Ah, Secret of Evermore: Square of America ’s misunderstood child. To me, this game has always been as mysterious as it is hard to review. I remember seeing the game in a store when it first came out and wishing I could buy it. Was it possible? Had my dreams of a sequel to Secret of Mana finally come true?
It wouldn’t be until years later that I would learn the truth of the matter. Perhaps, had I been able to play the game at its initial release, I could have been spared at least some of the disappointment. However, to compare Secret of Evermore to Seiken Densetsu 3 (the Japan-only sequel to Secret of Mana) years after the release of both with the more mature eye of a game-playing adolescent, there was quite a sense of disappointment and even anger. Why had they done that to us? Seiken Densetsu 3 seemed so awesome in comparison. Were the Japanese trying to mock us?
These days I don’t care so much, though I still view Secret of Evermore as somewhat of a rip-off. I know the folks who made the game built it from scratch, but I’ve never understood why they went to such lengths to copy Secret of Mana. Despite this, the game does have some redeeming qualities. This made it hard for me to come up with a good score, but let’s just get to the review.
I’ll start with the game’s good points. I have to say that the best part of this game, in my opinion, is its sound. Rather than taking the traditional approach to RPG background music, with music being essentially all you hear beyond battle sound effects, the composer went for a more low-key approach. The focus is more on ambiance, bringing players into the game through the use of natural sound effects found in the game’s surroundings, accompanied by music to fit the mood. I like this approach, and the sound effects and music in general are well-made.
The graphics come in next, and pretty close behind. Aside from menus and such, the game doesn’t bear much visual resemblance to Secret of Mana. This is a good thing, in my opinion, since I wouldn’t want to pay to play a ROM hack. While the sprites seem little poorly animated in parts, the maps are detailed and visually appealing. Better than I was expecting as I continued to play, even though I thought the first level of the game was kind of ugly.
Enough of the good stuff, though. The controls are horrible. I can hardly hide my surprise that the setup is the same as for Secret of Mana, but the developers actually managed to make the collision detection worse. Melee accuracy is awful, at least until you get the spear’s special attack, which seems to be a switch to turn on the debugging aimbot. Worse than that is when you’re trying to pick up the items your dog sniffs out. He just gets within about ten pixels of the one, singular, exact pixel that you need to click on from the right direction in order to find the item. There were several items I left behind because I simply couldn’t find whatever the dog was trying to point to.
Oh, the dog sniffing thing brings me to the category that’s hardest to calculate. You see, despite the name, layout, gameplay and all the other things copied from Secret of Mana, this game actually does have a lot going for it. If you read my last review, you can imagine that my play style conflicts with the item-burning alchemy system used to replace magic, but I still give points for creativity on that one. The dog sniffing out items goes along with that, too.
And, let’s not forget about the money exchange. As with the real world, the world of Secret of Evermore doesn’t all use gold pieces or something stupid for currency. Each area of this world uses a different type, so you have to change your money over in order to buy things in the new area. I actually really liked this, considering the amount of cash I would rack up on the previous level. Something to prevent you from being able to buy everything when you first get to a new area, while allowing you to earn enough to buy as you play. Also, being entirely scripted in America, this game has a rather Western feel to it. The sci-fi movie references and certain portions of the visual styling are uniquely Western This is something fairly difficult to find in games even today, and especially in any that are worth playing. I’m sorry, Madden 2008, but you don’t fall into this category.
Really, I wish I could give this game a better novelty score, but the game’s basic foundation is still a massive ripoff of Secret of Mana. That really drops the points with me, considering how it officially has no connection. Even the font on the front of the box is the same as the Secret of Mana font. It’s kind of sad when there was so much good in this game!
Now, we’re left with fun and replay value. Originally, I gave the game a poor fun value for terrible collision detection and for a magic system that can turn the game into a grind. If you want to level your magic, you have to cast spells, which costs items, which means you have to kill a lot of monsters in order to afford leveling it in the first place. As I kept playing, though, the game actually became addictive. If you can get past the collision detection, the game has much in the way of puzzles and other fun things. Your dog can reach places that you can’t, while you can reach other places that your dog can’t, giving you a chance to play as each individually. Affording items to level your spells turned out to be less trouble than I expected, as well.
As for replay value, it’s hard to say. The story is somewhat linear, though it’s still an enjoyable game for as long as you can forget the “Secret of” in front of its name. I really think the entire game would have been better if there wasn’t such a connection to Secret of Mana, considering what it had going for it. Such a close relationship should be reserved for games actually in a series. But, I’m getting off topic. For the replay value, it’s about average. You can beat it and put it away for a year and it’ll be fun when you go back to start over again. That is, of course, depending on whether or not you enjoyed the game in the first place.
In the end, the game was much better than I was expecting. If you can get past the real-time battle system, ring menus, attacks having a recharge time that causes you to do less damage when attacking before it refills, weapon levels letting you charge up for weapon skills…there’s just far too much in common with Secret of Mana to ignore the connection, which is kind of sad. I mean, I can’t say that it would have been the best game for the SNES if it wasn’t like that, but I imagine that it would have received better reviews at the time. It’s a game well worth playing.
So, if you haven’t played it, go give it a try! If you have played it, why did you read my entire review?