Now, if you asked me my top three VNs of all time, I would honestly put this one as one of those three, no matter how often the other two get rotated out. Evolimit, in my mind at least, shows off the best of Higashide Yuuichirou's writing in combination with Propeller's unique art style and superior musical direction and composition.
Oh, and incidentally, this is the sixth time I've played this game from beginning to end, reading all the endings... that I can still find a VN enjoyable after so many playthroughs is a little amazing, even to me.
General Setting Outline
What might sound like spoilers in this part are unavoidable when talking about this VN and are mentioned in the summaries online (vndb, Getchu, etc) so please avoid 'that's a spoiler!' complaints.
This VN starts with a bleak scene in black and white, where the protagonist (Shiranui Yoshikazu) and the main heroine (Ichijou Shizuku) are fighting a man-shaped being with a face of flame. This scene is full of sorrow and despair, and one can tell just from the combination of the music and the lines (carefully chosen to avoid giving you too many clues as to the background of what is going on) that what is going on is a tragedy in action.
The VN then moves on to one hundred years later, where Shiranui and Shizuku have awakened from cold sleep, their memories gone (initially) then fragmented (after). Shiranui and Shizuku were part of the first Mars Development Project, which was wiped out one hundred years before, and the people they meet are the descendants of the second wave, who were forced to fuse with the 'Patch' (a mineral that, when it fuses with a living being, forcibly evolves them to a state where they can survive on Mars) in order to fight off waves of violent robots that sought to slaughter them. In the hundred years since then, their descendants lost most industrial technology, as well as contact with Earth. A new society, utilizing the power of the 'Patches' has risen, developing the planet and opening up space free of the robot armies.
Forcythe, the city they awaken in, is something of a training city for young people (since the Patch grants immense power to all people regardless of age, traditional childhood has vanished) to serve their cities later in life. Shiranui and Shizuku, being young themselves, basically join the city and things evolve from there.
The Common Route
The common route primarily focuses on Shiranui and Shizuku accustoming themselves to the new world and forming relationships with residents of the city. The comedic aspects of the story are most concentrated at this point, since there is a minimum of combat during the common route (outside of the one that caps it). It also introduces the reader to Shiranui and Shizuku themselves and fills in their backgrounds.
The Protagonist and Heroines (and Kokoro)
Shiranui Yoshikazu- Shiranui (as almost everyone calls him) is your classic 'hero type' chuunige protagonist. Oh, he doesn't wail about justice or anything like that... he is just naturally heroic as well as possessing the necessary humanity to make him feel 'real' to the reader. Shiranui, due to having given over a portion of his consciousness to Kokoro, no longer possesses the ability to feel sorrow. He has a will of iron, an endless well of curiosity, and an almost messianic capacity for self-sacrifice.
Kokoro- The spirit of the girl whose heart was transplanted into Shiranui as a child. She sees through Shiranui's eyes and shares his experiences. Shiranui resolved to go to Mars in order to fulfill the dream she had in life. She communicates with Shiranui in a room deep in his sleeping mind, where they converse with one another on subjects ranging from low-level philosophy to the events of the day. Kokoro is a wise girl, who prioritizes Shiranui's happiness above all other things and feels an intense guilt over having taken his ability to feel sorrow.
Ichijou Shizuku- The other survivor discovered with Shiranui in a cold sleep capsule. She is Shiranui's partner and companion (the relationship goes beyond friendship but falls short of lovers). She has an insane love of anything 'wa' (traditional Japanese), and she is both immensely intelligent and brilliant athletically. She often serves as the 'tsukkomi' to Shiranui's 'boke', though the roles reverse at times (usually when anything intrinsically Japanese comes up). Like him, she has a will of iron and a nearly endless curiosity. She is the only person Shiranui has told about Kokoro.
Takaboshi Kazuna- The Mayor of Forscythe and a 'Priestess of the Star' (rare humans who are born 'connected' to the sentient spirit of Mars itself, allowing them to wield immense power). She was raised to be objective and fair, and she strives with all her heart to be that way (and succeeds, for the most part). She is also playful and cheery by nature, though when she gets angry...
