A Quick Look At Seventh Cross: Evolution

The Dreamcast library is full of odd games, and really is a testament to how the Sega of yore was quite keen to push boundaries when it came to game design. Stuff like Seaman, Roommania #203, Samba de Amigo etc show how imaginative and downright wacky Sega's in-house development teams could get. But it wasn't just first party developers who took things a little bit left field when it came to the Dreamcast. There are some truly bizarre third party games on the Dreamcast, games that we'll probably never see the likes of again. Titles such as Lack of Love, Bomber hehhe! and Pen Pen Triicelon are all pretty strange by today's standards and for the time they were released offered a glimpse into the imaginations of designers who were doing things in the console sphere that was rarely seen. Another game that should be added to this category is Seventh Cross: Evolution, a game in which you start as an amoeba and literally play the game of life, evolving into new intelligent life forms and eventually shamble out of the primordial ocean and conquer the ancient landmasses of a prehistoric world.
When the Dreamcast was first announced and the console was being shown in magazines of the era, Seventh Cross was one game I vividly remember being really intrigued by, simply because it showed a sort of metallic humanoid walking around a barren archipelago. I'm not sure why it stuck in my mind but it just looked so weird and made me want to follow the development of the Dreamcast closely. Sadly, I never got to experience the game back then because it wasn't picked up for a PAL release and getting imported games wasn't something I was especially interested in back in those days. I would just buy what was on the shelves of Gamestation or Electronics Boutique and Seventh Cross: Evolution wasn't a game that ever made the leap across the pond.
A Japanese launch title, Seventh Cross: Evolution did make it to the US (the NTSC-J version is simply titled Seventh Cross, while the NTSC-U game is called Seventh Cross: Evolution) and it's the American version I recently managed to get my hands on and finally satisfy the curiosity that began all those years ago, after seeing that metallic bloke in those low quality screen grabs in magazines. I also have to be honest here - I went into this game totally blind as other than the few scant details I picked up about Seventh Cross: Evolution through magazine previews, it isn't a title I'd ever really investigated in any depth. So, join me as I try to make sense of what is a truly unique and deliciously bizarre little game...

