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Secret of Evermore (SNES) artwork

Secret of Evermore (SNES) review


"A fresh team of developers from Squaresoft (the company’s North American wing) oversaw development with little direction from the head office. Apparently, their instructions were simply to craft a game about a boy and his dog traveling through a world comprised of cheesy movie environments. Given this simplistic premise and the relative inexperience of the developers, it’s not surprising that the product the team produced has so little in common with most other Square titles of the era."



Secret of Evermore can essentially be viewed as an Americanized take on Secret of Mana. The game holds the dubious distinction of being the only Square-published title developed outside of Japan. A fresh team of developers from Squaresoft (the company’s North American wing) oversaw development with little direction from the head office. Apparently, their instructions were simply to craft a game about a boy and his dog traveling through a world comprised of cheesy movie environments. Given this simplistic premise and the relative inexperience of the developers, it’s not surprising that the product the team produced has so little in common with most other Square titles of the era.

The soundtrack was the first effort of a composer named Jeremy Soule. He sent some demo tapes to Square shortly after he finished high school, and the company’s executives were sufficiently impressed that they immediately hired him to provide the score for Secret of Evermore. The resulting soundtrack is ambient and low key. You’ll seldom notice it, but it does a lot to colour the whole experience. Jungle music is dominated by bird calls and bongo drums. High-tech facilities feature robotic-sounding synthesized tracks, accompanied by vague whirring and humming. The score is especially good at building tension and establishing a sense of despair. Come to think of it, there isn’t a single cheerful song in the whole game (though that’s not inappropriate, since there aren’t any cheerful locations to visit, either).

It must have been a challenge for Soule to maintain the required level of subtlety, given some of the colourful places and people you’ll encounter in Secret of Evermore. There are medieval castles, Egyptian pyramids, and one especially interesting location known as Prehistoria (basically a volcano, a mammoth graveyard, and Jurassic Park all rolled into one). The world’s quirky cast of characters includes a queen who rules tyrannically over her kingdom, an extremely knowledgeable and optimistic historian, and a girl the locals call Fire Eyes because she just loves the smell of napalm in the morning. Despite the lively supporting cast, the game often feels every bit as understated as the music that accompanies it. It also uses a more muted colour palette than Mana, probably as an attempt to entice its North American audience with “realistic” visuals. It’s certainly not a boring game, and there are lots of memorable moments, but Evermore doesn’t jump out and impress you in the same way so many other SNES RPGs did.

The game’s persistently dark, technological themes might blend well with the music, but they’re at odds with the goofy fake movie references. The opening screen pans up a tall building to reveal an imposing electrical machine while sinister, haunting music plays. Such an introduction would lead many players to believe they’re about to experience a sci-fi horror story… which to a certain extent, they are. But that story also features a youthful protagonist who constantly relates what he sees in reality to the world of budget movie theaters. It’s an odd approach that may be off-putting for some people, but I personally like it. Running around in an unfamiliar and confusing world with a kid who’s completely out of his element works to emphasize the tension involved. There’s a huge disconnect between the real danger of the game world and the kid’s childish perspective. He’s a lot like Dorothy as she tried to come to terms with a place entirely unlike Kansas.

One place where Evermore soundly outperforms its highly-regarded predecessor is the battle system. Although Secret of Mana’s multiplayer functionality is gone, that’s a reasonable price to pay when it allows for non-moronic A.I. Because the game is built to accommodate a group that consists of only the boy and his dog, controlling your whole party is a simple affair (which wasn’t the case for so many other action RPGs of the era). Party variety was sacrificed to allow for that simplicity, but in this case it turned out to be a worthwhile exchange.

Arguably the biggest problem with Secret of Mana is the way it handles its magic system. Fighting in any action-RPG requires free movement as you fight, but characters in Mana were often frozen in place for long periods of time once they committed to casting a spell (or if they were caught up in a spell’s blast). Some bosses could catch players in an inescapable stun-lock, which led to an unsatisfying death. That’s the exact opposite of the fast, exciting gameplay that most gamers were looking for in this sort of game. In contrast, the spells in Evermore have quicker animations, stun only the target, and are used only infrequently by bosses. The game also happens to include a helpful glitch which negates damage whenever a character is healed just as he's getting hit by an attack.

Evermore also differs from its apparent inspiration in several other respects. Physical attacks that are used in combat don’t grow redundant as quickly; the sword, ax and spear all remain distinctly useful throughout the game. In Mana, weapons could be charged up to level 9 to deal massive damage, but the long charge time slowed the pace and there was always the possibility that your effort would come to naught and an attack would miss. Evermore only allows weapons to be charged to a maximum level of 3. That means you’ll waste a lot less time winding your weapons up to do some real damage. Hurling your spear at things is finally a viable alternative to spamming magic spells.

Speaking of magic, in Secret of Evermore it’s called “alchemy,” and its use requires recipes which are acquired through important NPCs and story events. Surprisingly, ingredients are plentiful enough that consuming them to produce spells never becomes a hindrance. Shops sell a variety of goods at low, low prices, and your dog will constantly be sniffing out materials that lie all over the ground.

Classic films are often easy to appreciate as a product of their time, but they don’t always age well. The same is true with Secret of Evermore. For all of its cool ideas, the end product is somewhat underwhelming when you look beyond the core elements. On the other hand, I’ve always had trouble getting into Secret of Mana, but Evermore immediately proved enjoyable (which is why I compared the two games so liberally throughout this review). All things considered, Secret of Evermore is definitely worth playing as long as you’re not expecting the next Chrono Trigger. Given that the game is only remembered by a small fan base and is chock full of references to fake B-movies, it doubly deserves to be called a “cult classic.” Hopefully someone reading this will be inspired to play it, too…maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of their life.

Rating: 7/10

Whelk's avatar
Freelance review by Kyle Charizanis (April 09, 2013)

Lifelong gamer and unabashed nerd. Not even a little bit bashed. He was originally drawn to Honest Gamers for its overall high quality of writing. He lives inside his computer which is located in Toronto, Canada. Also, he has a Twizzler (@Whelkk).

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