Ever since the very first time I finished Secret of Mana, I remember playing it many more times with my friends until I knew the entire game like the back of my hand. I really hoped that there would be a sequel, but the closest thing that ever came out (at least in the US) was Secret of Evermore. It was quite a similar game to its spiritual predecessor, but the more similarities I found, the more differences I tended to notice, and Secret of mana was not exactly the kind of game you wanted to be too different from.
The Role You Play
Secret of Evermore features a boy and his dog (both names TBD) from the small town of Podunk USA. After walking out of a movie theatre trying to find a way to return to their hometown of Podunk after his dog wanders into an abandoned mansion and discovers some scientific experiment that transports them both to the world of Evermore. The boy is able to utilize a variety of weapons to fight off enemies and is able to learn to combine ingredients in order to use alchemy, which functions a lot like magic. He is accompanied by his dog who can also attack enemies and sniff out alchemy ingredients.
The plot begins with a scientist named Professor Ruffleburg who has created an experimental machine that generates a new world based on the imaginations of the participants. His experiment is ultimately successful, but the problem is that the professor and his three volunteers have all gotten stuck inside the experimental world of Evermore and have been stuck there for thirty years. Now the protagonist and his dog have wandered into the abandoned mansion where the experiment took place and ended up in the world of Evermore, and it is up to the boy and his dog to try and find a way out of this world for him, his dog, and the victims of the experiment gone wrong.
The game is mostly centered around its action RPG combat, but the dungeons have a bit more of an emphasis on puzzles. There are several mazes in the game that are very tricky to navigate, even if you have played the game before. There are several sections that require switching between the boy and the dog to step on switches or get past certain obstacles. Some of the challenges are welcome while others feel like they were thrown in for no reason to be purposely frustrating, like a section where you have to defeat frogs in a swamp to make lily pads appear which form bridges. There’s another section where you have to jump in and out of a series of vents and the solution is hard to figure out even if you’ve played the game before.
While the idea of a game with four distinct worlds seems like it would take a long time to complete, each area within Evermore is surprisingly small. You only have a handful of tasks to complete before you make it to the next world and that can take about two hours depending on how many time you die, how much time you spend grinding to strengthen a weapon skill or alchemy formula, or if you get lost figuring out a dungeon. There are definitely a few areas where you can face setbacks, so depending on how many you face, Secret of Evermore is about an 8-10 hour game.
The music is particularly unusual. In some places, it sounds like a ‘Sounds of Nature’ CD. In other places, it sounds like music that would be appropriate to the era in which the game is trying to take place. At other times, it sounds like if there was a spectrum between those two ideas and it fell somewhere between those two. There are a couple tracks that sound a lot like just birds chirping, but they do still have a distinct rhythm to them that sound enough like music.
One interesting fast about the soundtrack is that this was the first composition done by composer Jeremy Soule, who has gone on to do a plethora of Western RPG soundtracks, including the Elder Scrolls Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim.
One significant departure from Mana and most RPGs in general is the implementation of alchemy in place of traditional magic. Alchemy is used by combining two different ingredients to create different formulas with can damage enemies, heal yourself or your dog, boost attributes, or aid in the adventure in other ways. The ingredients can be bought in stores, dropped by defeated enemies, found in chests, or just picked up off the ground in places that are sniffed out by your dog. While it’s a neat and unique system, some of the ingredients are unnecessarily rare and it makes the formulas they require not worth using.
The Talking Parts
The dialogue is not very expressive at all and the best parts do not come from the main protagonist. Aside from making a lot of weird references to obscure movies he’s seen, he doesn’t say anything that interesting. A few of the supporting characters, on the other hand, are quite amusing. Fire Eyes is great. Watching her appear out of lighting is pretty amusing to watch. The alchemist Blimp does a fun visual gag by pulling a bunch of things out of a dead fish. My favorite by far was Tiny the Barbarian, who says little but always has great lines to say and is ironically named Tiny, despite being very large. When the protagonist points this out he responds, “Tiny loves irony.”
Z…We’ve Reached The End…Anything Else?
While it may seem unfair to make too many comparisons to Secret of Mana, one of its key features was the ability to play cooperatively with up to three players. Secret of Evermore missed out on a golden opportunity to make the game cooperative and have a second player play as the dog. I’m sure there were some issues with making that happen and there are some sections of the game where you only play as one character each, but it still would have been more fun to have the option to have another player play alongside you.
Secret of Evermore is a giant mixed bag of weird things. It has a lot of incredibly bizarre dialog that feels like it was inspired by a combination of Last Action Hero and Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (as well as a ton of other movie references I’m probably not getting) and it feels ostensibly 90s, but there are so many lovable things about it that it just holds a very special place in my heart, but I also wish that it could have been just a little bit more.
Final Score: 7/10