There’s tons of classic games. Games that stand the test of time, that are well known and regarded. Generally considered to be games that anyone, at any time, could pick up and enjoy almost the same as someone getting the game when it first came out. Final Fantasy, Mario Brothers, Tetris, you know the sort.
But what about the less known games? The Soulblazers, Tiny Toons: Buster Busts Loose, or…Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine I suppose. The less known games that were really solid, but just had bad timing, or were overshadowed by better known games, what about them? Where’s their time in the limelight? Well, I did just buy some limes, and don’t understand the origin of the phrase, so let’s talk about an old game!
What did I want to start with? The mostly unremembered Secret of Evermore
So what is this game? Well, let’s talk about the game that is much better remembered, Secret of Mana. Released in 1993 to some pretty rave reviews, Secret of Mana was an action-RPG sort of hybrid. You and your team of two other misfits wandered around smacking the snot out of all kinds of weird mushrooms and tigermen and whatever other creations are wandering around the world. It’s a game with a bit of a muddy story, but some great music, fun combat and interesting locations. I’d show you all my favorite, the mushroom village, but I’m not going to tromp through 5-6 hours for one screenshot. I guess just imagine mushroom people sitting around all day.
But what about Secret of Evermore? Well, it’s also an action-RPG sort of hybrid, where you and your shape changing dog go through memorable areas and beat up a bunch of weird monsters. It was a strange game with some great music and fun combat. While Mana focused on a more traditional (at least as far as Japanese RPGs went at the time) fantasy world, Evermore had a more B-Movie set vibe to it, which made a lot of sense given that it was developed in North America for, well, American audiences. The main character was a bit of a sassy blonde kid, who just wants to get his dog and get out of this weird world he fell into, rather than the mute hero who gets dragged along by characters who actually can talk.
What ends up happening is a journey through pre-historic lands ravaged by dinosaur men, a medieval world ruined by rats and a greco-roman sort of city. There’s a few other locales as well, but it’s worth playing through the game to experience them for yourself. There’s a few different weapons to get, which all work differently from each other, and even your dog changes to match the areas you go into.
Unlike Secret of Mana, which had a sprawling world that felt strangely empty at times due to large chunks of the game getting the axe in order to fit onto a cartridge, Secret of Evermore is bursting at the seams in places with content. Cities actually feel sprawling for a SNES game, with the medieval area in particular managing the tight knit feel of European cities.
The tone is also fairly different. Whereas Mana typically stayed fairly upbeat and bright, thanks in large part to its very colorful palette, Evermore is more drab and dark . The places you go are very cool and different from the norm, but it does tend towards the grays and browns over Mana’s much brighter greens and blues. See if you can tell which is which based on the colors in my little comparison of two of the towns.
might say it’s not the most fair comparison, but even if I picked an area in Evermore with a lot of greenery, it’s still losing in terms of the vibrant colors that Mana has. I don’t necessarily think this is bad, but it doesn’t make Evermore pop quite like Mana does. It’s not just the palette either, the music in Evermore is more oppressive, more given to ambient noises rather than Mana’s upbeat soundtrack. While Mana has a few darker sounding tracks, the evil dungeon music still makes my hair stand on end, Evermore makes you feel lost in a place that a kid definitely should not be.
Still, I think this is fine given that Evermore has a bit more of a somber tone to it. Mana might be about saving the world with a magic sword, but it’s ultimately a very adventurey sort of story, with magic and monsters and chosen people doing destined things. Evermore’s story is a bit weirder than that, it’s hard to go into without spoiling the twist of it, but the people are all living in more or less miserable conditions and the game is pretty keen on letting you know that life kind of stinks for these people.
Some other mechanics that were fairly unique to Evermore were multiple currencies and bartering. While these aren’t the rarest mechanics now, at the time it really helped to set the game apart not only from Secret of Mana, but other RPGs at the time as well. It really helped give the world a feeling of being lived in and made each area really feel different. I know I was very confused when I had to go to a money changer to have my talons swapped for gemstones.
Now, no game is without its odd bits and Evermore is a strange beast. Its magic system, called alchemy, doesn’t work on a spell-count or MP system, but is based around items you pick up. When you learn alchemy recipes in the game, they have a cost in terms of items. So you may have a recipe that needs two water and one oil to use. This isn’t too bad for most recipes, as many ingredients are plentiful or available wherever you go, but by the end of the game you end up with an awful lot of different ingredients and some recipes are very specific about what they need. So if you need to cast a certain spell, you could end up wandering around trying to find someone to trade flax seed oil so that you can cast your run faster spell.
On top of that, it’s a bit of a confusing game at times. For the most part, it’s a straight forward “go to the cave and kill the dinosaur, then go to the swamp” sort of situation, but often times you’ll reach a new area and someone will just muse on how they wish they could resolve “a problem.” Then you’re left to question every last human being on the face of the Earth to find out what the problem is, then trying to figure out how to resolve it. It’s been some time since I’ve sat down with Evermore, but I recall getting stuck in random spots nearly every time I’d started through it. Of course, this isn’t specific to Evermore by any means, as Mana had plenty of moments where someone would just let you loose and it was up to you to figure out where the next breadcrumb on the story trail was hidden.
Overall, Evermore is a pretty engaging game that I think did a lot of fun things with its premise. It’s a bit of a darker game than Mana and was very much designed to appeal to American audiences rather than Japanese ones. I’d say it does a good job at that. The combat is just as fun as Mana, even if the bosses don’t quite stack up to some of Mana’s, and the areas are cool to explore.
With all the praise I can give this game, why isn’t it better remembered? I’ve heard some people say the reason was that we didn’t get the next “Mana” game at the time (Seiken Densetsu 3, titles back then were all messed up) but I don’t think that’s really it. It was fairly well reviewed at the time it came out, though I didn’t find any numbers of how many copies it sold. My suspicion is that it came out at a bad time. Released in 1995, a month after the Playstation and a year before the N64, I feel that the game was relegated to the same fate as Earthbound. It arrived just a bit too late in the SNES’s lifespan to stick around before people moved on to the newer generation of consoles. While Earthbound went on to be well remembered as a cult hit, Evermore was set off to the side.
While I won’t say Evermore is in the same league as Earthbound, I do think it’s a game that deserves to be dusted off and played. It’s an imaginative game that took risks and did things differently than most other RPGs of the time. Some aspects didn’t play out perfectly, but I haven’t seen a memorable game that didn’t take some kind of risk in its design. Secret of Evermore is an odd duck, to be sure, but its haunting tunes and unique worlds will, if you’ll forgive me dip in cliched poetics, definitely stick with a player ever more.