Have you ever to traveled to another dimension? Fought a jacked-up T-rex while using a bazooka? Or maybe wielded an axe called “Knight Basher” and faced crazy marionettes haunted by an evil presence? How about all of the above? I have…and you could too with Secret of Evermore. On Oct 1995 Square Soft launched the game to North America audiences and later a European version followed. Surprisingly, a Japanese port was planned but ultimately cancelled prior to release. Uniquely it was the only game ever developed in North America by Square.
You begin the game with a mansion located in Podunk, USA in the year 1965, which explodes due to an experiment gone awry. Fast forward 30 years, to where the game’s unnamed protagonist and his dog are exiting a nearby theatre. The dog catches sight of a cat and takes chase into the now abandoned mansion. Here, they find a teleporter in a secret lab, which is accidently activated when the dog starts chewing on some wires. From there you are transported to the world of Evermore, a dimension separated into 4 distinct and unique locales. From Prehistoria, a world with dinosaurs and cavemen to Omnitopia, a futuristic space station with robots and lasers, you travel between the worlds to solve the mystery of what went wrong with this dimension.
The characters in this have just that… character. Unique personalities and memorable lines are found throughout. The protagonist, whom you can give a name to early on, is given a voice through referencing fictional action and sci-fi B movies when making observations about Evermore. He is the prototypical reluctant hero who’s just trying to get home but makes the most of it along the way. This is offset by the dog who you also get to name which, aside from sniffing out alchemy ingredients and scratching himself, viciously defends his owner at all cost. Other memorable members such as Fire Eyes, Tiny, and Professor Ruffleberg add to the list of silly and over the top but loveable characters.
Visually this game is phenomenal. Much was learned from previous Square games about what makes them so beautiful and was used in the overall design. The game features lush landscapes filled with wonderfully detailed 16 bit sprites. Even the mode 7 view of the world, from the back of a steampunk inspired airship, adds to the sense of scale. One thing to note is that the colour pallet used was slightly dull compared to the more vibrant colour choices of Secret of Mana. This may have been on purpose to distinguish between the two but it’s not a bad thing, it’s just a stylistic difference.
The game borrowed heavily from Secret of Mana. The action based combat, radial menu and the ability to switch which character you’re controlling are just some of the UI and gameplay features that were reused. Although there are similarities to Mana, there are also some differences. Instead of magic which uses MP to cast, you are given alchemy recipes which you collect resources to create charges for. The protagonist can choose from 3 different weapons (sword, axe, and spear) all of which have their own set of moves, like throwing the spear or doing a swinging combo with the sword. There is even a bazooka late in the game (or early if you know where to look) which is extremely strong but requires ammo. Unlike the great multiplayer feature in Mana however, Evermore is an entirely single player experience. Overall the gameplay is solid, the attacks give that satisfactory “thwack” when you hit enemies, and the magic system is original and matches the games theme well.
Probably one of the weakest parts of the game is unfortunately the music. It’s not bad…it’s just that it could be better. During boss fights it’s exciting and upbeat and the world themes are more like ambience than music. The problem is that there really isn’t that much diversity to it. A lot of the game felt as though it was selectively mute. The small touches in sound effects while wandering though the worlds are nice but another layer of sound would have been much appreciated (this might have been due to cartridge restraints). I cannot be too hard on the lack of music, this was Jeremy Soule’s first project out of high school so he deserves a little leeway.
Another part of the game that I found lacking was the length. I recently booted up it up again in preparation for this review and found myself finishing quite quickly. Less than 10 hours between opening and closing credits. Now, I have to credit myself with knowing where to go in just about every instance, so that definitely reduced the time it took to complete it. However, compared to other RPGs of the time it just doesn’t quite live up to the Square Soft label.
This is another favorite on my long list of great SNES games and it is difficult for me to look at it without the nostalgia goggles. I think if this came out under any other banner, besides Square, it would have been received significantly better. The truth of the matter is that we expected more from Square, considering heavy hitters like Final Fantasy and Secret of Mana in their library. Negatives aside, I have to give credit to a mostly untested group of developers for their ability to make a game that can stand next to the big boys and to this date I still wish we were graced with a sequel. Personally this is a must play for any SNES RPG lover. Whether you have to beg, borrow, or steal – get a copy and play it.