Secret of Evermore is a game that I’ve never beaten. Not only have I failed on multiple occasions to get more than fifteen minutes into it, but it’s so monotonous and mediocre that spending more time than that with it ended up making me angry at Squaresoft; from the game’s mechanics to its characters, everything about Evermore is a complete and utter mess. Of course, this isn’t really a surprise once you look up its history—this was apparently an attempt by Squaresoft’s USA branch to make a successful game by ripping off the popular Secret of Mana and trying to Americanize it. It feels like the cheap knockoff it is as a result, though what hurts more than anything is the sheer potential Evermore fails to live up to.
So much wasted potential
Evermore starts with a machine that can create worlds that people dream up. If this sounds like an interesting way of throwing you into many different kinds of areas, it certainly would be. What actually ends up happening, however, is that you wander around a same-y jungle area that’s easy to get lost in because of how similar it all looks, then you wander around a Roman-themed setting for awhile that’s not too interesting, and then you (presumably) wander around some other areas that are equally boring and lackluster.
As if that’s not bad enough, all of that wasted potential is worsened by the game’s awful characters. The main character is utterly forgettable, equal parts uninteresting and ugly (his sprites are actually the worst-looking ones in the entire game). In fact, his entire design screams “focus group-friendly everyman” as though he exists solelyf to pander to western audiences, and his lines are so bland that even his pet dog who doesn’t speak is more interesting as a character. To add insult to injury, the main character’s main job throughout the game is to quote fictional movie lines, and this never ceases to feel awkward or forced. The other characters throughout the game aren’t any better, either, mostly just being around for convenient plot reasons.
Serious hit detection issues
Why Squaresoft reused the fighting system from Secret of Mana, I’ll never know. It’s not a particularly great system by any measure, full of missed hits that arise because of awkwardly-placed hitboxes, and while the Japan-only sequel to Mana (Seiken Densetsu 3) improved on this somewhat, Evermore is definitely a step backward. Trying to hit an enemy from the side feels natural enough to suffice, but doing so from the top or bottom is a train wreck because of how difficult it is to gauge where you are in relation to the enemy. It ends up feeling like you have to touch the enemy and put yourself in danger in order to hit them from the top or bottom, and the disparity between how attacking sideways and vertically feel makes the whole fighting system incredibly awkward.
Yay! Lots of enemies everywhere!
That’s sarcasm, in case that doesn’t come across. Anyway, having a bad fighting system doesn’t necessarily doom a game if it doesn’t rely on that fighting system too much, but Evermore leans on it so heavily that I almost question how much actual game content there is. It seemed like every time I accomplished something, the game would force me to run around several large screens of enemies to get to the next location. If each location had something interesting and worthwhile, that might not be so bad. Instead, the quests start to take on a serious “fetch quest” vibe where you’re being sent to find this thing and that thing and then bring it to this person or that person. Padding even the fetch quests with loads of combat (which is awkward at best) leaves a seriously bad taste in my mouth.
Difficulty spike strips
Does this game have incredibly random difficulty spikes, you ask? But of course! That becomes apparent when you stumble onto the first boss fight, which appears to be a giant ant thing. Not only are there an endless number of enemies who fall from the ceiling as you defeat them, but the boss has an insane amount of health and casts spells (as in, you can’t avoid them) while you fight. The only way to win is to ignore the endlessly-spawning enemies and focus on attacking the boss’ weak point, but even this doesn’t guarantee you a win. It’s an insane jump in difficulty that comes out of nowhere, and it almost caused me to give up on the game even earlier than I did. All boss fights in Evermore are annoying and unbalanced like this, but there’s a special place in hell for that ant thing.
Alchemy is wasted
Alchemy is leveled up (and becomes stronger) the more you use it. How alchemy works is that you find ingredients littered all throughout the world and then consume them for what amount to attack/healing spells. The problem is that you never really know whether you have enough ingredients for the next big fight or not, and it’s easy to hoard them for a rainy day because of this. Of course, this means that they’re not leveled and are thus practically useless when you do need them. On the other hand, if you use alchemy a lot to level up your skill with it, you’re bound to run out of ingredients quickly and find yourself unable to use your spells when they’re most needed. Really, the only solution is to waste all your money on ingredients and grind spells. That’s not exactly a recipe for fun.
It gives you too little information
Around the point where I quit, it becomes necessary to jump across a broken bridge to get to a new area. Of course, the main character can’t make that jump because he’s too cripplingly ordinary, so it makes sense to run around the nearby marketplace looking for something to enable you to jump across. Instead, the actual solution is to switch to your dog and jump over. Before that point, it hadn’t been necessary to switch to my dog once. In fact, I didn’t even know that it was possible until I looked it up online out of frustration.
That’s not the only instance of the game giving you too little information or forcing you to figure things out by trial and error, either. When you first arrive in the aforementioned marketplace, you’re given a short amount of time to trade around for new items. This is important because a boss fight comes immediately afterward and the extra protection can do a lot of good, but actually trading is incredibly difficult because you never really know how much of anything you have. It goes a bit like this: you trade your old currency for the new area’s currency, trade the new currency for beads, trade the beads for spices, trade the spices for perfumes (or something like that), then trade some of that stuff for, say, chickens. Of course, by then you’ve lost track of how many beads/spices/perfumes you have, and you quickly lose track of how many chickens you have. There are also bags of rice, limestone tablets, and several other things that are used for currency, and remember—the game has you on a timer while you figure this all out.
Evermore’s trial and error gameplay doesn’t stop there, though. There’s one section in particular where you have to ride water streams inside a volcano and guess which direction to go in without any indication of which way is the “right” way. All paths eventually lead to drains, and only one of these drains has a switch for a door (which, of course, requires falling down a completely different drain to get to). You’re taken to the beginning when you go into the wrong drain, so you’re inevitably spending ten to fifteen minutes just screwing around with this stupidly-designed section of the game. It’s not fun in the slightest, and whoever came up with the idea for sections like this should be drawn and quartered.
The graphics are a mixed bag
The jungle village you find early in the game is designed pretty well, but once you go outside of that village, everything is just a blur of green and brown. It’s disorientating how similar everything becomes, and this is really true of the whole game; there’s so much potential, but everything just kind of blurs together after awhile. The character sprites are a special kind of ugly, with the playable character’s sprites being their king; not only does the main character have nothing unique about him, but he spends the game wearing ugly blue and brown clothes that make me want to rip out my eyes and beat him to death with them.
Music is underused, but okay-ish
Jeremy Soule actually did the music for Secret of Evermore. The game technology was allegedly unable to do as much as he’d have liked on the musical side of things, leading to a subdued, atmospheric soundtrack, but Evermore’s music does have occasional bright spots of musicality. For the most part, however, it’s fairly unremarkable and does little to make up for Evermore’s many other flaws.
Here’s what you should do: