Ever since I first finished Secret of Mana, I replayed with my friends until I knew the entire game like the back of my hand. I 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 definitely similar to its spiritual predecessor, but the more similarities I found, the more differences I noticed. The problem is that 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, the boy’s dog wanders into an abandoned mansion and discovers some scientific experiment that transports them both to the world of Evermore. The boy can utilize a variety of weapons to fight off enemies and is able to learn to combine ingredients 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. He has created an experimental machine that generates a new world based on the imaginations of the participants. His experiment is ultimately successful, but he and his three volunteers all get trapped inside the experimental world of Evermore. What’s worse is they end up getting stuck there for 30 years. Now the protagonist and his dog have wandered into the abandoned mansion where the experiment took place. They inadvertently end up in the world of Evermore, and it is up to the protagonist 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. There is some variety in the dungeons which have a bit more of an emphasis on puzzles. Several sections require switching between the boy and 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. One example is a section where you have to defeat frogs in a swamp to make lily pads appear to form bridges. There’s another section where you have to jump in and out of a series of vents. The solution is really hard to figure out even if you’ve played the game before.
The very idea of a game with four distinct worlds seems like it would take a long time to complete. In reality, each area within Evermore is surprisingly small. You only have a handful of quests to complete before you can travel to the next world. This can vary depending on how many times 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. Depending on what kinds of setbacks 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 era-appropriate music. At other times, it sounds like it fell somewhere between those two ideas. There are a couple of tracks that sound like just birds chirping, but have a distinct rhythm to them that sound enough like music.
One interesting fact about the soundtrack is that this was the first composition done by composer Jeremy Soule. He has gone on to do a plethora of Western RPG soundtracks, including the Elder Scrolls Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim.
One significant departure from the Mana series, 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. These formulas can damage enemies, heal yourself or your dog, boost attributes, or aid in the adventure in other ways. Ingredients can be purchased, dropped by enemies, found in chests, or just picked up off the ground. You can find them in all kinds of random places that are sniffed out by your dog.
While it’s a neat system, some of the ingredients are unnecessarily rare and it makes some formulas 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 allow a second player to play as the dog. I’m sure there were some issues with making that happen. After all, there are some sections of the game where you only play as one character each. However, it still would have been more fun to have the option to have another person playing 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. It all feels ostensibly 90s and it just holds a very special place in my heart. I just wish that it could have been a bit more.