Name: Secret of Evermore
Format: Super NES
Developer: Square USA
After the reasonable successes of Final Fantasy III and Chrono Trigger, Square tried to come up with a game that would sell well in the USA, and decided that the best way to do this would be to make one in a very "American" style, as opposed to making based around the more Japanese themes of honour, spirits, mystical magic powers etc. These themes are in almost all the RPG games that come from Japan, and someone decided that Americans would buy more copies of a game if it had less Honour, Spirits and Spells, and more B-Movie references, sleepy little small towns, and pet dogs. Secret of Evermore was what they came up with, and while many regard it as a reasonable game, most gamers believe it is nowhere near as good as the game that the lucky old Japanese were getting - Seiken Densetsu 3. This sequel to Secret of Mana wasn't too much of a financial success, though, so it wasn't ported over the the US (although an amateur group of ROM hackers have translated it.. see here for more details) leaving Americans with what felt like a slightly poor man's version of SoM. This lead to the game not making a whole load of money, and so Square have not done any other "localised" games like it since. And after Final Fantasy VII, every Square RPG is such a guaranteed seller that they can safely be released worldwide and make a decent profit still.
The basic premise of Secret of Evermore is that of a kid living in a sleepy town called Podunk, who enjoys hanging out with his dog, and seeing films. Bad films. Lots of bad films. The intro shows his dog seeing a cat, and, as the stereotype demands, he chooses to chase it. The chase leads the dog into a mysterious mansion, and the boy follows him in to find his pet. The first chunk of memorable dialogue appears here. After wandering around in the house for a bit (with the roof blocking the player's view), our character exclaims:
And a balloon animal!"
If you listen closely, you can hear a bunch of people in the background laughing manically, starting to dribble, before jumping off a cliff. At least, that's the kind of effect this "quality" of speech has on me. If this is an obscure reference to something that happened in 1995, in a film possibly, please let me know, as without the context (I'm assuming there is one, and it wasn't just a lunatic being let loose in Square USA's script department) I will continue to make fun of this until I die.
After some more rambling around, you and the dog come across a big generator thing. Naturally, your character spouts:
"This looks like the PZS Plasma Drive in "When Consonants Collide"
This is the first of many, many references to B-Movies. I almost throttled myself after beating a boss, and having my character exclaim something like
"Wow! Now I know how Dirk Daring felt in Patrol of the Persian Petroleum Policemen from Phnaargos IV!"
And of course, after that, the generator comes on line, and sucks our "friend" and his dog into a parallel dimension - the world of Evermore
. Suffice to say you learn more about what this world is and who created it as you go along, and meet some more people from Podunk
. There are also a few more B-Movie
A slightly believable plot, and good dialogue to match? Secret of Mana: 1 - Secret of Evermore: 0
But still, I could learn to live with that if the gameplay was good. Is it? Well... kind of.
Basically, SoE plays a lot like it's slightly older Japanese brother Secret of Mana. It's a party based action role playing game, which has you running round on a 2D plane dealing damage to enemies, killing bosses, casting what any sane person would recognise as magic spells (but the "americanisation" experts decided that they are referred to as"Alchemy formulas". Don't ask me why.), solving simple puzzles, and saving the world. But while that game was undeniably a classic, this just feels like a slightly cheaper bootleg version. For starters, the team size has been reduced from Secret of Mana's 3 (the main character, a girl, and a "sprite", with a decent bit of individualisation - sprite casts good offensive magic, girl casts defensive magic, etc.) to a slightly cheaper 2. Just the main character and his dog. The dog can cast no spells, only equip one piece of armour (the main character can equip 3 - chest, head and wrist), has no weapons to equip (like Ayla from Chrono Trigger - they both just have physical attacks, which get better over time), and is generally a bit rubbish.
He seems to die far too much, and the chessboard action grid which controlled the AI in SoM has been replaced with a one dimensional scale from "attack lots" to "don't attack lots". The party system is definitely a step back from Secret of Mana, and even with fewer people on screen, there is quite often some slowdown, which annoys me to no end. This is a technical step back from SoM.
Other elements which I liked in SoM have been imported reasonably successfully - the ring system for item selection is working fine, and the combat system (after you use a weapon, you have to wait for a few seconds before it will do high damage hits, forcing some tactics into the genre, which Link to the Past lacked. The Mana weapon system, which required Orbs to upgrade each of the 8 basic weapon types has disappeared, replaced with a normal weapon buying / finding system, with four weapons in each of the categories of sword, spear and axe. A bazooka crops up at some points in the game as well, and is naturally, unnaturally powerful. The one problem with the combat is occasionally terrible collision detection, which means that sometimes you can walk past an enemy and be fine, and sometimes you will take damage, even if the enemy has not done an attack animation. This problem wasn't so obvious in Secret of Mana, but it only really annoys occasionally.
A decent combat system? Secret of Mana: 2 - Secret of Evermore: 0.5
The game has pretty decent music and graphics, if not as good as Seiken Densetsu 3. There's little to be said, but the first third of the game (set in a prehistoric jungle stereotype area) is quite often slightly too dark, and it can be hard to see the paths).
Decent Visuals? Nice Music? Secret of Mana: 4 - Secret of Evermore: 1.5
SoM gets 2 points because it has quite possibly the best music I've ever heard in a video game in my opinion.
The game is set in the world of Evermore, which is split into Prehistoria, Antiqua, Gothica, and the final short area, Metroplex. Overall, the game has a reasonable lifespan, but ultimately, I would rather play this or this. It's unfortunate that I feel the need to compare this game to SoM all through the writeup, but the fact is, that for two games in the same genre made by the two branches of the same company, it is impossible not to compare them. And the fact that this game, which was released just after the other one, is worse (either slightly, or a lot) than the other one in every aspect, does count for something.
Better game? Secret of Mana: 4 - Secret of Evermore: 1.5
Secret of Mana all the way.
The ROM of the game is easily available on the Internet, and it is emulated perfectly in Zsnes (and probably most other emulators as well). I would recommend it to anyone who has played Secret of Mana or SD3 and enjoyed it, but if you haven't, then play those first.
It's good, but it should have been so much better...