Well this was sure a surprise.

When I got the review code for Evoland Legendary Edition, I had no idea what to expect. I wasn't familiar with the franchise, with the devs, anything. It just sprang up out of nowhere for me, as a thing to poke at and see what I thought.

And what I'm thinking so far, is some pretty good thoughts.

First and foremost, we've got to separate this review a bit, since this is actually a collection of Evoland, and Evoland 2. And these are very different games, even with their connected branding. So let's start with Evoland.

Evoland is a pretty simple game. It's a riff in that space between Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda, and the various games that have existed in that space over the years. Starting with a 4-shades-of-green proto-Gameboy aesthetic, you gradually ramp up through NES, late SNES, all the way to early polygonal graphics, with each upgrade bringing new gameplay features and elements from the era.

Mechanically, it's an interesting beast. By and large, Evoland tips back and forth between the action and turn-based, separating them off based on area. Fields and some dungeons operate on action rules, overmap and other dungeons go on JRPG turn-based rules. These two halves are both pretty thoroughly separated, as well as simplified down; You won't be doing any character optimization or multiple builds here.

One element that does link the two up, is the means of upgrading. Core features are locked away in chests: Everything from your BGM to your graphics to your capacity to slip off of strict grid-based movement, just to list a few from the early game. This produces a lot of the game's jokes, at least outside of the areas where it's parodying the stories of the games it's based on.

Sidenote, the town based on the style of PS1 RPGs is easily my absolute favorite part. When I transitioned to another area, and got an (entirely fake) oldschool spinning CD graphic loading screen, all I could do was just burst out into laughter.

Overall, it's kind of hard to review Evoland, just on its own. This half of the collection is a pretty small game, a string of parodies and jokes that mean I don't want to ruin all the fun for you by telling you all the good ones. And it's short, too: I beat it in only about three hours. But it does, overall, tell a solid set of those jokes, and then not outstay its welcome.

Oh, oh! I almost forgot. Okay, I do have to spoil one thing. How to beat the last boss. I got stumped for a while, and this is the one place where this game just plain screws up. So, no spoilers, the final boss has three stages.

First stage, you just need to dodge the attack then swipe at its hands until they're both defeated. Easy. Second stage, though, does not choreograph what you need to do. After you dodge the attack, hit the boss once. This will send a little orb from inside its back across the stage. Now run around to that side, and quickly attack the orb! Repeat until third stage. (Third stage is just spell-tennis, pretty straightforward stuff)

That's the one major spoiler I'll give you, since you'll probably need it. But, okay, so! You put in your three hours or so, you beat the first game! Now what's in store in Evoland 2?

Oh boy. Oh boy oh boy.

There is so much more meat here. I hit the same time mark as my completed save for the first game, and it was about when I got to 3D content for the first time. There's an actual story here, not just a thin parody of one. There's in-world logic behind the changing game aesthetic and mechanics!

So, okay, a lot of the core pieces are the same. We have the same central gimmick of changing our eras, though now the game has an aesthetic that feels distinctly...handheld. The 16-bit graphics feel more like the GBA, the 8-bit feel more GBC than NES, and the 3D graphics are just a bit like a PSP or 3DS game.

That could just be my mind playing tricks and looking for differences, of course. But it's sure how it feels to me. And there's more logic behind these changes, now. In the first game, they're largely part of the joke. There's some loose time travel stuff, but it's basically just for a puzzle area or two. Here? Here, when you go back to 8-bit graphics, you're a generation into the past, in the middle of a ferocious war.

While the story remains lighthearted, it has actual meat this time, too. That war? There's some real legit drama and pain tied into it. Sure, there's this minigame where you have to find a bunch of bratty kids playing hide and seek...But they're war orphans whose parents died to the conflict. It’s not Shakespeare or anything, sure, but there’s actual substance to it this time around.

In many ways, the simple fact that the game's willing to do these more serious elements alongside the more humorous stuff, makes it a much stronger reflection of the action-RPGs being riffed on than its predecessor was. And while it doesn't do as much of the whole "sometimes we're Zelda, sometimes we're Final Fantasy" element the first game had, this too makes it a stronger experience with more focused, quality meat on the bone.

Still, nothing's perfect. So, flaws? There aren't a lot of, like, wrong-decision type flaws here. Mostly I noticed bugs. Nothing major, just, you know, weird AI glitch here, funky colission detection there. Forgivable stuff.

The one big thing that frustrates me is that the game, much like the first, uses save-on-contact checkpoints mimicking the save points of old...But unlike the first game, which had few things you could permanently miss and was short enough that it didn't matter, here not being able to swing back to a previous save and grab a collectable I missed feels a little more substantial.

But anything beyond that is, really, just nitpicking. Even just on its own, Evoland 2 is a really really good game. And with the first there as well, an appetizer to whet the appetite, this is a package well worth your money.