Secret of Evermore
Game title: Secret of Evermore
Genre: Role Playing Game
Platform: Super Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Kids-Adults
Developer: Square Soft
Release date: October 1, 1995
Overall rating: 8.5/10
Released during the golden age of RPGs, Secret of Evermore is one of the more interesting and noteworthy games that has been overlooked over the years. It was the only game developed by Square in the United States, and it may be their only game to not get released in Japan. The U.S. team was given the challenge of creating a game that was similar to Secret of Mana. This got it labeled as a rip off in the eyes of many gamers, and many more thought that it was the game we got instead of Seiken Densetsu 3. The end result of this was a lot of resentment from people that had not even played it. The truth of the matter is that it is a fantastic game, and it launched the career of the now famous video game composer Jeremy Soule. What makes this game worthy of a second look, though?
Gameplay - 9.0/10
As mentioned before, the Square U.S. A. team was challenged with making a game that was similar to Secret of Mana, only more American (whatever that means). The gameplay is the biggest example of this. Much like Mana, Evermore is an action RPG where you can see all of the enemies on screen and attack who you choose instead of having random battles. It does not go to a seperate battle screen when engaged in battle, either. It is all 100% real time with no interruptions, and it is a lot of fun.
You can button mash in this game if you want, but you will repeatedly get in weak attacks that barely do any damage, if they damage the enemy at all. You have a power bar that fills up after every attack, and you have to wait for it to fill up before you can get another good attack in. In order to do maximum damage, you have to go in for a quick strike, back off, wait for it to recharge and go in for another attack.This prevents the game from ever feeling button mashy and helps make it more fun by doing so. Making the player be patient makes the combat more enjoyable. More action RPGs should find clever ways like this to break up the monotomy of button mashing to kill everything on screen.
There are three weapon types in Secret of Evermore on top of the standard fair of armor like helmets and body armor. You have axes, swords and spears. There is not much difference between the three in their most basic forms, apart from things axes having a wider sweep and spears having a bit more range, but you can level up each of the weapons a grand total of three levels. With each new level damage increases, and you can hold down the attack button for the bar to fill up another cycle for an extra powerful attack. Think of it as a critical hit that you have a lot more control over. Also, once you level up the spears, you gain the ability to throw it by powering it up in this way. It makes them infinitely more useful and a great help in boss battles. It, also, means that you will probably be going with a spear for most of the time that you are playing this game.
Physical attacks are not the only way to dispatch your enemies in this game. Over the course of this game, you will run across new alchemies. Alchemy serves as this games magic system in place of the more traditional spell system using mana. This game has no mana. Instead, you collect ingredients which you combine to cast alchemy spells that do a variety of things such as cure status ailments, heal your characters, revive someone or damage enemies, sometimes with elemental damage. It is more simple than it sounds, and it works very well. As long as you have enough ingredients, you can cast the spell from your list. You can only carry 9 spells at a time, so pick and choose which ones you want wisely. You can level up your alchemy spells and make them more powerful, and ingredients are never all that expensive. Do not be stingey with your spells, and do not be afraid to cast them at normal enemies. It is the only way to level them up.
In Secret of Evermore, you will jump back and forth between four different themed worlds. There is a pre historic world, a space station, a medieval world and an ancient middle eastern desert world. This adds a lot of variety to the enemy types and environments that you fight in. Your dog companion, who you can take control of at any time with a simple press of the select button, has a different form for each of the four worlds that you will travel to. For the most part, his attacks do not vary, but he can shoot lasers in the space station. making him even more useful than he already was. Furthermore, each world has it's own monetary system. This may sound like a pain, but it is not nearly as irritating as it might have been. You can, simply, exchange the money from one world for money from the one that you are currently in. The exchange rate does vary from world to world, but it is an interesting and smart touch on account of the developers. No two countries on Earth have the same money system. Why should Evermore be any different?
Graphics - 8.5
It is a common mistake that this game uses the same graphics engine as Secret of Mana because of how similar the games look. This is not the case, though. The team behind this game built a brand new engine to run this game on that closely mimiced the Secret of Mana engine. The end result is the very similar looks of the games. Much like Secret of Mana, this game features large and well animated sprites and detailed and colorful worlds. The animation style is very similar as well., and it is easy to understand why people would think that they run on the same engine. There are differences in the looks of the game, though. Secret of Mana went for a more fantasy look to it's world with brighter colors. Secret of Evermore, on the other hand, was meant to have a more realistic look to it. The colors are less bright, and it tones down on the fantasy look of the game.
