GameSpite Journal 10 | Secret of Evermore

Secret of Evermore | Dev.: Square USA | Pub: Square | Genre: Action RPG | Release: Oct. 1995

Normally when someone utters the words “tragedy” and “Secret of Evermore” in the same breath, they are referring to the mistaken idea that Square gave U.S. gamers Secret of Evermore instead of localizing the much-longed-for Seiken Densetsu 3. Beyond just being patently false (SD3 would have been nearly impossible to fit onto a Super NES cart due to technical issues) this belief also obscures the real tragedy of Evermore: That we never got a sequel. You see, despite what confused Seiken Densetsu fans might tell you, Secret of Evermore is actually a very good game. Replaying it today, it holds up quite well -- in some ways even better than its beloved inspiration, Secret of Mana. Though it was the freshman effort of a completely untested development studio, it nevertheless had a topnotch presentation and solid, if somewhat rough around the edges, gameplay. Looking at all Square’s U.S. studio was able to accomplish on their first try, it’s heartbreaking to wonder what they would have been capable of had Square given them another chance.

While Evermore’s developers were Americans, it’s clear from playing the game that they had an abiding love of Japanese RPGs. Beyond just the cribbed gameplay systems, Evermore shares the much more linear, narrative structure of Mana and its Final Fantasy brethren. Also, while the graphics and characters tend to have a grungier look to them than the candy colored Mana characters or the ethereal Amano designs from Final Fantasy, they are much more cartoony and distinct than the more generic Dungeons & Dragons-inspired visuals found in most western RPGs. And of course there are all the Final Fantasy cameos, most notably the cast of Final Fantasy VI in the crowd at the coliseum and Cecil from Final Fantasy IV? running the weapon shop in the Ebon Keep.

And yet these distinctly Japanese design elements are meshed with western elements to create something truly unique. Unlike most other RPGs which star anime teens or Conan the Barbarian knockoffs, Evermore’s hero, with his B-movie obsession and distinctly Marty McFly wardrobe, clearly calls to mind light-hearted American sci-fi cinema. And really, Evermore is essentially an American science fiction movie translated through the lens of a Japanese RPG. The hero traverses a variety of exotic dreamscapes, and yet all of them have an earthy, tactile feel, like the kinds of old stop-motion puppets one would encounter in those movies. As the player explores, the places he visits seem comfortably familiar, while simultaneously feeling as if adventure and secrets can be discovered around every corner. The game’s music contributes to this phenomenally. Unlike the progressive rock found in most of Square’s other titles, Evermore’s music is extremely ambient, using sounds like bird calls and people’s voices to make each area feel distinct and alive. Given that the game essentially takes place inside the dreams of four of its characters, this familiar-yet-alien feeling is undoubtedly deliberate.

Of course, Evermore isn’t perfect. Much like Mana, it’s kind of buggy and pretty much everything after the Gothica section feels rushed. Mana’s weapon- and magic-leveling systems don’t feel like the best fit for the way those two things function in Evermore. But overall, it’s a fantastic title that leaves one dreaming about what could have been.

By Mike Zeller? | March 26, 2012 | Previous: Secret of Evermore | Next: Yoshi's Island