Arika’s first diving title for the PS2 is an interesting game. In many ways, as one of the first of its genre, it is perhaps not as polished as the later releases. At the same time, you can see the beginnings of ideas that lead to Everblue 2 and then the Endless Ocean games. The game only received a limited release, in Japan and Europe, and was never released in the US. It is difficult to find, but definitely one to look for if you are a fan of these games.
Everblue is an interesting game, and very much a game of two halves – above the water and underwater. Above ground the action is handled by a very basic point and click interface, clicking on items and people to interact. The graphics are 2D with little movement and there is only one view of each area. As the game goes on, you open up new areas and features to interact with, but the characters remain largely the same and static in each area. For modern gamers it does appear somewhat dated, and there are no voices. The background music is unobtrusive, but speech and events are handled purely through text.
When you dive, the game changes to a first person interface. The controls are easy to manage and standard for a first person game, but up and down movement is limited. This appears reasonable as a treasure diver can’t swim too far up if he wants to find items. When diving you are equipped with a sonar that detects certain types of treasures, a sack to put them in and various other items which affect the dive. Using money from your salvaging you can upgrade the equipment as the game progresses. Sonar is handled through sound, an innovative use of ping and return that lets you home in on items of various types. It can be tricky to get the hang of, but it is enjoyable and satisifying in play – particularly when you find a rare item or something you have not seen before.
The initial dives from the dock aren’t very promising, as you need to exceed equipment limits. This is unfortunately something the game makes a habit of, but once the first dives are over the game picks up. After you begin to find wrecks and gain a boat to dive from, instead of the docks, it becomes more interesting. The underwater world is well observed, with the colour of the water, sea bed and type of creatures encountered varying with depth. The animals are generally excellently modelled, particularly the sponges and spider crabs.
The story is simple, at least at first. On the island of Daedalus Leonard Delphino and his friend are going into business salvage diving to compete with a local rival. You progress through the game by finding items underwater, discovering wrecks and fulfilling quests for the townsfolk. It is very linear, and unfortunately quest items and chests only appear once you have got the quest, which means you can’t take short cuts through the story. At some points you will not be allowed to dive until you have spoken to people in the town, which is frustrating, though it is fortunately obvious who you need to speak to. As it has no strict time limits, the game puts you under no pressure to rush through it, which is a nice change. It is also fairly hard to die while playing, as long as you keep an eye on your air tank (a handy alarm lets you know when it is half full). There is a lot of background to the story, but other than the intro sequence, you will not encounter it properly again until near the end of the game.
The sub games, including the auction, and the racing games, are a nice addition. If you have enough money you can also use the auction to get quest items instead of diving, the only way I found to get ahead of the game. Identification, titles, and later synthesis, provide a bit more range to what would otherwise become a monotonous dive and retrieve game. Sidequests such as recovering momentos from a sunken ship and getting medals from the townsfolk also give you something to focus on.
Everblue is a quirky and unusual game, the start of a genre and definitely worth a look if you can find it. It was popular enough to get a sequel, Everblue 2, which received world wide release and can be found in the states.