration of the game's ruins after the credits have rolled and the game completed, by this time the average player is sure to be tired of fighting the same 15 enemies over and over, and the desire to continue and "finish" the additional challenge is all but non-existent.

    Even the ending itself was a massive disappointment, or more accurately, when the ending occurred. The second major flaw of Evolution, this ending comes when most players are likely to be getting into the story more than ever. While it'd be a spoiler to say what happens in much detail, the fact that Evolution ends during a crucial story moment might be one of the worst decisions I've ever seen in game development. Ending a game at a central story twist, and at only nine hours in, is what lost Evolution many fans.

    Despite the major disappointment in Evolution's abrupt finish, it's still an enjoyable game to play while it lasts. Unfortunately, this extremely short play time makes it almost foolish to purchase the game if it's available for rent or borrow.

Vault by Jeremy Steimel, GIA.
Developer Sting
Publisher ESP
Genre Traditional RPG
Medium CD (1)
Platform Sega Dreamcast
Release Date  01.21.99
Evolution scheduled for December
10 English screenshots
3 phone cards
North American box art