Secret of Evermore came out close to the end of the SNES era and was the first and only game to be developed by Squaresoft USA. It tried to piggy-back on the relative success of Secret of Mana, retaining that game’s ring-menu system and part of its title, but it was not well received by the fans. The main reason for this is that it wasn’t Secret of Mana 2.
Anime was really taking off at the time, but SoE had its own aesthetic style. Its setting also had nothing to do with Mana, and the two games played quite a bit differently. Adding insult to injury, various magazines previewed Seiken Densetsu 3, the real sequel to SoM, and hinted at the game not coming out in the West because of SoE.
Despite all the fan outrage, though, Evermore was a quality game and I personally prefer it to Mana.
The memorable parts:
- SoE contains humourous bits of dialogue as well as progression segments that are based on physical gags. These effectively give the game something of a PC-adventure vibe akin to Space Quest.
As an example, upon crash-landing on Evermore, the protagonist encounters a huge, prehistoric dog. Suspecting the animal to be a transformed version of his faithful companion, the boy throws a stick to see if the dog will retrieve it. The canine quickly comes back with a giant bone (which isn’t the stick that was thrown but is apparently good enough to prove the animal’s identity) and it ends up serving as the player’s first weapon in the game.
- The world of Evermore is split into 4 main zones: Prehistoria, Nobilia, Gothica and Omnitopia. Each one of these represents a distinct historical era and is dreamed up by NPCs that originally hail from the boy’s hometown of Podunk, U.S.A.
- Although the protagonist lacks any concrete personality, he constantly makes references to imaginary horror and sci-fi B-movies which adds a bit of flavour to the game.
- In addition to having aesthetically varied zones, the maps in SoE also contain rudimentary but unique puzzle elements: quicksand whirlpools teleport the player, lily pads are summoned to create bridges over watery surfaces, hot air vents are used to ascend a volcano, etc.
- The level maps themselves are quite linear, especially in the beginning of the game, but the overall level design is very good. The architecture is varied and interesting, and the so-called golden path is always asymmetrically criss-crossed with tracks that lead to treasures and various secret areas. To check out all of SoE’s maps, head on over to the VGMaps.
- Breaking up the repetition in the levels are various interactive elements that appear only a single time, e.g., the river ferry in Crustacia, the frozen volcano top in Prehistoria, the ramshackle bridge in the Hall Of Collosia, etc.
- The magic system is based on ingredients that actually reside in what look like their proper locations, e.g., ash by campfires, roots by the base of various flora, bones by skeletal outcroppings, etc. These ingredients have no clear visual indicators, though, so a bit of guesswork is involved in finding them.
- All spells and weapons have their own leveling system and grow in power with use. Leveled up weapons can be charged up, while leveled up spells typically do more damage.
- Many alchemists that teach spells are hidden throughout the game and don’t need to be found in order to progress. These alchemists also sell a unique set of ingredients and allow the player to equip and remove spells (only a handful of these can be available at any one time). This non-linear approach to magic allows for some nice customization, but, unfortunately, the ingredients for most spells only reside in certain locales. This effectively prevents the player from sticking with his favourites throughout the whole course of the game.
- The player’s dog automatically sniffs out alchemy ingredients and treasures, and attacks any nearby enemies. This is very similar to the implementation of the dog in Fable 2, except that the player can also switch control to the dog at virtually any time. The dog can’t climb steep stairs, but he does get some unique dialogue bits from NPCs and performs the occasional function that the boy can’t fulfill, e.g., jumping over a broken bridge. Some areas also contain puzzles that rely on repeatedly switching control between the boy and the dog, but this is done rather rarely.
For an even more detailed overview of SoE’s canine companion, head on over to this Escapist article.