Secret of Evermore was released late in the life cycle of the Super Nintendo. Both the Sega Saturn and the Sony Playstation were out for consumers to enjoy new 3D games, and next Nintendo console, the 64, was just 9 months away. Being so late in the consoles life span, developers had had plenty of time to learn how to work the Super Nintendo's magic, and it shows in this game. This features beautiful detailed and colorful worlds and excellent 2d animation that was so charaeristic of the Super Nintendo late in it's life span. Secret of Evermore is a wonderful looking game with a fantastic art style that feels like classic Square with a dash of North American flavor thrown in. As you play throughout the game, you will visit four different worlds, and each world could not be more different from the previous. The game never looks monotomous because of this. It is always a joy to look at.
One aspect of this game that I particularly enjoy is the dog. He is well animated and a joy to watch as he sniffs around for ingredients for you and attacks enemies, but what really makes him special is how he changes. The dog has a different look in each and every world, so there are four looks in total for him. In the prehistoric world, he looks like a large prehistoric wolf. In the medieval world, he is a poodle. In the ancient world, he resembles the Egyptian Jackal, but the last world is the coolest and most creative of the buch. He is a mechanical dog whose body resembles a toaster. He has a long range attack in this form. He shoots lasers at the enemies, and this makes it his most useful form. While it is never explained in the story why he changes form in each world, it is a joy to see how he will look in world after world, and it helps to make the dog a more fun and memorable character.
Sound - 8/10
When you are playing an RPG, sound is very important. It cannot get in the way, and it cannot be annoying to listen to. The music needs to be something that you will not get sick of becuase you will be playing the game for 30 hours or more. When you devote that much time to a game, it is important that you don't get annoyed with the sound. When a game is story driven, it is, also, important for the sound and music to drive home the feelings that the cut scenes are attempting to bring out. The sound in this game does not succeed in every single aspect, but it is more than good enough to keep you playing, and it never becomes repetitive to drive you away. In some aspects, the sound is, actually, quite good and thoroughly enjoyable.
Lets get the bad stuff out of the way first. The sound effects in this game are nothing to write home about. They are quite average for a SNES game this late in its life cycle. There are not many sounds for the swinging of weapons, and there are even fewer sounds for the death of your enemies in the game. The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past this is not. There is no variation here. It will not ever grate your nerved because the sound effects are not obnoxious. That is definitely a good thing, but that is about as positive as you can get with the sound effects for this game. It basically serves as repetitive background noise that you will probably barely notice by the end of the game. It isn't too negative, but it does drag down the over all presentation of the game a little bit. This game could have used more variation in its sound effects. They couold have made axes have a heavier swinging sound than swords, for example. That would have been more realistic.
There is a positive note in all of this, though, and that note is the music. This game was composed by the now legendary composer in the gaming industry Jeremy Soule. This was his first video game project, and he was fresh out of high school when he wrote the music for this game. While there are some odd pieces and strange choices here and there in this game, a lot of his later brilliance would shine through. There are many memorable tracks in this game that you will be humming along to as you play throughout it. There are quite a few emotionally driving pieces and some that have strong auras of mystery about them that really peek your interest at some points throughout the story. Give a listen to the track Dog Maze for a taste of the treat that you are in for when you pick this game up and play it. It is soft, slow, mysterious and beautiful. It is ellegant in its simplicity. This game, also, features complex acustic guitar parts and some tracks that are just atmospheric peices. There are some points in the game where the music is nothing more than environmental noise, but it works very well and helps strengthen the atmosphere of the game. It is no wonder Soule went on to create so many great soundtracks after this one.
Story - 8.5
It has been said many times by myself and many others that story is a very important component to most RPGs. There are exceptions to this, of course. Hack n slash RPGs like Diablo can get by without having much story because they are all about multiplayer and different character classes that you can play as. This is not that type of action RPG, and it does have quite a bit of story to it. Story is what drives players to keep playing when they get deep into RPGs. When the gameplay has become tedious or the random battles or combat have become annoying, it is the story that pushes the player forward. If you do not care about the characters or what happens next, why even bother to continue the story? Fortunately, this game has an interesting story that will keep you playing even if you get sick of it's combat, though the combat itself is quite a bit of fun.
