First and foremost check out the project page for E.V.O. – The Theory of Evolution, the fan translation of 46 Okunen Monogatari The Shinka Ron here: http://46okumen.com/
I have written here at length in the past about how important E.V.O. – Search for Eden is to me. It is unabashedly one of my favourite games of all time. It embraced its absurdity and captured the imagination. It was my holy grail, a struggle to find. So I would eventually catch wind of a prequel, 46 Okunen Monogatari the Shinka Ron on the Japanese computer platform, the NEC PC-9801.
Appropriately enough, playing this game would prove to be a struggle too. On a platform that, outside of Japan, is quite obscure and related to a game that has cult status at best it was always going to be a challenge to play. And after searching for fan translations or translation progress for years, I was resigned to the fact that it might just not receive one. Perhaps it was far too obscure. If it were on the Famicom or related to a a game with more prominent notoriety I am confident we would have had a translation available ages ago. Needless to say I am so absolutely thrilled that the group at 46 OkuMen managed to deliver fully and completely the experience that English fans of Search for Eden have been craving for so long. I sincerely hope it sees many more languages, because it’s a game that fans of Eden and enthusiasts of the hobby deserve to share in.
The game has been translated as E.V.O. – The Theory of Evolution. To speak on the quality of the translation – it’s solid. Naturally I can’t speak for accuracy to the original script because I can’t read the original script, but it’s clear and conveys the particular emotional tone of the situations you’re presented with. There’s obviously been some fun with some of the localization, but it’s absolutely apparent that it was a labour of love and care and attention were given. It’s engaging, and I never felt instructions were confusing (beyond the particular idioms of old RPGS, at any rate ha ha).
>>To amend the article, I should mention that 4 OkuMen’s patch release also includes the original game’s manual translated. This is a fairly robust document that includes a lot of supplementary lore for the story of The Theory of Evolution and I would be remiss not thank everyone who contributed to the translation of this manual.>>
Search for Eden was a fairly absurdist game. While it had its moments of melancholy and the struggle to survive, its tongue-in-cheek humour gave it such a strange flavour. Absurdity to match the mystery, and the PC-98 original is no different. In fact, this game is far more strange than even Search for Eden and I can’t post story screenshots here for risk of spoiling it. Sometimes it’s really funny, sometimes it’s serious, but there’s a mystery at the heart of it that keeps us going.
It’s a story that’s told well, we see various species across epochs that have their own motivations to evolve or preserve their world. It’s the struggle of life to crawl its way out of the primordial cocktail to the zenith of evolution. And it’s accompanied by a gorgeous Koichi Sugiyama soundtrack that Search for Eden fans will remember immediately. The music goes miles towards setting the mood.
The Theory of Evolution is an RPG in the vein of Dragon Quest. Defeating enemies, receiving gifts from Gaia, and experiencing random disasters provide your character with EVO Genes – experience points. Unlike Search for Eden’s individual limb improvement you instead put your genes into improving specific attributes. Once you surpass a certain threshold on one of these attributes, you will change form. Most of these are based on real organisms, some are made up specifically for the game. The core difference between forms is their repertoire of special abilities – commands that generally consume a bit of your HP to perform a special action.
Evolution takes place laterally on a chart, with certain attributes moving you right along the chart, others moving you left. When you reach certain milestones with attribute distribution, you will move down a line on the evolution chart opening up new species with more robust abilities. Later in the game when the charts are much bigger you can get locked into certain clades meaning you could have completely different species available to those of your mates. Generally evolution continues until you hit an adaptive bottleneck at the end of an Era, and then you start relatively fresh in the next chapter – just like Search for Eden.
Now this is all relatively straightforward. The game is not that complex, generally involving finding an item or NPC to trigger the next event. Battles are a bit predictable, for instance I found some of the later enemies were giving me trouble until I realized they were using the same move order every time I fought them and I was guaranteed to successfully stun them on their Defend phase (or else they seemed to stun me and get two criticals). There are no random encounters, enemies roam the world and can sometimes continually spawn on top of you leading to multiple successive battles or they can disappear when their numbers get depleted – hunted to extinction?
Now, I do have some issues with the game. The fist major problem I had was with map navigation. It might be to do with how I’m playing the game, but movement seems a little too fast in the game and it was easy to overshoot narrow passages. That’s not so bad, but NPCs can sometimes be a problem. In one area I was swarmed by NPCs who talk to you on contact and had multiple lines of dialogue. So I had to see the same messages again and again while trying to explore this new area. Another time, NPCs seemed to stop moving in poximity to me. Well, two of them flanked me in a narrow area and blocked me in forcing a reload.
The other complaint is more to do with variety of play at the end of an Era. You start seeing enemies from the same pool of late Era species and they should really have more unique abilities. Once you can no longer evolve further the opponents could use a little more vaiety to keep it spicy.
That said, I never got truly frustrated. It’s an old style RPG and I came in with that expectation. It does do a lot right though. Six save slots to stagger you saves in case you get stuck. It has a number of false endings if you hit certain criteria, but after you get your Game Over most of them put you back right before whatever choice you made. It is a grind on your first play though, just like the sequel. Out of depth enemies will thrash you if you aren’t prepared. But the grinding is quick, I found, and strategic level ups will let you progress more quickly. You’ll probably find an attribute or two you focus first every time you start an Era.
Perhaps I was simply over the moon finally playing this game. I had intended to play through this one in 2017 regardless, I was just going to power though it. Hell, I’ve thought about learning the language a few times enough to navigate it (and really, that’s a skill that I should pick up anyhow). But I’ve always been reluctant. Because I’ve done text heavy games in Japanese before, but you really do miss out. And perhaps E.V.O. was too important to me to have my first play of the prequel be so confused. So I can’t thank the 46 OkuMen enough for taking the initiative with this game and just killing it. Seriously, it’s a great job and an unexpected project. A superb holiday surprise.
Now that my most wanted translation is a reality, I guess I need a new snipe hunt. Can I recommend this game? I’ll recommend it to fans of E.V.O. and enthusiasts of very old role-playing games. But to everyone who has been waiting so very long for this – well it’s going to be quite the ride, chum. You are the audience this game will resonate with, be special to. And while it is so different from Search for Eden it has the same heart and is worth your time and attention.