Many moons ago, in the mid 1990′s, my brother and I were looking through the video games at Wal-Mart, as we always did when at Wal-Mart. In that day and age, they weren’t locked away behind glass cases, so we could pick up the cases and look them over. Between us, we had about $25 or so and noticed a game on sale for $19.99. After looking at the back, and talking it over, we decided that this was a game worth taking a chance on. The game in question was Secret of Evermore, and at the risk of ruining the ending of this wrap-up, it may have been the best impulse purchase I’ve ever made. Recently, I played through it again for the first time in quite a while, and can’t pass up the opportunity to proclaim its greatness to anyone that may read this blog.
You are a young boy from Podunk, USA. Along with your dog, you enjoy outlandish adventure movies and exploring areas you’d probably be better off not exploring. But, that would make for a boring video game, so you, along with your trusty canine pal enter a deserted mansion and stumble upon an odd looking machine. After accidentally activating it, the two of you are transported to a strange space station, and your adventure begins.
Secret of Evermore also has an interesting back story that has nothing to do with the in-game story. Developed by a US studio owned by Squaresoft, Secret of Evermore was delivered to the US just about a month after Japan received Seiken Densetsu 3, the sequel to Secret of Mana. Secret of Mana had/has a massive fan base, and had been very well received upon release. When it became known that the sequel would not be localized outside of Japan, it was mistakenly assumed by many that Secret of Evermore was the reason for this. That Evermore’s development had redirected resources from the possible localization. This rumor lead to Evermore getting a bit of an undeserved backlash. Because of that, Secret of Evermore had a stigma attached to it, and, despite being a very good game, never became that hit it probably deserved to be.
After arriving in the space station, you are almost immediately escorted to an escape pod by a someone that appears to be a butler, and jettisoned to the mainland of Evermore. After crash landing, you find that your dog has changed forms (a running theme from region to region), now appearing large and wolf-like, a form much more fitting for the jungle you have crashed in. He locates a bone for you, which becomes your first weapon. After a raptor encounter (which can be either won or lost, with both outcomes advancing the story in the same way), you arrive in a village and are introduced to their leader, a young girl they call Fire Eyes.
Now, many years before the story I laid out above, a cut scene informs you that four other people used the machine you eventually stumble upon. Fire Eyes happens to be one of those people, her real name being Elizabeth. You learn from her that she has been there many years, not aging, and that the land she resides in reflects her personal interests in dinosaurs and such (another running theme). In an effort to get back home, she sends you to recover an alchemist (more on alchemy later) that may be of some help.
This is the general set-up for the entire story in Secret of Evermore. You’ll advance through what is known as Prehistoria, before finding yourself in another land, so on and so forth. Each of the regions has its own theme, giving you some variety as your progress through the story. Even with regions, you may encounter differing styles that further differentiate one area from another. For example, in the second region you visit, you will ultimately explore a desert, a Roman-esque city, an abandoned Greek style hall/temple, a pirate area, and a pyramid. It is important to understand that though there are only four regions, each region is quite large and will take some time to fully explore and complete. Likewise, the enemies you encounter will fit with the regions. No palette swapping here. With each new area you visit, you will encounter another of the residents of Podunk, and learn more of the experiment that sent them to Evermore, while also seeing cut scenes that hint that someone is working against you from behind a curtain. The story isn’t the deepest story in a video game, but it does flow well and gives you a reason to keep progressing through the game. The actual villain of the game is a bit of a surprise, but not exactly groundbreaking. I don’t mean to diminish the story at all, it is a good story, and is boosted quite a bit by some excellently written dialogue. The writing in Secret of Evermore is top notch, and filled with humor. You will not want to skip through the text in this game, because every conversation is filled with wit. The story is good, but the dialogue is excellent.
First of all, understand that you can switch between your main character and your dog at anytime. The dog has one attack (biting) which can be leveled up. Also, when not playing as your dog, you can have him search (via sniffing) by holding down the R shoulder button. He will often sniff out ingredients that can be used for alchemy (see below). This sounds very minor, but fully utilizing this one action can be extremely helpful in boosting your stock. It’s one of those small additions that actually adds quite a bit to the game’s charm and personality. There are a few sections that force you to play solo as the dog, but these only last a few minutes. Otherwise, I’d expect you to spend the majority of your time controlling the main character.
If you’ve played and are familiar with Secret of Mana, then you can skip the rest of this paragraph. Secret of Evermore was either built on the same engine as Mana, or on one that copied it. Like Mana, Evermore is an Action RPG, meaning that it contains traditional RPG elements such as magic and leveling, with battles occurring in real time, much like a Zelda title. Replacing the traditional RPG menu is a ring menu system. Essentially, a ring surrounds your character, and you navigate through options from weapons, magic, and equipment to a status screen and items. Along with leveling up your character (and your dog), weapons can be leveled up twice, allowing you to charge them up by holding the attack button, resulting in a stronger attack. Weapons come in three varieties: swords, axes, and spears (personal favorite), though bazookas do show up very late in the game. In each new region, you’ll receive a new variation of each of these. The same is true of equipment. You’ll be able to obtain armor for your body, arms, and head, along with a collar for your dog, with all being upgraded as you advance through the game.
