Rod and his trusty canine companion have a galactic adventure in this SNES favourite.
Who made it?: Square Soft (Developer), Square Soft/Nintendo (Publishers).
Released: February 22, 1996 (UK).
One of the things the Super Nintendo is known for is the amount of RPG’s released on the system. Many of these were developed by Square Soft, and if you were to ask a gamer which Square title of that era is their favourite, you would likely hear Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger or one of their Final Fantasy games. While I haven’t really played Chrono Trigger and I don’t like the Final Fantasy franchise, I would say my favourite is Secret of Evermore, even though Secret of Mana is a great game. It’s because I have more of an emotional connection to it.
Developed as the first project by Square Soft’s American team, and only released in the US and Europe, Secret of Evermore is about a boy who lives in Podunk, USA, and is obsessed with B-grade monster/sci-fi/horror films. In fact, during the game, he will often quote dialogue from them to better appeal to a Western audience. After watching a movie at the local cinema, the boy’s dog chases a cat, with the boy in pursuit, and they discover a dilapidated mansion with a laboratory inside, at the centre of which is a strange machine. The boy’s dog chews on some wires which causes the machine to activate and transport them to a space station far above a world called Evermore. In this space station, they meet Professor Sidney Ruffleberg, the man who owns the mansion and created the machine, and his robot butler Carltron. After an attack by some enemies, who are defeated with a bazooka, the boy and his dog enter an escape pod and are jettisoned to Evermore.
There are a few regions on Evermore created by the imagination of those who were present with Professor Ruffleberg when he first used his machine in 1965, and who were transported along with him. Elizabeth is the granddaughter of Professor Ruffleberg, named “Fire Eyes” by the natives of the Prehistoric region known as Prehistoria, because she wears glasses and is able to combine them with the rays of the sun to create fire. Horace Highwater was the curator of the Podunk Museum of Natural History, who watches over Antiqua, a region based around Ancient Egypt, and until recently Nobilia, a place inspired by Greek and Roman culture. Camellia Bluegarden was the town librarian in Podunk, and she became the Queen of Gothica, a region inspired by medieval times.
Part of what makes this game interesting is that your dog changes breed depending on which region you’re in at the time. In Prehistoria, he’s a wolf, in Antiqua and Nobilia he’s a white greyhound, in Gothica he’s a poodle, and in Omnitopia, he’s a robot that looks like a toaster and can shoot lasers! The dog is helpful, not only because he can attack enemies but because he’s useful for finding ingredients; the dog is able to sniff the ground on his own but you can also make him sniff by holding a button on the controller, and when you do this, he will automatically move to the location of an ingredient and stop where its hidden. You can switch over to the dog if you like but there’s no two-player option, though, which can be off-putting for those used to Secret of Mana or those who want to play with another person.
In Secret of Evermore, alchemy is one of the main elements of gameplay, and this is where the ingredients come into play, because you will need certain combinations for each formula you are given throughout the game. Aside from using the dog to find them, you can also purchase them from Alchemists. Ingredients can be for formulas that are used to heal, attack or defend. There are others which allow you to do other things; for example, there’s a formula called Levitate, which allows you to move large rocks that block a path. The more you use them, the stronger and more effective they become. There are also “Call Beads,” given to you by each of the four main characters you meet, which contain extra spells that will definitely come in handy, and you can purchase more of them when you run out.
As you progress through the game, your characters will gain experience points to increase their total amount of health points. You will also increase the dog’s attack level, and the power level of the boy’s weapons, of which there are four types – swords, axes, spears, and a bazooka. However, you can only increase the power of the boy’s weapons to three levels, except the bazooka, which stays at the one level. This is an aspect of the game that could be considered weak when compared to Secret of Mana, which allows up to eight levels, but personally, I have no issues with this. At the bottom of the screen, there’s a gauge that indicates the amount of damage that can be inflicted upon an enemy by the boy and his dog, as well as how far the boy can run. Using your weapon or running will cause the gauge to drop to 0% and it will then quickly recharge, which will allow the boy to attack at full-strength, or run at full-speed – if you don’t wait for the gauge to recharge, you won’t be able to run too far, and your attack won’t be as strong per hit.
Like Secret of Mana, Evermore uses a ring-shaped menu system, which consists of many different rings related to certain things, such as one for the boy’s armour and collars for the dog, one for the boy’s weapons, one for alchemy spells, and one for healing or defensive items. Another ring contains options for things like the controller set-up, the look of the text boxes that appear, an option to see the stats of both characters, and also an “Action” option which allows you to set whether the boy is more focused on being defensive or aggressive, and whether the dog is more focused on searching or fighting.
One of the greatest strengths of this game is the music composed by Jeremy Soule. It is a very dark and brooding score which suits the bleak tone of the game. But there are also lighthearted moments and music as well, so it’s not all doom and gloom. It showcases his talent extremely well and adds to the characters, the story and also helped to make Secret of Evermore one of the first games to make me feel emotional about the narrative. Especially when you consider the ending, which I won’t spoil here. This game was actually Jeremy’s very first composing gig, and he would go on to score music for many games, most notably Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. As a whole, this game is one that doesn’t have any major technical issues or problems. There are certain aspects to Evermore that may or may not be problematic for those who are fans of Secret of Mana. Even though it has a similar title and other similarities, its not a sequel, prequel, or side story to any of the Mana games.
If you expect an RPG to have an interesting story, then this one certainly delivers! If I were to compile a list of my all-time favourite video games, I would definitely place Secret of Evermore on that list. If you haven’t played it before, I really do recommend giving it a try. Personally, I would love to see a sequel, and in this day and age of follow-ups to and remasters of retro games, it would be great to see one come to fruition.
- The size of the game was an early issue. It was decided that the game would be single-player to preserve memory because it was originally planned to be only 12-megabits. However, the game would double to 24-megabits near the end of development.
- A Japanese release was planned to follow the North American release by a few months, but was ultimately cancelled.
- Various pieces of concept art were designed by Daniel Dociu. Using computer software, including SGI Indy II and Alias workstations, the game’s artwork and design were mapped out by three animators, four background artists, and a 3D rendering artist.