After having success with their Secret of Mana release outside of Japan, Squaresoft decided to try a different approach with their next action RPG release Secret of Evermore. While Japanese gamers would get the true sequel to Secret of Mana in the shape of Seiken Densetsu 3, US gamers were treated to what would be the first Squaresoft RPG developed by an American development team. And while Secret of Evermore wasn't quite as epic in design as Seiken Densetsu 3, the game did feature a distinctly American theme that made it stand out from many of its Japanese counterparts. It also created quite a split among RPG fans upon its release with some loving the game's unique approach and others longing for the true Secret of Mana sequel Japanese gamers were already enjoying. So how exactly does the game stack up against the many other great Super Nintendo RPGs available for the console?
Anyone that's played Secret of Mana will immediately feel right at home with Secret of Evermore. It obviously borrows heavily from almost every aspect of play control found in Mana and even improves upon it in some places. You start the game off with a bone as your weapon, but each area in the game holds new and more effective weapons, you just have to locate them, which is sometimes easier said than done. As in Mana, you can swing a weapon, but it must then recharge before you swing it again, at least if you want to do any type of real damage with it. You'll also find the return of the easy-to-use "ring" menu system that makes choosing game options quick and easy, even in the heat of battle.
Since this is an action RPG, you will have to learn effective attack strategies against the various enemies if you're going to have any success against them. Boss fights are where you're going to see the most challenge in the game, with a couple of the bosses being downright vicious. While you do have your dog to help out in battle, he's more for show than anything else, so you'd better make sure you continue to level up and obtain better weapons if you want to last for any significant amount of time in the game.
One new element that Secret of Evermore introduces is "Alchemy." This allows you to combine two unique ingredients into a magical potion of sorts. There are tons of different combinations that you'll learn as the game progresses and these will come in really handy for the boss fights and stronger enemies you'll run into later on in the game. It also forces you to spend a lot of time searching for the ingredients you need to create these magic spells, which adds yet another unique gameplay element to the overall experience.
The play control feels quite fluid for the most part and having to wait as your weapon recharges back to full power does bring a great deal of strategy to battles. The game's sudden difficulty bursts can be a bit tricky to deal with at times, but as long as you continue to do battle every chance you get, you should be strong enough to tackle most areas of the game without the need for too much additional grinding. It might not be as balanced as Secret of Mana, but it's still a very playable action RPG.
Graphically, Secret of Evermore is quite a departure from most previous Square RPGs. While you'll notice a few similarities, the vibrant use of color is all but gone. The rendered visuals give the game a less colorful, but much more realistic look. You'll also notice that the variety between the many areas of the game is staggering. While the character and enemy animations isn't quite on a level as say a Chrono Trigger, they're still quite a bit better than those found in Secret of Mana. One rather impressive aspect of the game would have to be the bosses. Some are absolutely immense in size and all feature some very cool animations to give them that little extra touch of realism. As in most Super Nintendo games, there is the trademark Mode 7 appearance which pops up anytime the air shuttle is involved, but it's nothing that we haven't seen 100 times before in countless other Super Nintendo release. Overall the rendered visuals give the game a very unique look and feel and are a nice change of pace from the overly vibrant visuals of its predecessor.
The soundtrack in Secret of Evermore is unique in the way many of the tracks blend so well into the background of the various areas they're used in. At times you won't even really hear much in the way of music, and even when you do it's in such an ambient way that you won't really notice it much, yet it almost perfectly sets the mood for the area it's currently playing in. For instance in the prehistoric area, you'll hear the faint tribal drums in the background and occasionally some rustling brush or animal noises. It's quite unique the way the composer was able to capture the mood for the various areas of the game without having the music stick out so much as is so common in many other RPGs of the era. The musical score might not be on par with that of a Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy III, but it's got it where it counts.
While it's certainly no Seiken Densetsu 3, Secret of Evermore ends up being quite a refreshing take on the Secret of Mana gameplay formula and serves up one of the more unique and interesting Squaresoft RPG story lines of the 16-bit generation. The high level of difficulty at times might turn some gamers off, but if you've got the mettle to stick it out, you'll find that the quest is one well worth experiencing. There will always be RPG fans who resent the fact that gaming audiences outside of Japan received this game instead of the true sequel to Secret of Mana, but those who can get past that will find a very enjoyable action RPG experience that should challenge even the most seasoned fans of the genre. It goes without saying that if you enjoyed Secret of Mana, you'll likely find a lot to like with Secret of Evermore as its very similar in style and presentation, not to mention fun factor.