The perspective of the game is the same as A Link to the Past or Final Fantasy VI. You’ll control your character using a top down view point. There truly is quite a bit of exploration to this game, even though the story itself is linear. You will be limited in where you can progress to (by way of blockages you don’t have the means to clear yet), but within those areas you’re confined to, there is still an openness and aspect of exploration. The areas are generally quite large, and beg to be fully examined. Just progressing from Point A to Point B will cause you to miss helpful items, armor, or spells. One early area, referred to as the Bugmuck, contains two spells and a charm (items that cause permanent status upgrades when obtained), all of which could be very easily missed if you refuse to stray from the beaten path. Virtually every area in the game functions in this same manner. Secret of Evermore may be linear, but in many ways, it’s only as linear as you choose to allow it to be.
Now, a word about one of my favorite aspects of the game, Alchemy. This is where Evermore drastically differentiates itself from Mana, and many other RPGs, for that matter. In Evermore, magic is referred to as Alchemy. You’ll be taught formulas by the various citizens of Evermore, but you’ll need ingredients to use them. Each formula (or spell) will require two different ingredients, in varying amounts, to use. For example, the Flash formula requires 1 Wax and 2 Oil. Acid Rain is 1 Ash and 3 Water. As I pointed out earlier, ingredients can be bought and found by your dog. It’s a very simple system, but is ingenious at the same time, providing a very unique spin on the more traditional MP magic system. You are allowed to equip a maximum of nine formulas, with plenty of opportunities to swap other spells in and out of that list. There are also some formulas that can be missed, meaning you will need to search to find them all, though any required formulas will always be right within your path. There is no harm in missing one of the non-essential formulas, but the OCD in me always forced me to hunt them all down. Alchemy attacks will level up as you continue to use them, becoming stronger over time. Each one also has a unique animation, and though this could be a trick of my mind, I would swear that as you level some of them up, the resulting attack will appear bigger. I’ve never been able to truly confirm this, but it seems to be the case. The only criticism I have in regards to alchemy is that there are so many formulas available throughout the game that you’ll constantly want to be switching in new ones, often resulting in very few of them being leveled up. This is a very minor complaint though, as the formulas you receive later in the game are naturally stronger anyway.
Supplementing your formulas are items referred to as Call Beads. When used, these allow you to summon one of the four other citizens of Podunk and use one of their alchemy attacks (after you meet them in game, of course). These are some extremely strong attacks, but Call Beads aren’t very readily available, forcing you to pick your moments.
One other very noteworthy element of Evermore is the music. Be it the ambient noises of the jungle in Prehistoria or the dark, classical music of the Hall of Collosia, each piece of music stands out. The highest compliment I can pay Evermore’s soundtrack is that it is one of the very few that I would happily purchase on CD and listen to independent of the game. It truly is that well written and orchestrated.
As I’ve stated, Secret of Evermore is extremely similar to Secret of Mana in many ways. As popular as Secret of Mana is though, I actually prefer Secret of Evermore. I feel like everything about Mana was sharpened for Evermore. The weapon system is more efficient in the leveling. The hit detection (a personal gripe I have with Mana) is much better in this game as chained hits from enemies are gone. Even the graphics appear sharper and more detailed.
But, this isn’t about Secret of Mana, this is about Secret of Evermore, and what I can say about Evermore is that it is an amazing game. It’s one of the very few games I can hold up as not having any discernible flaws, in my opinion of course. I hold this game in the same regard that I hold A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, and Final Fantasy VI, just concentrating on Super NES games. I don’t believe that it’s an over exaggeration to place it alongside those games. It really is just that good of a game, and I hate that it was hampered by a falsehood regarding it’s development.
This game will always be linked to the Mana series of games, however, and not just because it shares a similar name with the first Super NES entry. They really are sibling games, similar in so many ways. The majority of game players will hold up Secret of Mana as the superior game, and it will always have that legacy, but in my personal opinion, as good of a game as Secret of Mana is, it just seems to me that Mana was used as a template, but all the screws were tightened up, giving us an almost perfect game in Secret of Evermore.
Brandon Nicholson is a blogger for TMRzoo.com and the founder of Just Another Video Game Blog and covers all gaming consoles and platforms including Sony Playstation 3 and PS4, Microsoft XBOX One and XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and computer games designed for Mac OS, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. Brandon provides his readers with reviews, previews, release dates and up to date gaming industry news, trailers and rumors.