Michael Iantorno PhD Candidate, Game Designer, and Writer

Dead Pixels: Secret of Evermore

(where Michael deconstructs discontinued franchises, and puts forth ideas concerning hypothetical sequels)

Overview Secret of Evermore got a lot of flak from players when it was released. Seen as an Americanized substitute for the Seiken Densetsu 3 (the Japan-only sequel to Secret of Mana), many gamers snubbed the game pre-emptively without giving it a fair shake. Although suffering from cheesy dialogue and some unbalanced difficulty, Evermore had more than enough redeeming qualities to make it a great game in its own right. The ring menu system (admittedly lifted from SoM) was an excellent game mechanic, the plot was a unique blend of sci-fi and fantasy elements, and alchemy was a great twist on the traditional RPG magic system. To top it all off the game had a very isolated and dark atmosphere; established by a beautifully rendered world and a subtle, ambient soundtrack. Evermore holds a soft spot in my heart as it was one of the first action RPGs I ever played. Although the chances of a sequel are approximately zero, here are my suggestions for a possible continuation of the franchise. What To Keep Ring Menu System Seen as revolutionary when it was first released, it has since become the basis for a wide range of video game menu interfaces. The ring menu system was an elegant way to access equipment, spells and commands without having to shift to a different screen or leave combat. Very few changes would be necessary to this aspect of the game, as it has held up very well over the years.

Atmosphere As mentioned earlier, one of the more intriguing aspects of Evermore is the feeling of isolation you get while traversing the expansive game world. You go for extremely long stretches of the game with only minimal human interaction, having only your faithful dog to keep you company. This is a rarity among role playing games, which generally feature tomes of dialogue for the player to sift through. To accentuate this, the game’s score is minimalistic and mostly ambient. Instead of the boisterous overworld themes you hear in games such as Zelda and Final Fantasy, you are treated to environmental sounds interspersed with some subtle instrumentation. This shifts the mood from high adventure to more of a isolated sojourn. Multiple Worlds One of the key draws of the original game was the ability to travel through four different worlds with completely different environments. Having the chance to play in four different settings – blending together historical, fantasy and science fiction elements – is a bit of a rarity among RPGs. Bringing back the original four settings for a sequel would be essential, from both a plot and gameplay perspective What To Drop Cheesy Dialogue I feel like Square of America put in a really valiant effort to create some lighthearted and unique dialogue for Evermore, but ended up with someone akin to a bad Saturday morning cartoon. You get the feeling they’re trying really hard to make pop culture references without actually mentioning specific people or names; understandable from a legal standpoint, but very awkward in execution.

Extremely Linear Progression With such a vibrant world to explore, it’s a shame that the player is forced to experience it in such a linear fashion. There is a small portion of the game (near the very end) where you are allowed to mix things up a bit, but not nearly enough to make up for the intense maguffin hunting you’re relegated to more most of the adventure. What To Fix Alchemy The alchemy system in Secret of Evermore was a nice departure from SoM’s magic system, allowing for a variety of effects that could be swapped in and out as needed. Although a bit slow to get going at the beginning of the game, by the mid-game the system really begins to shine. Your “mana pool” is simply a stockpile of ingredients, which allows you to use figuratively hundreds of formulas before having to return to a vendor to replenish your supplies. There are two main issues with the alchemy system that stood out to me while playing through the game: Pacing: There is an altogether too short “sweet spot” period where alchemy is fun to use. At the beginning of the game ingredients are far too expensive to allow you to level formulas up properly. By the end of the game, you have so much cash that you can toss alchemy around like nobody’s business. The pacing curve needs to be re-aligned, so alchemy is consistently useful (and usuable) throughout the entire game. Power: Somewhat related to the first point, the power curve for alchemy is somewhat broken. It takes 3 to 6 levels for most formulas (especially offensive ones) to be useful in combat situations. This often discourages new players from using alchemy altogether, especially since it is so expensive in the early game. When I was young I was so discouraged that I swore off alchemy for the first quarter of the game. It make things rather difficult! When you finally have the cash to upgrade your alchemy to decent levels, however, their power skyrockets. I usually find that by the 3/4 of the game I can blow through any normal monster with ease with a couple well placed formulas. Considering that you can stockpile figuratively hundreds of individual castings, the battles later on in the game become a bit of a joke. This is mostly a math problem, and one that could be fixed with better ingredient distribution and a better power progression for alchemy. Having formulas that have more of a situational/utility use – rather than just varying levels of power – could also help to discourage pure alchemy level grinding

