As the resident FromSoft admirer here at GameCritics.com, I usually take every chance I get to recommend some of their finer works and help bring this tragically unsung studio into the spotlight. Ive spent time with nearly every game theyve made, and loved (or at least had a really good friendship) with each one until now. EverGrace was the only FromSoft title that had managed to consistently slip past my radar, and I was glad to see it on my review schedule after all this time. However, my initial joy was soon replaced by a fairly sizable amount of disappointment. Its unavoidable that even the best studios will make a misstep now and then, but with that possibility becoming a reality, my world has been shaken.
The cause of my dismay is EverGrace, a third-person action-adventure game that was released as a PlayStation 2 launch title. In this game, players can choose between two characters, each with separate storylines. The male character, Darius, is better with melee weapons. The games female, Sharline, is skilled with ranged weapons. Oddly, there is no jumping. The camera follows almost directly behind the characters and can be centered with a push of the R1 button. A limited look-around feature is also available.
Save points throughout the game offer access to a magical shop that features all types of equipment and items for sale. Also, these same save points allow players to switch between Darius and Sharline at any time during their adventures. In a unique twist, magic and abilities in the game are embedded into pieces of equipment instead of learned by the characters. The multi-function equipment also takes the place of experience or leveling-up systems since the characters gain power by continuous upgrades.
Its an unorthodox system, and emphasis is put on finding, mixing and modifying the games armor and weapons. Theres no shortage of things to noodle around with since FromSoft has included pretty much everything a person would logically wear in a fantasy adventure and also a lot of stuff that a person wouldnt. (The pumpkin head was an especially interesting choice.) While I appreciated the "dress yourself" theme, the attention to detail and the wealth of customization available, I had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that this is really the only interesting hook EverGrace has to offer.
As one who is more than intimately familiar with this studios other games, I know for a fact that a large selection of equippable things is one of their trademarks. Its something theyre known for. Armor and weapons are abound in the Kings Field series, there are more techno-doodads in Armored Core than you can ever use, and there were over 100 different magical spells to pick from in Lost Kingdoms. I dont mean to dismiss this type of design in any way, but this is something that I generally expect from any title they put out. As a result, I was less than impressed by FromSoft rolling out their S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedure) and trying to pass it off as EverGraces main attraction. Compared to their other games, EverGrace ends up feeling like a rough starting point of a game that wasnt taken any further.
I admit that I may be jaded to this selling point because Ive seen this (usually enjoyable) feature so many times already, but with the way the equipment system is implemented in EverGrace, I doubt that anyone would be very taken with it. For starters, the items require too much upkeep. The equipment all seems to decay and fall apart at such an alarming rate youll have to patch and repair your items almost every time you go to the shop. While Im not opposed to having realistic wear and tear factor into my games, its taken to a ridiculous level (akin to Dark Cloud ) that I found it to be highly annoying.
Its also a pain to switch back and forth between things so much. For example, you need special boots to ride elevators, and only one particular set of armor can cast an ice-melting fire spell. When you come up against some of the games puzzles, you might have to sit there and try on everything you own until you hit the right piece that will get you through. It makes sense that the games challenges would require using different combinations of armor and weaponry, but I didnt really think it was fun to change your ensemble as often as you do.
Trying to be as fair as possible, its true that switching between characters was also something that EverGrace has in its corner, but the gameplay is so dull and uninvolving that going between the equally boring quests didnt increase my level of enjoyment a bit. In fact, I can hardly even find anything to say about the action because it was so unbelievably mediocre. Run here, slash a monster there. Look for a few keys and make your way through some locked doors. Equip the other set of armor and go through the barrier. Looking past the flair for fashion, it feels about as bland and straightforward as a game can get. In fact, I walked poor Darius into quite a few pits during play because my attention would drift to other stimuli that were going on in the room.
EverGraces graphics are also quite poor by anyones standards, but the final nail in the coffin has got to be the incomprehensible story. Not only does it make no sense at all in the beginning, it consistently fails to be involving or engaging throughout the game. Its hard to say whether the problem lies with a translator that has no idea whats considered good writing, or maybe it was just a poor script from the get-go. In any case, if you absolutely have to play this game youre better off just ignoring the plot and cutscenes. Dont even try to understand it, because theres practically nothing there.
Although I had heard several people mention their disappointment in EverGrace, I couldnt bring myself to believe it. I had even convinced myself that the naysayers must have been graphics junkies, or maybe they just werent "getting" what the game was about. After all, up until this point, everything FromSoft had done was more or less a hit. Sadly, in this case the common consensus was right. EverGrace is a surprisingly subpar effort that would have been below average even on the original PlayStation. It feels rushed, incomplete, and far below the usual level of quality that FromSoft produces.
Interestingly, EverGraces sequel has been released and nowhere on the box is the relationship to EverGrace immediately apparent... Ill let you draw your own conclusions from there.