- The overall flow of the game is quite varied and interesting. The first prehistoric continent is home to a small hub town and a few dungeons that need to be completed in a strict order, but the second zone is quite a bit different. It starts off with the boy washing up on a beach without his dog and no clear indication of what to do next. The beach itself forks in three directions: the western path leads to an uncrossable river, the northern path to a large shipwreck-town embedded in a mountainside, and the eastern path to some barren caves and a desert.
The residents of the town don’t provide the player with any concrete goals, and more intrigue is added when the play is briefly switched to the dog. It’s revealed that the canine has transformed into a sleek grayhound and roams a lush, Roman-esque city whose residents seem to worship a god that looks just like him.
Having no other path to follow, the boy crosses the huge desert which — unless he takes a rather expensive shortcut — periodically damages him. Upon finishing the grueling journey, he reaches a sprawling city that was shown in the dog’s cutscene. Once again, there’s no clear quest givers and all that the player can do is wander around conversing with the numerous merchants and citizens. After a certain time limit is reached, all the residents proceed to the main plaza where the city’s ruler decrees that the boy’s dog — their idol — shall be honoured by choosing the next arena-challenger.
Let off his leash, the dog instinctively runs up to his master, effectively choosing him as the upstart warrior. The duo are then thrown into a cramped cell to prepare, and eventually the boy must face off against the colloseum’s champion all by himself. Following his victory, the boy is tasked with retrieving two artifacts from two separate dungeons which can be completed in either order, and some additional areas open up as the dog rejoins his master.
The actual gameplay of these sections isn’t that much different from the first act, but they do a great job of breaking up the pacing and preventing SoE from becoming an entirely predictable experience. As a result, the player can never be quite sure of what’s waiting around the corner, imbuing the game with a strong sense of adventure.
- The markets of Nobilia and Ebon Keep are based on a bartering system that requires the player to run around making advantageous trades. It’s a little monotonous but also completely optional, and its rewards include unique and useful items.
- Although money is gained from defeating enemies, it’s automatically collected and there’s no visual feedback to indicate that this is happening. Enemies also occasionally drop physical items that can be picked up — and sometimes those are actual piles of money — but this doesn’t happen very often.
- Each of the four zones has its own unique currency, and although money can be exchanged in each area, it’s done so at a loss to the player.
- A lot of the music in SoE is ambient rather than melodic, which nicely sets the mood but also has the adverse effect of making many of the tracks somewhat forgettable. Still, the texture of the audio is pretty unique — unlike the plethora of completely uninspired orchestral scores that litter games these days — and the overall soundtrack is quite enjoyable.
- Upon arriving in Gothica, the player must make his way to a carnival of grifters. These shady characters immediately kidnap his dog and dress him as a pig for one of their exhibits (think the Renaissance fair in Lisa’s Wedding). The dog breaks free and runs right into a local pig race, easily winning the marathon and the grand prize: an audience with the queen.
- The various sewers encountered in the game are composed of interlocking pipes that carry a specific current. The player can ride the currents and switch pipes at junction points, but can’t freely maneuver within them. These maps are still fairly easy to explore, though, as only one path leads to the exit and all other paths eventually deposit the player at the entry point to the area.
- The Dark Forest if a large maze of long horizontal and vertical stretches peppered with the occasional sign. At first it appears to be an area that simply teleports the player around, but all of its maps are actually unique. The trick to traversing the Dark Forest is in the little critters hanging out in its trees: if you don’t see ‘em, chances are you’re going the wrong way.
- Cecil from Final Fantasy IV makes a cameo appearance as an owner of a weapon shop, and various other Squaresoft properties also serve as easter eggs.
- One of the optional segments in SoE is an eerie play put on by two marionettes.
- The final area takes place on a desolate space station. There’s very few NPCs, and all of the stores have been replaced by automated vending machines.
- The space version of the dog is that of a toaster who fires lethal projectiles and can float around in vents that the player can’t reach.
- The final battle is actually a series of fights, with a small cleaning robot coming in to clean up the mess in between the rounds. If this robot is attacked, though, it will return with some friends for protection.
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