Back in the day there were usually large gaps between console releases in each region. Before gaming publications and the internet it didn’t matter as you would never know. But it sucked once you could go online and read about the games you would often have to wait months to a year to play. The upside to a staggered launch was that a bigger suite of games would be available once a new console came to your country. In the US the PlayStation 2 had 26 launch titles and covered nearly every genre. RPGs usually took a year or more to show up but this was a special case. There were no less than four at launch but sadly they were all different shades of awful. Evergrace might be the most decent of the PS2 launch rpgs but it was still average in every way.
The Rieubane Empire was once the strongest on the continent of Edinbury. This all changed when its ruler Morpheus became obsessed with the Crests, markings that some of the population possessed. His obsession led to an eventual war with the village of Toledo, the consequences of which lead to both Toldeo and Rieubane disappearing from the world. 100 years later both Darius and Sharlene, both crestbearers, are transported to the remains of the Rieubane Empire and must discover what happened in order to find a way home.
Evergrace is similar to Secret of Mana when it comes to combat. All of your actions be it attacking or running are governed by a power meter. The meter recharges after each action and your attacks are stronger at 100%. In an odd twist the meter is as long as your life bar, meaning the lower your health the faster it recharges. The game makes use of the PS2’s analog buttons by varying your attacks based on the pressure applied to the attack button.
Combat is further enrichened by Palmira actions. Literally every piece of equipment has some secondary action attached to it. These effects are varied, from multi-hit combo attacks to magic. A few have other gameplay function such as Crush, which destroys debris. These are not mandatory outside of a few specific situations. By upgrading equipment you can unlock even more Palmira actions which adds some depth to combat.
In fact the game places a significant importance on gear. You don’t collect experience points or even level up. Your stats improve by equipping new armor making every new item crucial. It is at this point that the game gets a bit ridiculous. There are a large number of gag items that double as gear; a pot, a pumpkin, and even a bird’s nest are actually helmets. There’s a frying pan with the eggs still inside that is also a weapon. If you can find it the toy hammer is actually the best weapon in the game! The creepy shop keeper will even give you a discount if you put together a snappy ensemble.
With the wealth of options I just described Evergrace sounds like a solid game. The only problem is it is incredibly boring. Each environment is incredibly small and outside of two or three locations follows a linear path. For an action RPG there is surprisingly very little of it. Rarely will you face two enemies simultaneously. The few enemies that do inhabit each area exhibit brain dead AI. Nearly every enemy can be defeated by circling and stabbing them in the back as they all fall for it. Monsters can spawn anywhere but you’ll spend long periods of time “exploring” barren environments. The few boss battles present aren’t the slightest bit challenging as the game literally drops healing items from every enemy. The only challenge comes in staying awake while playing the game.
With combat being a dud it rests on the story to carry the game and here it also falls flat. The world itself is interesting but the few NPCs encountered spout random gibberish. The localization is not the greatest as I’ve noticed frequent typos and weird phrasing. The voice acting is also not very good which affects the story as all dialogue is spoken. You’ll have to search for random books around the world to learn about the backstory of the world and how it relates to your present circumstance. Although you ultimately have to play as both characters the story varies little between the two and you largely visit the same areas. In the end the conclusion is not satisfying at all, although I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Despite its status as a PS2 game Evergrace is ugly and resembles a high resolution PS One game. Fitting, as it was also in the works for that system. Many of the textures are blurry and stretched out. The draw distance indoors is a few scant feet; it reminds me of King’s Field and Shadow Tower in that regard which is bad. The framerate frequently drops even with one enemy on screen which shows how unoptimized the game is. The one saving grace would be visible equipment. All gear is visible when equipped which sounds minor but was still not common at the time. With the game’s weird art direction you can put together some crazy outfits and even recolor every piece to customize your look. With all of the issues with the game’s presentation at least they got that part right.
Evergrace is decent at best and a far cry from the excellent action RPGs available on the PS One that same year. I genuinely like some of its gameplay ideas but the game is obtuse and drab to put up with. Rpgs usually take a year or more to show up on most consoles, this game demonstrates why.