Collecting the Evolution Series

Evolution North American Box Arts

While I wouldn’t consider myself a massive fan of the short-lived Evolution series, I have managed to accumulate a respectable collection of related products, perhaps everything released in North America, as a matter of fact.

Naturally, the games themselves are the highlight. The three entries we received in North America were released across two platforms within a relatively brief timeframe. Evolution: The World of Sacred Device and Evolution 2: Far Off Promise were released for the Dreamcast on December 16, 1999 and June 29, 2000, while the truncated compilation Evolution Worlds launched on the GameCube, on December 2, 2002. All three were published by Ubisoft, with the middle entry released as part of their “Platinum Series.” This was apparently a fleeting sub-brand and to my knowledge, Grandia II on the Dreamcast was the only other title to release with this branding.

The front cover for the first two games feature similar designs: prominent manga-inspired drawings of key characters, logo work evocative of ancient civilizations, complete with Japanese subtitles like any good JRPG, and typical stuff such as ESRB ratings. Unique to the second game was the advertisement for a free Grandia II music CD. Ubisoft was playing up that game’s impending release, referring to it as the most anticipated RPG on the Dreamcast, and the biggest RPG of the year on the included marketing materials. In contrast, the GameCube release featured a CG render of Mag and a different font for the logo.

Grandia II Music CD Redemption.jpg
This redemption form was in my copy of the second game. It’s likely the same music sampler that came bundled with every copy of Grandia II. FWIW, it’s a great selection of tunes!

Turning to the back covers, all three highlight positive aspects of the games in balanced spreads of screenshots and text. World of Sacred Device was touted as the first RPG on the Dreamcast, which was true considering it beat the Birthday-developed, Vatical Entertainment-published Elemental Gimmick Gear to the North American market by a mere two weeks. It also features a quote from the long defunct SegaDreamcast.net. And those with a keen eye will notice the typo in the ERSB content descriptor: tabacco instead of tobacco. With Far Off Promise, the many gameplay improvements were noted alongside a brief plot synopsis. Unlike the Dreamcast games, Worlds included a plot synopsis with scant mentions of gameplay. It also received a lower ESRB rating: Everyone instead of Teen. Use of Tobacco & Alcohol is the only omission from the content descriptor so presumably the related material was cut, or the ESRB was less stringent just a year or two later.

The manuals contain all the standard information befitting the era: plot setup, character bios, and detailed explanations of gameplay systems. Somewhat rarer, the full credits are listed for each game. Especially when it comes to games published by a company that had no ties to the developer, it seemed common to only list staff of the publisher; not so with these three. The manual for the first game had a couple of extra noteworthy elements. First, a brief Q&A with Yoshihisa Tomita, the game’s director, was included. Additionally, the manual was sprinkled with a variety of art either drawn by different artists or simply done in different styles.

Besides the games, I’ve also managed to come across the strategy guides for each entry. Even if I don’t use them much during my playthroughs, strategy guides are handy to have around for quick reference, fun to skim through, and especially in regards to RPGs, are often sought-after. Prima Games published the first two while Versus Books handled the third. Since the first game was composed solely of randomly-generated dungeons, its guide was heavy on screenshots, appendixes, and general guidance. Mark Asher is the attributed author and from what I can tell, he was very thorough. Scruffy Productions put together the second guide and it features a similar reliance on screenshots and frequent guidance, although maps were present for each dungeon. The Versus Books guide relied less on screenshots and more on detailed 3D rendered maps accompanied by brief tips. It also included a massive poster of the game’s cover art, which is the only bonus in any of these guides, aside from a few pieces of lesser seen artwork.

Evolution North American Strategy Guides.gif
The front and back covers of the English language strategy guides.

Expanding globally, there was one game in the series that never released in the States: Evolution: Eternal Dungeons. It released on the NeoGeo Pocket Color in early 2000 in Japan, and even had an English language release in Europe that same year! Considering the short-lived nature of the platform, it’s no surprise that copies are incredibly rare and can fetch hundreds of dollars. Judging by these screenshots it seems like a colorful, faithful adaptation of the first game. Also, the Japanese and European releases of the core games featured different, often superior, cover art. It seems soundtracks were never released, which is a shame since the games feature a variety of great songs.

So as far as I know, that’s every piece of Evolution merchandise that was released in North America. As I mentioned, I’m not the biggest fan of the series despite my nostalgia for Evolution Worlds, but I’ve been lucky to find these items for less than their going rate over the years. At the time of this writing (June 2019) complete copies of the games can be found for about $15 apiece, with Far Off Promise commanding around $25. It’s harder to pinpoint a price for the guides because of their scarcity, but they can reliably be found for $10 or less. I’d wager it’s unlikely these games ever get re-released so the original physical copies remain the best way to experience them. Then again Sting Entertainment is no stranger to remaking their previous work, and retro releases are in vogue currently. Nonetheless, these are enjoyable dungeon-crawling RPGs and worthy, affordable additions to anyone’s collection.

The development diary for the first game is still online, which is very cool!

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