What happens if you take a group of rookie game developers from America and task them with making the next big Japanese-style action RPG? The answer is simple; Secret of Evermore. The story behind this game is legendary. Reeling off of the success of Secret of Mana, Squaresoft wanted to release a similar game in the US as quickly as possible. A true sequel for Secret of Mana was about to come out in Japan, but Squaresoft knew that localizing the game for the west would take a considerable amount of time. They wanted to strike while the iron was hot. So, as an alterative, they decided to allow the US branch of Squaresoft to develop their own game specifically for the western audience. The end result was a curious mixture of JRPG gameplay with a western art-design and pop culture influence.
Secret of Evermore was a game that I knew about during its heyday, but it was also one that I never got to experience until now. Even though I never actually played the game during its initial release, the story that I relayed above did not escape my attention. For years, I’ve been curious to see what a western-made JRPG might actually be like. Well, I’ve spent the last month with this title and I’ve put it through its paces. As you might have guessed, I have plenty of thoughts to share.
The western influence on this game is apparent even in the game’s storyline. Whereas most JRPG games have a very epic “save the world from some ancient source of evil” set up. This game tells the story of a modern teenage boy (who is named by the player) and his dog. While walking home from the local movie theater in Podunk U.S.A., the dog is distracted by a cat and runs off. The boy chases his dog into a nearby mansion. Once there, the two of them begin to explore the seemingly abandoned house. The two stumble upon a hidden room occupied by some old looking machinery. While investigating, the machine zaps the pair and transports them into another world. From here, the game follows the adventures of the boy and his dog as they explore this new world and a number of other mysterious locations, all linked to the strange machine.
It should be immediately obvious from the summary above that this isn’t your average JRPG. For starters, it is based on characters from Earth, instead of people from a fictional realm. Second, references like “Podunk U.S.A.” point to a level of humor that’s unusual for this sort of game. Many of the characters and situations that arise over the course of the gameplay have some sort of campy or corny aspect to them. On top of that, the lead character is a fan of B-movies and occasionally references quotes or scenes from these (fictional) films throughout his adventure.
A large portion of the gameplay for this title is modeled after what was seen in Secret of Mana. It’s an overhead action-RPG. The combat system is nearly identical to Secret of Mana, in fact. The same can be said for the ring-based menu system. If you’ve played Secret of Mana, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect when starting out with this title. If not, you may want to take a moment to read my review for that game here: Secret of Mana review.
It’s no secret that I had some major issues with that game. Some of those complaints do indeed carry over to this title as well. For example, the combat system. I have an extreme dislike for the “charged attack” requirement. It seems like an unnecessary burden to the player to have to wait for the meter at the bottom of the screen to fill up to 100% in order for an attack to do any decent amount of damage. Heaven forbid you miss your opponent, you then have to get out of the way and wait for the meter to charge back up so that you can take another swing. Yes, it is something that you eventually get used to. And I also understand the argument that mastering this method of attack is part of the gameplay strategy. But at the tend of the day, it just ends up feeling clunky and somewhat pointless. For a better example of how to handle combat in an overhead action RPG, just look at the original Legend of Zelda.
On the other side of the coin, some of the issues present in Secret of Mana are no longer a real problem in this title. Aside from your dog, there’s no AI companions to worry about. The dog doesn’t seem to get stuck in the terrain the way that the extra characters in Mana did. Also, the “magic” system in this game is considerably more interesting. Secret of Evermore doesn’t feature magic in the same way as most action RPGs. In this game, the player will often uncover various ingredients as they explore the gameworld. These are often found in pots or boxes that can be destroyed. These ingredients can then be combined into various coactions that create different effects.
Over the course of the game, players will travel between a number of various worlds. Each one of these worlds has a theme. You start out in a prehistoric environment. This followed by an Egyptian themed region. There’s a fantasy world. And finally a futuristic level as well. Each environment has its own unique enemies and mini-story. The art style of the game also changes drastically with each region.
