In the grand scheme of things, few games cast you in the role of the bad guy. Sure, there are the heavy hitters like Grand Theft Auto, or Saints Row. But outside of the crime themed games, things begin to thin out a bit. Enter EvilQuest, an old school Action RPG from a small outfit called ChaoSoft. Released about two years ago, it’s a game that didn’t get a lot of mainstream attention upon release. In it, you play as an evil warrior named Galvis.
PROS: Solid game play. Comic relief. Fun to play. Challenging.
CONS: Inconsistent pixel art. Very short. Brutally difficult boss gauntlet.
ULTIMA: Had Tie Fighters. EvilQuest has an AT-ST.
Imprisoned for war crimes, Galvis breaks out of prison for several missions on his thirst for power, and revenge. Ultimately, he wants not only to destroy his enemies, but the entire planet. He even has a plan to kill the planet’s deity. This involves tracking down an axe of supernatural origin. In order to take hold of it, Galvis has to traverse the land, seeking, and destroying shrines. The shrines hold the power to unlock the door to an astral plane where this being exists. It isn’t a particularly deep story, but it does have its share of humor, and moves along the action fairly well. Character dialogue fits the archetypes properly, and there is enough substance here to keep you interested in it. The game takes inspiration from a lot of Action RPGs, JRPGs, and early WRPGs. Most notably Ys, Crystalis, Ultima, and even a hint of early Final Fantasy.
Just like those games, you can expect to explore several over worlds, dungeons, and find towns. In the towns there are NPCs that give some general information, or send you on errands. These of course lead you to items you’ll need in order to access further areas. It’s a formula that these sorts of titles have used for years. Where EvilQuest differs a bit is that it doesn’t take itself seriously 100% of the time. There are small bits of dark humor centered around some of the sillier or overused conventions of the genre’s 8-bit days. Galvis will murder NPCs while making grandiose super villain speeches. The game goes out of left field a la Ultima, by bringing in a Star Wars themed vehicle.
Thankfully, the game does emulate the classics it loves fairly well most of the time. Areas are nicely varied, and there are a lot of really cool enemy types. Spells, weapons, and potions are the usual element based fare. There is the fire sword, and ice sword. Along with themed armor, and shields throughout the game. Many of which can be found during quests rather than trying to buy them in towns. In many of these cases the themes go along with the types of enemies in the area. Like dragon themed armor for dragons for example.
This continues throughout the areas. You’ll find your way through ice zones, fire zones, mountains, fields, and a deserted battlefield. There is a pretty deep encyclopedia of characters, and backgrounds in the game’s pause menu. As you discover new enemies you can read their dossier, or read journal entries. Similar to the ones found in Falcom’s Ys series, they’re handy for filling in blanks in the game’s lore. You’ll also be levelling up your health, and magic abilities from time to time.
The levelling system is based upon experience points. You get four main stats that can be upgraded over the course of the game. Two affect your health, and resistance to damage. The other two affect your magic, and attack power. You get these points the way you would in most other role-playing games. By killing enemies. In later areas you’ll find grinding away on enemies is the only way to survive certain boss fights. When you receive enough experience points you can assign them to whichever stats you want. However, it will only let you apply two points to any given stat per level up. So if the game gives you four, you can’t dump all of them onto your attack power. Two of them have to go elsewhere.
Throughout your time with the game you’ll alternate between using different weapons, and magic items. Some of these replenish your health, others extend the length of your life bar. Still, others will give you more points to cast spells with. Nearly all of the spells have upgrades as well, as the weapons. EvilQuest also takes a big example from SNK’s Crystalis by offering a charge shot. It works almost exactly the same way, even requiring you hold still while charging. Moving will impede the charge from growing. So in fights you have to charge, dodge an attack, then stop to continue charging.
EvilQuest also takes full advantage of the Xbox 360 controller. Gamers used to playing these kinds of titles on a console will feel right at home. But the game also fully supports a traditional keyboard setup. Play control in either case is relatively smooth. You can move Galvis around with little to no trouble. Using magic, or attacking enemies works fine, and overall things are responsive. It’s actually built more with the pad in mind, as you can easily cycle through magic items on the fly. That said, in either case you still may find yourself pressing select, and start a lot to get to journal entries, save menus, or your load out screens. The game looks good most of the time. Like a lot of games being put out independently these days, Evil Quest has a retro look. It tries to encapsulate the aesthetics of Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Master System, and Commodore 64 era games. In some places, one could also confuse it with an early MS-DOS title by Apogee.
But in doing so it has a bit of inconsistency. Most of the time these sprites are pretty nice, reminding you of the titles it is inspired by. But then, there are places in the game where the look changes enough to be jarring. Make no mistake, nothing looks outright horrible. Just inconsistent. It should be noted some of the best visuals the game offers come up during boss fights. Boss fights are the best part of Evil Quest. With the exception of a few, they’re usually huge characters, with a lot of powerful attacks. They’re very flashy, impressive, and pretty difficult. Especially near the game’s climactic final battle. The retro theme continues in the game’s audio which mimics the sound of a Super NES game fairly well. The music won’t be playing in your head hours after you’ve played it. But it does fit the theme of what happens on the screen. The game also has a lot of Steam, and Xbox Live achievements for anyone looking to hunt away on them.
Not everything in Evil Quest is great though. Besides the inconsistent look in spots, there are a number of small issues that pile up. In the early sections the game isn’t very open. It becomes fairly predictable where you need to go, and what you’ll need to find. This certainly improves as the game goes on, but initially things are rather straight forward. The game’s final boss is a soul crushing three form affair. One that you will take on immediately following another difficult boss fight. So expect to max out every stat you possibly can. If you don’t, you’ll end up spending a lot of time trying to grind your way to an acceptable level of health, and attack power. All in an area of very tough regular enemies.
On the technical side, the game doesn’t support full 1920 x 1080 resolution. The highest the game supports is 1280 x 720. So if you play the game with full screen selected it will be stretched to fit your monitor. To be honest even windowed, the 720p resolution seems to have been stretched from the 640 x 480 resolution. This is disappointing because most computers have had 1080p capable monitors for a long time, even before EvilQuest’s release. It’s also too bad the game couldn’t run in full screen mode, centered, with borders surrounding it. This would have at least kept a proper aspect ratio. It doesn’t break the game, but it is disappointing.
It should also be noted that in over world areas you can pretty much save anywhere. But in dungeons you can only save in a designated checkpoint area. In towns you cannot save at all. There isn’t really any reason for this. You spend about an equal amount of time in each, and run into about as many enemies, and hazards. A quick save system where one could save at any point, or a checkpoint system would have made more sense. The strange mix of both seems unnecessary. The game isn’t very long either. Dedicated players can clear the game in a couple of hours.
Still, it’s a step up above a lot of other indie games you can find on download services. It functions well. It plays well. It’s a short ride. But it’s a fun, and challenging short ride. For retro gamers, or fans of RPGs it’s worth a look. It isn’t going to take the place of your favorite series, but it is a fun distraction. It’s not a perfect game, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad one. It’s average. But it sets itself apart from other average games with some fun moments, and bad guy themes.
Final Score: 6 out of 10