No console had ever launched in the US with an RPG alongside it, so when Agetec announced they were bringing From Software's action-RPG Evergrace (along with Eternal Ring) to American shores on October 26th, gamers were understandably pleased. But the unhappy truth is that like many launch titles, Evergrace is rough-edged and rushed, displaying a bit of innovation but hardly using any of the system's or game's potential.

    As is almost the norm these days, Evergrace provides two characters with intertwining quests. Darius is a orphaned youth who bears a "cursed" crest on his right hand which brings misfortune to all around him. The other lead, Sharline, was like a sister to Darius until she mysteriously disappeared when his father was assassinated. Both have been transported somehow to the Lost Empire of Rieubane and must work to find a way back to their own world while solving the mystery of Darius' crest. The Empire itself had been a major power in the world of Evergrace, developing powerful Palmira armaments and using their magical powers to conquer the continent. Then it vanished without a trace.

 And this is about as scenic as it gets...
A "scenic" view

    The world of Evergrace is interesting enough; the player is first greeted with a lush FMV sequence that gives a brief tour of Rieubane, modeled in rich earth tones and curved, organic forms. Unfortunately, the rest of the game fails to live up to the promise of the introduction. Evergrace was originally a PlayStation title and, despite the designers' insistence that it was moved to the PS2 in "the early design stages," this shows. While attention was paid to the characters and monsters that populate Rieubane, the environments themselves often seem ripped directly from a PlayStation game, complete with bland textures and foggy horizon. There is the occasional field full of grass or giant bone protruding from a lava pit, but the graphical detail (especially later in the game) doesn't even compete with last-generation PSX efforts like Soul Reaver or Silent Hill.

    Of course, no game lives or dies by its graphics alone and, luckily, Evergrace offers a few new twists on a familiar action RPG formula -- most noticeably in the way it handles weapons and armor. Similar to Legend of Legaia, all equipment you use actually shows up on your character. In addition to the usual assortment of spears, swords, and armor, you'll be able to outfit your characters with everything from a bird's nest or bunny ears for a helmet to a decorative globe for a cudgel.

Too bad they can't make a whole game...
Clothes make the man (or woman)

    This equipment isn't just decorative; it's a integral part of the gameplay. Many of the game's more powerful weapons and armor give the player access to "Palmira Actions" -- special attacks, movement abilities, and spells. When the equipment is upgraded in the shop, new actions become available. As they're used, the equipment gradually decreases in power. Most of the game's puzzles have Darius and Sharline changing outfits and re-dying their armor to select the right fashion choice for the job at hand. It may sound goofy, but it's one of Evergrace's most charming features and adds some personality to the game.

    Evergrace needs all the personality it can get because, beyond the silly armor and occasionally interesting puzzles, the combat quickly grows tiresome. Each of the playable characters has a power bar, similar to Secret of Mana, which determines how strong a blow will be. Using the analog buttons on the Dual Shock 2, a light tap will result quick attack and strong strike will drain the bar completely. Although it's great to see the new functions of the controller being used, in practice you'll almost always employ the strongest attack. This would be fine, except for the fact that running also depletes the bar. The most practical way to keep your power up while avoiding the enemy is to repeatedly tap the run button, stutter-stepping around the their flank. This not only looks ridiculous -- it's tedious and overly simplistic. The frequent battles offer little challenge or enjoyment and you'll soon find yourself zipping past enemies to find the next nifty helmet.

    In the end, all the fashion accessories in the world can't save Evergrace from being a decidedly average game on all fronts, even when judged against the standards of the the last generation. Beyond a few interesting gameplay quirks, the game doesn't have much to offer that hasn't been done before and done markedly better. Early titles for any system are usually forgiven their shallow gameplay in exchange for impressive visuals, but Evergrace can't even fall back on that. The result is a game that falls just short of mediocrity.

Review by Zak McClendon, GIA.
Developer From Software
Publisher Agetec
Genre Action RPG
Medium CD (1)
Platform PlayStation 2
Release Date  Spring 2000
Release date mania!
13 screenshots
2 new character designs / 2 wallpaper images
North American packaging