Developed by Atypical Alchemists Associate and published by UFO Interactive in 2000 (NEC in Japan, in 1998), Seventh Cross: Evolution begins with a fairly weird intro sequence made up of alien planets and landscapes, followed by you naming your single-celled creation. Naturally, I named mine 'Tom.' Upon naming my thing, I was confronted with a screen where certain attributes are assigned a certain colour, and this is important for the 'evolution' side of things which will become clear shortly. Once all this was over with, it was into the impenetrable game proper...and I want you to remember that word because I don't think there's a better way to describe Seventh Cross: Evolution. In fact, I think you'd be hard pressed to find another game on the Dreamcast that goes as far out of its way to make the experience as unintelligible as this one does.
You start as a sort of jellyfish thing with no way of defending itself and must float around a lagoon collecting blobs of green stuff while trying in vain to avoid the crabs that will chase you down incessantly (and if they catch you, they will kill you). This lasts for a few minutes until you collect enough green blobs to evolve into a slug and then a sort of worm thing. After that, the automatic evolution goes out of the window and you're left on your own to work out how the hell you are actually meant to progress. Swimming around, avoiding enemies, eating blobs of green stuff that randomly appear...it's all very boring, if truth be told. Frustrating too, because it's hard to tell what it is you're actually meant to be doing. The crabs kills you. The other spiky things knocking about will kill you. It's only things with no sharp edges or discernible intelligence that don't spell instant death if you get too close. The manual is pretty obtuse in its explanation of the whole point of the game, so it really is down to trial and error. Me? I used an FAQ...and I'm glad I did because without it, I'd have had no idea what the hell Seventh Cross:Evolution was even meant to be - a game; or an exercise in rage-inducing frustration and abject boredom.
Basically, the idea is that you swim about, collecting food and nutrients until eventually you have enough stat points to evolve into something a little bit higher up the food chain. You engage this Darwinism by swimming up to the monolith that stands in the shallows of this initial environment. Once you interact with it (by swimming into it) you are confronted by an analogue of Microsoft Paint where DNA can be created using the aforementioned colours which represent attributes such as intelligence, attack power, defensive prowess etc. Once you've finished your rich tapestry of creation, new body parts for your chimera (legs, arms, body, head) can then be equipped through a secondary mutation menu. The thing is, these body parts are generated totally at random, so you never know what your DNA manipulation will result in. This is both good and bad. Good because occasionally your random scribbles will result in you being rewarded with a really cool new set of legs or arms; bad because invariably you end up just getting the same useless body parts that you've already stockpiled. Initially, it seems that the scribbles you make literally have no impact on what you are given...and as far as I can tell, you'd be totally correct. It's like Forest Gump's box of chocolates here, but without the sweet coca taste sliding down your gullet.
Eventually, the game does start to make sense but only after a ridiculous amount of trial and error. Like I said, the manual is bloody useless and it was only through judicious use of an FAQ that I worked out what I was meant to be doing (and even then, it was pretty tough). If I'd have been playing Seventh Cross back in the early days of the Dreamcast with no such luxuries, there's approximately zero chance that I'd have persevered with it. Impenetrable is a term I rarely use, but here I'll make an exception.
After a good few hours swimming around the initial lagoon environment, I had powered up my creature sufficiently to evolve legs and the ability to shoot projectiles and actually started to enjoy the meandering roaming around, killing lower lifeforms and devouring them for stat points. But ultimately, that's all Seventh Cross: Evolution amounts to. Wandering around killing stuff, walking over the corpses to absorb them and eventually encountering a boss fight. It's basic in the extreme once you strip out all the random DNA manipulation stuff and for this reason I find it hard to actually recommend seeking this title out. This simplistic gameplay is far from all that is lacklustre here though. Controls are anchored to the d-pad for a start, and there is no way to change the camera while in play. Collision detection is horrific and the way in which your avatar is boxed in due to invisible walls related to character class boarders on the amateur.
Visually, it is basic in the extreme and is hardly taxing the hardware. That said, the rudimentary environments and character models are indicative of what is essentially a launch title for the Dreamcast. As an exercise in originality it is hard to fault Seventh Cross: Evolution; but as an actual gameplay experience there is little to recommend. Wandering around killing identikit lower lifeforms (sea slugs, crabs, flying sea horses etc) is hardly what you'd call 'fun,' and the basic combat gets very old, very quickly. Add to this the archaic way in which multiple button presses mean multiple attempts to hit enemies (even if you're having no effect and the enemy is way more powerful), and you've got one old skool experience on your hands.
That said, the random character creation means that no two play throughs will be the same and the various environments can be interesting to investigate. Furthermore, the boss fights do show some intriguing design choices. On top of this, the whole DNA angle is pretty interesting and there are literally thousands of random combinations of body parts that can be assembled in various configurations. Ultimately though, getting to the point where you achieve the intelligence and physical attributes of that promised metallic humanoid - to me at least - seems like a reward that isn't worth the effort, sadly.
With refinements to the game engine and some tweaks to the control scheme for the western market (like so many other Dreamcast launch titles received), this could have been something of a rough diamond for the Dreamcast. As it is, Seventh Cross: Evolution is definitely an original and interesting title, but it is hard to recommend and really isn't worth seeking out unless you see it cheap or are a collecting completionist.

3 comments:

blondejon said...

Well written article and ill be giving this game a miss

hoogafanter said...

Still have yet to check this out...

Hasami Age said...

It's a good article.

You should do an analysis of L.O.L .: Lack of Love by Kenichi Nishi and Ryuichi Sakamoto.

About evolution and the relationship we have with nature.