|Title||:||Secret of Evermore|
|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
If you've wasted Chrono Trigger and blasted Final Fantasy III, the next stop on Squaresoft's RPG train is Secret of Evermore. This is the first project from Squaresoft which is not merely a Japanese translation, but has an all-American programming staff. A dream machine creates a nightmare and you get pulled in. It's up to you to find a way back to Podunk, USA, as you explore the various fantasy worlds gone bad.
Utilizing the Secret of Mana game engine, Evermore is more of an upgrade than a sequel. It used a standard overhead perspective with hack-n-slash battles. The tedious level-raising from Mana is back: your characters have strength levels, but so do your weapons and spells. The latter two only become stronger as you use them. This will often lead to boring sessions of spellcasting merely for the sake of spellcasting. Instead of magic, you use alchemy to mix formulas which hurt or heal. This is based on an ingredients system similar to that in the Ultima Avatar or Magic Candle CRPGs. Many necessary ingredients needn't be purchased, as they can be found in the wildness. If you cast many spells, you will end up spending massive money on components, though. Furthermore, only a certain number of formulas can be equipped at any one time; so if you go into a dungeon and find yourself ill-prepared, you'll need to trek back to town to get the necessary spells. To execute a powered-up weapon attack, you must hold the attack button as a meter fills. Unlike Mana, you do not slow down when powering up, so it's always a good idea to have a fully-charged attack ready.
The plot is at first fairly simple, with unimportant side treks. Soon enough, figures of power will have an ill-boding disposition toward the hero as they received devious plans from mysterious leaders. There may a bit of intrigue, but the story doesn't come near the Final Fantasy series.
The graphics are standard fare for RPGs. Great use of lighting shows off the dungeons, but overhead branches cloud your vision in the forests. The sprites are small but detailed, and don't suffer from Big Head syndrome. It seems like Squaresoft seems unable to match the standard set by Final Fantasy III.
Music appropriately fits the wondrous locales you'll traverse. The prehistoric era has dinosaur roars and beating drums, while the marketplace has the sounds of commerce in action. Explosions and spell effects add to the heat of the battle nicely.
The innovative control ring system of options takes some getting used to, but becomes quite a speedy interface. Controlling two characters at once and switching between them is riddled with problems in some areas, however. The dog isn't exactly the brightest mutt around. Instead of saving you from a life-sucking abomination, he'll often opt to sit idly by and scratch himself. His ingredient-sniffing abilities aren't always on the spot. On the plus side, he is much stronger and faster than the main character, which doesn't make much sense.
Some spots are too obscure to immediately figure out, or are obvious enough to quickly overlook. The lack of sufficient save points will have you playing areas more than once. During my time with Evermore, I was struck by at least four different bugs, two of which were serious. Other players have reported similar problems. It could be as localized as the infamous "Sketch bug" in Final Fantasy III, but Squaresoft needs to spend more time beta-testing.
Secret of Evermore is right up your alley if you liked Mana. It has the elements of both adventure and RPG with some decent battles and a fun setting. It's only more of the same, though.
This article is copyright (c) 1995, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Boston Herald, 23-Nov-95