Secret of Evermore
Genre: Action Role-Playing
Some games run into an issue that comes down to an association of success. Sometimes, this comes down to association by a company’s prior success. It can be chalked up to similar games coming out at the same time, as well. Even similarities in the name can bring about comparisons that can help or hinder a game’s impressions.
Secret of Evermore pretty much succumbs to a triumvirate of these things.
Coming out in Squaresoft’s prime years, Secret of Evermore had a lot to live up to. With game’s surrounding its release like Final Fantasy III and Secret of Mana, the game already had a reputation to upkeep for the flourishing developer. Given its proximity to Mana‘s release, as well, many players believed this game to be a sequel or somehow related. Since the Super Nintendo had some great action RPGs coming out already, the competition was even more fierce. Thankfully, it seems that the game received some stellar reviews in most areas at the time- but how has that held up alongside the other games that have become classics over time?
Opening up into Secret of Evermore, a young man obsessed with B-grade movies and his dog stumble into an experiment that sends them off to the world of Evermore. Waking up in a strange prehistoric land, the young man finds himself fighting to find a way back to his home city of Podunk. Along with his dog, who inexplicably changes physically upon entering different regions of Evermore, the boy begins to find out that the world of
Evermore has other inhabitants of Podunk involved, creating the regions of the world, and that his escape may be a bit more involved than he first thought. Throughout the game, you can switch control between the boy and the dog. The boy, along with attacking and using a multitude of weapons ranging between spears, swords, and axes- another similarity to Mana– can also use Alchemy. This acts as the game’s version of magic and, by combining reagents that can be scrounged or bought, the boy can cast offensive or defensive magic, as well as performing feats to continue throughout the terrain. On the other hand, the dog can also attack and maneuver a bit more than the boy, jumping gaps and fitting into smaller spaces. He can also sniff out reagents that are hidden in the environment, helping curb the costs of magic for the boy, who can gather them.
Many other similarities can be drawn between Mana and Evermore. The interface is exactly alike, down to the hit point bars and the ring menus. Weapons and magic level up through use. After attacking, your character’s bar needs to count up to 100 percent before another full attack can be made- though there is a strategy to keeping enemies off of you with the knockback of a weak attack in this game, which is one of the few positives over Mana. Really, it’s very easy to see why this game was mistaken for a sequel or successor in the Mana series. This doesn’t do the game any favors.
Overall, the game feels very light. There is no character development, and there are a lot of concepts left unexplained. The villain’s motivation is never explained beyond a few lines about how they decided one day to turn to world domination. The boy never goes beyond B-Movie fan and hapless hero, and none of the supporting characters even have enough time to go beyond the one or two notes that they have in their introduction. The plot doesn’t hit any profound notes, either. It makes for a fun adventure, but the dialogue and situations are rote and feel dull, even without comparison to the other games surrounding Evermore in the game climate of the time.
Where the game’s themes and writing are basic, however, the game also over-complicates some things. Sticking out immediately is the currency system, which while an interesting touch, make preparations for the final hours of the game feel like masochism. Each area has its own money system- talons, gold coins, credits, and jewels- which you can exchange at certain places in each area. While this is a novel concept as you are traveling a linear path through the worlds, once airship access is gained, you can only land in certain spots, and all of these exchange areas are inconvenient.
On top of this, weapons and spells become a mess later in the game. Weapons level up as you use them, which is a good system, but if you level up an early on spear, for instance, the skill level doesn’t carry over to spears you find later in the game. Only with heavy grinding will you reach higher than a level or two with each weapon, and you are supplied with new armaments so often that it becomes an exercise in frustration. Spell leveling is a bit more useful, as earlier spells can carry you through to the end game battles, but there are so many spells and you can only equip a certain number. Given that some are used only in certain situations, half of your alchemy rationale is ‘will I really use this again?’ rather than ‘here are the spells I want to use’. Most gamers know how frustrating it can be to go halfway through a dungeon to find out you need a random ability that you haven’t used in ten hours, causing you to have to backtrack to switch your tactics and abilities around. Evermore only does this once or twice, but if you are caught unawares, you’re in for some irritating redundancy.
The charm of this game lies in the fact that it attempts to keep things interesting. Some dungeons require splitting up your duo to overcome obstacles, through gate switch manipulation or traveling through air vents to progress. While these moments are few and far between- and certainly far from original in comparison to other games- these are the moments where the game feels engaging. A market square trading sidequest is one of the most interesting sequences in the game, as proper trading can give your character permanent stat boosts, and there is some planning and calculation to make sure you’re getting what you can for the best prices. There really are some original touches here and there in Evermore that could make it stand out in other circumstances.
So far as the presentation of the game is concern, it feels imbalanced. The sound quality of the game is nothing to applaud. A few tracks stand out as well composed and immersing, specifically the Collisea and Great Pyramid dungeons. As a full package, though, the tracks are repetitive and feel uninspired. There are also some areas that have no music at all or ambient noise that should feel natural and appropriate. Instead, the absence of music is felt, almost as if the soundtrack is incomplete.
Graphically, though, the game is gorgeous. Keeping in line with the styles of Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana, in some cases, Evermore feels like it is a step above Mana, at least. Movements feel fluid and dynamic, palettes are vivid, and the environments are stunning. While the occasional color swap happens for enemies, they happen few and far enough between to be forgiven. Truly, the shining feature in this game is the visual aspect.
The real issue here is that Secret of Evermore feels like it takes some of the best parts of other games from the time- Secret of Mana’s interface and play style and Chrono Trigger’s ‘time travel’ feel being the most obvious- and leaving out the parts that made those games memorable, entertaining and accessible. While this keeps the game from achieving greatness in its twenty or so hours, it is hard to feel like the game is a bad game, either. It’s mediocrity is most likely part of why it is considered a cult classic rather than a classic like others in Squaresoft’s stable. The fact that the ending few hours also feel like they were rushed in just about every aspect settles the game into a succinct ‘average’ rating.
In the end, Secret of Evermore feels a bit like a trial for Squaresoft fans. Bouts of frustration will rear their heads, but some interesting moments will arise, as well. As this was the first effort for many involved, based on research into the game, this is all understandable but doesn’t help the game excuse its issues. If you, as a player, can keep in mind that Evermore is more like a pulp novel and less like a historical epic, you will find some enjoyment in it. If you are looking for another Square masterpiece, though, you may be better off playing through one of the known classics again.