I suppose this is a good time to discuss the game’s graphics. Secret of Evermore features a much more western-style art design than players might be expecting. The graphics are designed to be slightly more realistic than what is seen in most JRPG games. This means the color palette used isn’t quite as bright and flamboyant. Some people look at this as a negative. But I understand what the developers were going for. That being said, I also admit that it’s not quite as pleasing to the eye. The same can also be said about the game’s soundtrack. The music in this game is designed to match up with the world you’re playing in. For example, the prehistoric area features a soundtrack that very tribal sounding, with lots of percussion. While the fantasy setting has music with a much more epic and classic feel. The soundtrack is very sparse at times, sometimes featuring only ambient sounds. Personally, I like this and I found it fitting and enjoyable.
In many ways, this game is very much a mixed bag. It’s filled with unique ideas, but if I’m being honest I’m not sure that many of them really get off the ground. Despite having a major western influence, which would potentially be a very refreshing change of pace. The gameplay is still caught within the parameters of the “Mana” gameplay formula. The overworld portion seems easy and boring at times. While the boss battles and dungeons occasionally seem unusually brutal. This means that players are forced into grinding. This is something that all standard RPG players are used to. But it tends to be a bit of a drag when playing an action-based game.
In end, while many of Secret of Mana‘s issues are addressed in this title. There’s also a handful of new oddities that rear their ugly heads as well. Most of the time, that are considered to be spiritual successors take all of the things that were great about the preceding title and make them even better. This game seems to take all of the things I disliked about Secret of Mana, leaves them alone, and adds in a handful of influences that just seem out of place.
Version Reviewed: SNES
Difficulty: Medium – To me, this game seemed a bit easier than Secret of Mana. The early parts of the game actually feels to be the most difficult. But, once you’ve played for a bit and your arsenal is expanded things tend to get easier. Most of the challenge does come from the boss battles. But if you’re stuck, these can often be overcome by grinding away at weapon levels, etc.
Story: The story for this game is a bit odd when compared to similar titles. It’s a bit goofy and seems pretty simplistic. Still, it does have a certain charm and it’s very unique for this type of game.
Originality: Secret of Evermore is very much a clone of Secret of Mana when it comes to gameplay. This is done by design as it’s sort of a spiritual sequel. Outside of the game’s mechanics, there’s very little recycled from the genre of action RPG. Here we have a game that features a real-world western character that travels to parallel dimensions. Not entirely unheard of, but a pretty unique concept at the time this game was released.
Soundtrack: There’s been a varied opinion on this game’s soundtrack over the years. Some people love it, others despise it. Personally, I think it’s actually very well done. The songs are fitting and well composed. The music in this game doesn’t carry the same level of mystique one might find in a Final Fantasy title, per se. But I found them pretty enjoyable nonetheless.
Fun: Yes, I enjoyed this game. But, it’s not without its issues. The combat system is cumbersome at best. The ring menu system isn’t very intuitive. Yes, I know, lots of people love it. But I’m not one of those people. I’m not really sure that I liked the silly pop-culture references mixed into my RPGs. Again, lots of personal opinions here. Maybe you’d disagree. But all in all, I only got about mid-level of enjoyment from this title.
Graphics: More realistic that fantasy. Environments in this game are designed with a natural color palette. This makes them look a little sharper, but also not as pretty to look at.
Playcontrol: The control scheme for this game is odd. The ring-based menu system is confusing and occupies two separate buttons on the controller. The character movement in this game is a bit stiffer than I expected. Previous games of this type (like Secret of Mana) actually suffered from gameplay that felt a little too loose. So having the opposite issue with this title was a bit of a surprise to me. The hitbox for enemies seems unusually small, making combat a bit of a chore – something that’s not good for an action-based game.
Downloadable Content: None
Mature Content: None
Value: This game has never been released digitally and therefore is only available in its original form. Due to it’s cult classic status, used copies of this game often sell for $50 or more online. Finding a new-in-box copy is almost unheard of, but when they do appear, often sell for over $100. Personally, I’m not sure I’d want to pay any more than $15 for the game.
Overall score (1-100): 70 – This game has a hardcore following that I just can’t comprehend. It’s not the worst game I’ve ever played by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s also very far from being one of the best. I can appreciate all of the original ideas this game has to offer. But at the same time it suffers from a number of issues that I just can’t justify. If action RPGs are your sort of thing, there’s many other games that do it better. I’m glad that I took the time to see what Secret of Evermore was all about. But I really don’t see myself wanting to play through this title again in the future.
Original System: SNES
Available today on: Currently unavailable – (Updated as of Fall 2022)
Best Experience: SNES – (Updated as of Fall 2022)