By Drew D. / October 31st, 2019
|Title||Secret of Evermore|
|Original Release Dates||NA: Oct 1, 1995
PAL: Feb 22, 1996
The golden age of RPGs gave us many classics that continue to bring about memories of joy and awe when simply mentioned. Games like Secret of Mana or Chrono Trigger are universally loved due to their epic stories, fantastic gameplay, and beautiful aesthetics. However, not all RPGs from that era achieved such legendary standing, as few games, even now, have come as close to perfection. Secret of Evermore is one such example; it’s a game with a satisfactory story and both familiar gameplay and aesthetics, yet it falls terribly short in its execution and overall quality. Not quite a hidden gem, Secret of Evermore is more a game with loads of potential that never manifested nor achieved the greatness it could have had.
Secret of Evermore begins with a cryptic thirty-year flashback, at a tucked away mansion depicting an experiment gone wrong. Turn to the present, a boy chases his dog to the now dilapidated mansion, stumbling upon a peculiar machine. The machine is activated and the boy is transported. He soon meets two unknown individuals, one of whom promptly dismissed him and eventually the boy finds himself plummeting from space in a pod before landing on what seems to be prehistoric Earth. Not knowing where he is, how he got there, or why his dog is now a feral wolf, the boy and his pet set off into this prehistoric wilderness in search of a way back home. He will ultimately need to work together with individuals from his own world that he meets and uncover the secrets of this land he will come to know as Evermore.
Secret of Evermore is a quest-driven story in which history, knowledge, and imagination mishmash to create the world our hero and his dog find themselves in. The simple task of finding a way back home develops into meeting various other characters who also find themselves in Evermore and doing the tasks they give in the hopes of achieving that similar goal. The game solely depends on its story to intrigue its players throughout the hero’s journey. Unfortunately, the story itself isn’t all that strong, as the mysteries of Evermore aren’t all that mysterious or intriguing. Rather than a fleshed-out unraveling of what Evermore is and how it came to be, it’s mostly addressed without any significant depth. We are told rather than shown. Exposition comes quickly and mysteries are bluntly uncovered to move the story and game along. This is a fairly common occurrence, missing out on opportunities to build suspense and establish a heavier tone of mystery. There is also an existential element to the story that is never explored, which is something that would have added much-needed depth. The story may remain amusing enough to hold one’s curiosity until the end, however that end is unsatisfying and once the game is completed, with its lack of mood, even less character development, and the linearity of the entire journey, the game does little to entice a replay other than purely for nostalgia’s sake.
Other narrative shortcomings come from the near nonexistence of character establishment or development. Not to say there isn’t any characterization—the only character to have any semblance of unique personality is the hero—but that doesn’t go much further than his apparent love for fictitious movies and his willingness to refer to or quote them as his circumstances call for it. The other major characters hardly have any detail to them other than their connections to the experiment and their current residency in Evermore. Even their voices are written painfully similar to the point that their only distinguishing traits are their obvious influences on Evermore’s landscapes and their character sprites. Simply put, characterization and development never seemed like a concern of the developers at all.
Leaving story behind, Secret of Evermore’s gameplay should be familiar to anyone who has played Secret of Mana. Secret of Evermore implements near-identical gameplay mechanics, utilizing the ring menu system and combat system from Mana. Basic combat requires a recharge after every strike and most other functions, from using items to equipping arms and armor, to casting alchemy skills, can all be performed via the ring menus. Familiar and intuitive, gameplay does have some unique quirks as well. One major departure from the Mana formula is that magic comes in the form of learning alchemy recipes and the use of items. Rather than a magic meter, in order to perform skills, you must have the required number of ingredients necessary to perform them. For example, to use Flash, the basic fire skill, you need one wax and two oils. As you traverse Evermore, different ingredients and more skills become available, but all are dependent on your having the right ingredients and quantities. In turn, this makes having plenty of cash on hand to make frequent purchases an absolute necessity. Together, the constant need for cash and ingredients becomes an annoyance as you’ll constantly be making purchases in order to make a viable offense.
Other familiar traits in gameplay include the use of different weapons. As you use a particular weapon, it levels up and allows for a charged attack that typically provides better range. Standard attacks, however, significantly and annoyingly lack range regardless of weapon type, so leveling weapons comes into greater play. Though the charged attacks are unique, I much preferred the varying ranges and traits of the different weapons as seen in other games at the time. Also, the need to get overly up close and personal to enemies to inflict damage means taking damage. A lot. More often than I’d like, placing even greater dependency on cash and item stocks for too frequent healing.
The challenge level of Evermore is noticeably steeper than similar games, so defeating enemies while balancing the unavoidable damage and maintaining HP is key. Grinding for levels is also recommended, as the hero and dog will both feel like they’re not hitting hard enough in crucial fights. Unfortunately, the experience gains from enemies are lacking while experience demands for a level up feel higher than what can be considered balanced, adding to the potential frustration players will feel. There are many enemies and moments that can feel downright unforgiving, so patience with the gameplay’s nuances is also a must. Again, that means working around the limited range and power of physical attacks and near complete reliance on alchemy skills, especially in regards to boss fights.
Outside of combat, gameplay is a linear ordeal, as you explore the subsequent towns, talk to NPCs, do a bit of trading should you choose, and simply trek from one point to another until the end. There isn’t much in the way of subquests, nor exploration in the dungeons and other enemy-infested areas, keeping gameplay to the simple tasks of surviving and boss beating. Though the straightforward style works, it lacks creative appeal and may be more a deterrent than an attraction to potential players.
Finally, Secret of Evermore sports a familiar, yet appealing aesthetic that overflows with nostalgia. The visuals are mostly strong, with detailed sprites and impressive enemy and boss depictions. The backgrounds and map designs are especially strong and creative, vividly detailing the historical aspects they are meant to represent. Few other games have attempted such an idea, so the uniqueness of Evermore’s world continues to stand out. Though I did find some maps inconsistent in their levels of details, the areas that do receive that attention definitely show it. As for the audio, the soundtrack is satisfactory, as the music matches its locales and serves its purpose of amplifying the tones that both the story and visuals attempt to convey. However, I didn’t find the soundtrack nearly as remarkable. None of the tunes truly stand out or possess the weightiness of the tracks from other games at the time of its release. I will say that I am impressed with the use of silence and ambiance, as both are used effectively to create mood, plus neither are overused, which I find to be a skill in itself. Overall, Secret of Evermore’s aesthetics support well the story and gameplay and while the music fails to stand out in any memorable way, its visuals will impress.
The fact that Secret of Evermore was the first attempt by a new development team definitely shows, yet their efforts produced a satisfactory game that continues on more as a cult classic. Some love it, many others look upon it with mixed feelings or utter indifference. It’s not the hidden gem that is Terranigma, nor will it trigger the same levels of awe and pleasurable nostalgia like Chrono Trigger. Its narrative potential fails to hide the linear story and instead exposes its disappointing lack of depth. Missteps in gameplay hurt and may likely turn away players expecting the more robust gameplay of Secret of Mana, Illusion of Gaia and the likes of those more highly regarded RPGs. Despite all of this, Secret of Evermore has its strengths and will appeal to players looking for a bit of a classic, throwback RPG style. It’s not for everyone, but if you have the patience and the passion for the oldschool, Secret of Evermore may be worth the look.
Review Copy Owned by Author
Action RPGEvermoreNintendoSecret of EvermoreSquareSquare EnixSquaresoftSuper Nintendo