Ritya von Eirhardt- The head of Forscythe's Military Club (and the VN's resident loli heroine). Her adoptive father was a mechanic (a rare job in a society that has mostly abandoned technology) and she lacks a lot of the superstitious fear of technology that is endemic to the Martian society. She is well-loved (for her cuteness) and respected (for her charismatic leadership and ability to fight).
Aqua Danchekha- The liaison between the Military and Information Clubs in Forscythe, she most often plays the role of Ritya's aide-de-camp and commander of the ground forces (since Ritya takes overall command and command of the airborne forces). She is cold and rational above all things... except when it comes to Ritya.
Ritya's and Aqua's path
Ritya's path is really the second a first-timer should play. My reason? This path's endings are more poignant if you've experienced Kazuna's path. While this is technically both Aqua's and Ritya's path, that just means that there is a threesome ending (which is dramatically different after a certain point near the end of the path). While the end result (non-romantic) doesn't change, the way in which they reach that result changes dramatically.
Now... this path focuses on the Barbaroi (as opposed to Kazuna's path, which focuses on the Disasters). The Barbaroi are the murderous, genocidal robots that infest Mars' surface. In this path, the characters face off with the horrors of technology gone mad on both sides, in addition to Ritya and Aqua's personal issues.
This path is intensely personal in a way neither Kazuna's nor Shizuku's paths are. The main theme of the path is transhumanism and prejudice (to some extent, prejudice is a them of Kazuna's path as well).
I advise anyone playing this game for the first time to pick this path first. Unlike Ritya's path, which focuses on the Barbaroi and machines in general, this path focuses on humanity and the Disasters.
Kazuna's personal issues are mostly wrapped up with her social status and political position as a 'Mayor' and a 'Priestess of the Star'. Both of these positions require fairness and objectivity, and thus those born as Priestesses of the Star (or Priests of the Star) are deliberately trained, conditioned, and brainwashed to avoid personal entanglements or favoritism. Kazuna is something of an exception to the rule, in that she retains emotions beyond a devotion to her duty and a love for humanity that has no element of the personal in it.
The formation of the relationship between her and Shiranui is... hilarious, to say the least, hahaha.
Shizuku's path, being the true path, is obviously far more detailed and extensive than the previous two... and that's saying a lot, considering that both of the other two paths are many times as detailed and long than the average charage heroine path. Shizuku's path basically uses everything revealed in the previous paths... and focuses primarily on the true antagonist of the story (I'm not going to reveal his name here, though it is revealed in the other two paths).
This path contains the single most inspiring tragic scene I've ever encountered. All six times I've played this VN, I cried like a baby for this scene and was left with a sense of awe in the aftermath. Simply put, it is one of those times where a master writer makes everything come together perfectly.
Now, I should say that Shizuku's endings are a lot more diverse than in Ritya's or Kazuna's paths. For one, there are two distinct possible paths that branch near the end, which have dramatically different endings. One, which is fascinating in and of itself, might be considered a 'normal' ending by some, but it is still abnormal (a chuunige is a chuunige, after all) and fun to read. The other path leads to two endings, based on whether you choose for the characters to give up at a certain point or go on. For those who have played Tokyo Babel, this pattern should be familiar as a whole, since they did something similar with Lilith's path in that game.
The mark of a truly great story comes in whether it still stimulates you upon a second playthrough, in some ways. Of course, there are some exceptions... some VN types (mysteries, mindfucks) don't lend themselves well to a replay... and there is nothing more painful than replaying a mediocre game in a genre you aren't fond of in the first place. However, this is, at least for me, one of a very small club of VNs that I can play multiple times while feeling that I'm still getting something other than nostalgia out of it. Evolimit is a masterpiece of prose and musical direction, and it is definitely a kamige. My only regret is that the writer is retired from VN making and only writes LNs now...