Secret of Evermore starts off in a U.S. town called Podunk. For those curious, no state is given. A boy and his dog have just left a movie theater after seeing a movie they really enjoyed. When the dog sees a cat run by, his instincts kick in, and he chases after the cat. The boy, not wanting to lose his dog, chases after the dog. The dog makes a wrong turn in chasing the cat and leads the boy into an old abandoned mansion where they find machines and computers that served some unknown purpose in the past. While the boy is investigating them, the dog begins to chew on the wires. This activates the machines and teleports them to what appears to be another world. They quickly meet a man there who ushers them into another room and has his robots attack the kid in an attempt to kill him. That's not a very nice welcome. The boy destroys the bots with a bazooka that he finds in a near by container before falling onto an escape pod that takes him to a world below. When he comes to, he finds himself in a jungle.His dog has changed form into a giant wolf looking creature. It is up to the boy to find people and find out where he is, how he got here and just what is going on.
To be perfectly honest, the main character (who you name) is not the most well developed character in the world. The only thing that you will really remember about him is that he is a big movie fan. He loves b flicks, in particular.He references them often throughout the game. Don't bother to look any of them up, though. The development team made all of them up. What will keep you invested in the story, however, is the world. This game has a very uniquie world that is more like 4 smaller worlds than one large one. It changes every time you reach a new section of the game, and it is a joy to see what the world will throw at you next.The game also has an interesting plot about how the worlds came into being, and it gives you a long and satisfying conclusion to the game. There is one plot twist in this game that it does more than once that you might groan at by the third time that it happens, but even that has a little twist to the twist to make it more interesting. Those that invest their time in this game will be rewarded with a cool plot, but to not expect anything on the level of Final Fantasy IV. You will not find something that incredible here.
Replay value - 9.0
This game is a lot of fun. It is not as long as many RPGs tend to be, so it is easy to pick it up at a later time and play through it a second time. I could definitely see myself going through this a second time. There are a lot of alchemy spells in this game and three types of weapons that would allow for different play styles. How would the game differ if you chose to play it through with a spear instead of an axe, and what would it be like if you played through it with one specific set of alchemy spells instead of another? How much more difficult would this game be if you decided to not use offensive spells? Is it beatable without a healing spell? This game allows for a decent amount of customization that allows you to find a way of playing it that best suits your play style, and you can play it through in other ways to give yourself more of a challenge. The story would be just as fun the second time through as it was the first.This is one game that I could definitely see myself replaying in the future.
Final thoughts -
Secret of Evermore is one of the more interesting releases in the history of Square.It is unfortunate that it is the only effort from the Square U.S. team because it is a great game. It is not perfect, and it could have used some more work in some areas such as character development, but it showed a lot of skill from the developers and a lot of potential for future games. It makes you wonder what might have been if the studio had not closed their doors after this one effort, and this game does not deserve the reputation that it has. It is more than just a poor mans substitute for Secret of Mana. If you ever find it at a cartridge of the game, pick it up. You may be pleasently surprised. Unfortunately, that is the only way of obtaining this hidden gem. It was never released on the Virtual Console, and I bet that it gets ignored on the 3DS eshop as well, so dust off your old Super Nintendo, pop this game in it and give it a try. You will not be disappointed. I wasn't.
Gameplay - 9
This game is a lot of fun. The alchemy system is very cool. It plays similar to Secret of Mana, but there is no co op.
Graphics - 8.5
Varied environments and the high level of detail characteristic of the Super Nintendo late in it's life cycle make this one of the more visually pleasing games on the system.
Sound - 8
It launched the career of a legend within the gaming industry Jeremy Soule. There are some brilliant tracks here. The sound effects need more variation.
Story - 8.5
The characters are forgettable, but the story of the world itself is full of cool twists and turns. It is not on the level of the SNES Final Fantasy games, though.
Replay Value - 9.0
The character customization in this game makes it a joy to play through in a variety of differnet ways, and the length of the game makes it easier to replay than most RPGs.