Weapons & Combat Although the combat system in Evermore is pretty solid overall, it lacks variety. You are pretty much regulated to three weapon types through the entire game (sword, lance, axe), with very few options in melee combat beyond charging up your attack and playing keep away. At the very least, there should be a larger number of weapons available to the player, akin to what is found in the Secret of Mana series. Having different attack techniques would also be a boon; something similar to the options you have with your lance in Terranigma. Giving the player more melee options would make combat more engaging and less repetitive (hit enemy, wait for bar to recharge, repeat). Final Thoughts I don’t really think anyone is banging on Nintendo’s doors for a new Secret of Evermore, but I’m sure there is a small and dedicated fanbase for the game out there somewhere. I would jump on the opportunity to play a SoE sequel, as despite the game’s flaws, it seems to possess a certain uniqueness that endears it to players who give it a fair chance. Do any of you folks out on the interweb have thoughts about this game? If so, let me know how fair you think my assessment is and tell me about any changes you would make to the game yourself!


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  • I always did hate the fake pop-culture references — acknowledged to be fictional by Nintendo Power, and thus an extremely niche form of humor (it’s like one long “You had to be there” gag). I agree with the alchemy fixes too. I remember never using alchemy for most of the game, especially when some of the reagents seemed to be incredibly rare.

    The bosses early on tended to be obnoxious as well, with the very first boss having a small vulnerability window and an attack which automatically hit without any chance to dodge or even much of an attack animation. In fact, I remember a number of bosses with auto-hit attacks, which really takes away from the ability to move and act in the midst of battle.

  • I specifically remember having trouble with the first boss (Thrag?) and the snake boss (Salabog?) because of the vulnerability window, and the range you had to attack them at. It seemed like the game encouraged you to spam alchemy, but you weren’t far enough into the adventure where that was a viable strategy.

    I always wondered why the game developers didn’t expand upon the “dog sniffs for alchemy ingredients” part of the game more. It seemed like such a natural way to fuel your alchemy, and fit really nice into the game’s setting.

  • People may call it heresy, but I think Secret of Evermore is a much better game than Secret of Mana. I’m keen to beat it again, but I’m dreading having to grind through the bartering diversion in the desert market. >.<

    • I would really like to know why you prefer this game over Secret of Mana. I never played Evermore, but I played Mana, and I hated the game. Too childish, too many flaws, and cliché story.

      • In general, Evermore is much less glitchy than Secret of Mana. They actually rebuilt the entire combat system from scratch!

        I find the tone of the game is darker and the plot more cohesive on the whole. It still is a bit childish and cliche (it is a kid’s game), but not unbearably so.

  • Funny I should come across this right now, since this post was nearly two years ago I assume that this comment will most likely go unnoticed.

    Regardless Michael, your advice is solid I agree with almost every single point you have made. Interestingly enough, what started as an idea amongst a group of fanatical fans of SoE has now become official. A project has been formed to create a sequel to the original Secret of Evermore. It will follow the story and bring back all the areas we know and love while adding quite a few new ones. Obvious things such as changing the alchemy to make it far more useful and effective. As well so many other things that held this game back from being a master piece.

    We are a bit short staffed at the moment so if you still have any interest in a sequel, shoot me an email! Sephystyle@yahoo.com

    • Glad to see there is still interest in Secret of Evermore! I think as time goes on, people are judging the game by its own merits and not simply in relationship to SoM.

      I’ll pop you off an email sometime today Brandon. I’m not sure I can devote time to another game project with Unearthed still in development, but I am definitely interested in seeing what your team has in mind.

By Michael
Michael Iantorno PhD Candidate, Game Designer, and Writer