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The SNES Action RPG You Likely Never Played

The Super Nintendo hit shelves in North America in 1991, and many gamers who owned one are likely to remember it fondly. The follow-up to the original Nintendo Entertainment System was a hit with fans and had no shortage of great games to play; in fact, some of Nintendo's biggest franchises produced stellar hits on the console (per VentureBeat). From the best-selling SNES game of all time: "Super Mario World," to a host of other classics that fans hope will come to Nintendo Switch Online, there's a long list of great SNES games that are bound to fill some gamers with nostalgia.

Alongside these giants in memory, some games, while impressive in their own right, never received the same attention. As a result, some Nintendo fans may never have heard of certain hidden gems on the SNES. Among these forgotten classics is an action RPG with an ambitious design, intriguing story, and game mechanics ahead of its time. Before "Spore" let players create and evolve a species over the course of eons, "E.V.O.: Search for Eden" offered its own take on evolution and survival — along with a dash of mysticism and side-scrolling combat.

An original concept from a now-legendary publisher

"E.V.O.: Search for Eden" released in Japan in 1992 and came to the United States a year later. It was published by the company Enix, none other than one of the two companies that would later merge to form Square Enix. Today, Square Enix is a giant in the videogame industry, known for its JRPGs, most notably the "Final Fantasy" and "Dragon Quest" series. Back in the '90s, Enix didn't have the reputation it has today, but still worked to put out titles with strong RPG mechanics and unique plots.

While the side scrolling combat featured in the game may look simple, it's far more complex than it appears. The core theme of the title was evolution, with players taking control of a starting organism to guide it through history. As they progressed through the game's five ages, from the beginning of life in the seas to the dawn of humanity, players could earn points to upgrade and evolve their creature. Eight different sections of a creature's body could be upgraded and modified, slowly changing it from a simple fish to strange amphibian and reptilian forms before eventually becoming a mammal.

This novel use of RPG mechanics allowed for countless creatures that could even be saved and used in later playthroughs. It also meant every game would be slightly different with players adopting different strategies and evolving their creature in different ways.

A story worthy of Square Enix

The concept of evolution wasn't just applied to the gameplay in "E.V.O.: Search for Eden," it was woven throughout the game's story as well. The game featured a blend of science and mysticism as evolution met creation myths.

"E.V.O." begins with Gaia (the spirit of the Earth) creating life and setting it on a path toward evolution. The player guides one creature which, if it can evolve to a high enough level, will be allowed to enter the Garden of Eden and become Gaia's partner in guiding life on Earth. Along the way, the player discovers evil creatures being twisted by strange crystals.

During the game's climax, it's revealed that these crystals were sent by an advanced, Martian civilization to accelerate evolution. When the player defeats the last of the evil creatures and enters Eden, the Martians realize their mistake and swear to leave Earth alone until evolution has taken its natural course.

With mystical spirits, creation myths, and alien technology, "E.V.O.: Search for Eden" proudly bears many of the same narrative elements that would later be featured in popular Square Enix games, specifically "Final Fantasy 7" and "Final Fantasy 10." 

Solid reviews but not much of a legacy

While many may not remember it now, "E.V.O.: Search for Eden" received solid reviews when it was released. RPG Fan praised the concept of creating a creature through the evolution mechanic, even if the action was a bit generic. These sentiments were echoed by other reviewers of the time and are even shared by some gamers today. The title has been recognized in some regard, though. In 2012 IGN declared "E.V.O." as one of the best prehistoric games, and it also made its way into IGN's top 100 SNES games.

While the game likely isn't at the top of players' to-do list, "E.V.O." surely deserves a place among some fans' list of underrated SNES RPGs, as it can be considered an obscure cult classic today.

For retro gaming, RPG, and experimental gameplay fans, "E.V.O." is probably worth checking out. Even anyone with a Super Nintendo who can track down a copy of this forgotten gem may want to give it a shot and see what sort of creatures they can invent.

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