"When Frustration Triumphs Over Fun."
Challenge completed? Yes
I absolutely adore Secret of Mana. Squaresoft’s Super Nintendo action RPG was one of the premiere titles of the 16 bit generation, especially in a multiplayer format. Secret of Evermore was a western developed action RPG on the very same system from the very same company, though I had never played the game before the Backlog Challenge came into play. I had my preconceived notions that have remained in gestation for many years, though in a more unsatisfactory light. Now that I’ve finally had the chance to sit down with Secret of Evermore, not only can I confirm some of those gestational thoughts, but gain a better understanding and appreciation overall for what was attempted here.
Evermore was developed with Mana in mind; its visuals and core gameplay mechanics will easily discern this notion moments after booting it up for the first time. The graphical difference between the two is close to minimal, sans the location changes, which removes the foliage covered landscapes more and more over time. Each area isn’t a complete stark contrast from each other, though the deviance between them is apparent, and Squaresoft did manage to doll up the game world enough. The lead character retains many of the animations from the previous Mana lead as well, though there isn’t much to complain or clamor about there. It’s a nice touch to see the leads faithful companion and his metamorphism throughout each major area that the duo lands upon.
I found it difficult to fully connect with the storyline for some reason. The lead, along with his dog, stumble upon a large mansion with some kookie happenings going on, thanks in part of the mischievous dog chasing a cat towards that area. Continuing on his disobedient ways, the dog chews on some wires and that somehow triggers some kind of transportation mechanism that sends both dog and owner some unusual space station, where they are promptly led to their near demise but, but manage to defeat their attackers and then jettisoning themselves in an escape pod. From here, Evermore‘s core story goes towards different directions that would sort of be considered a spoiler if revealed.
One consistency throughout Evermore though, is an abundance of padding and backtracking. In each major area encountered and every dungeon tackled, the repetition and backtracking overall becomes slightly nauseating. This isn’t unlike many of the mainstays within the genre during this generation of gaming, however it feels more grating and more like a chore, with the end results never really feeling like much of a reward. Having to find the right pathway on an ascending area, only to constantly have each and every route around you crumble away (sometimes even the way you came from) and forcing a slide down to the beginning to retry, becomes aggravating the sixth time in a row that this happens. Having to sift through areas in which it’s visibly indiscernible to get to an area, only to find that backtracking is needed to reach another somewhat indiscernible area, then to have to sloth through to the first point and find that you need to sloth through more indiscernible areas, completely removes any and all patience I have.
Where my patience further evaporates is the difficulty. As with Mana, Evermore benefits from grinding; leveling up a weapon skill, raising the potency of your magic and overall character level boosts help for the tricky trails up ahead. The problem here is fourfold: first, the grinding yields little in reward for the time it takes to enhance whatever area the player wishes to work on. With Mana, core weapons had the ability to be boosted to a high level, in which holding the attack button would charge the attack to said level, unleashing a potent attack. In Evermore, not only are weapon level ups slow, but weapon levels don’t carry over when a slightly better variation is gained, meaning that maximum level starter spear remains so, but if you want any kind of enhanced attack for the next weapon, guess what? More boring grinding. Sometimes it’s absolutely crucial to have a leveled up weapon when taking on certain bosses. Without the maximum level spear, the snake boss partially through the game would have been an absolute nightmare.
Which leads into the second problem – Evermore is way too brutal and unforgiving with its difficulty. Mana had some crushing issues in this regard as well, where a boss would obliterate the player more often than not. This game takes it a step further though, with both miscellaneous grunts and troops hitting harder than they should, despite any defensive gains in equipment, levels or spells. Most bosses seem next to impossible unless a spell or weapon had been leveled up previous to the encounter. That leads into the third issue – if you run into an encounter in which a spell should be at a certain level, yet not enough regents were purchased beforehand (spells can be “learned” and “fund” through NPC’s and such), a complete backtracking all the way back to a town might be in order. Then it’s a trek all the way back to said situation to level up that spell, and have enough regents left over to use that more potent spell against the boss. Finally, the fourth blow – your dog, which is CPU controlled, has some of the worst partner AI I’ve encountered. Even with the AI toggle on the menu screen set all the way to aggressive, or even in the middle, the partner AI is more of a hindrance in the long run, rather than any kind of beneficial augmentation to combat. He runs into attackers and gets hit first, more often than he ever lands the initial blow on any adversary. It’s a nice touch to have a kind of “swapping” mechanic thrown in to give the partner AI a break from soaking in damage and dying, but when those gimmicks are used in full force (within the pyramid in the second major area that players will discover), it leads to more grinding, more backtracking, more inane tropes that the genre during this generation of consoles was known for.
Most of this wouldn’t be such an issue if Evermore didn’t lack co-op gameplay, along with just a musical score that was worth its weight in gold. For a company that produced some magical musical composure’s on the Super Nintendo, I find the overall quality lacking. Boss battle themes lack any sense of trepidation, any inspiration, anything that would infuse any other emotions other than frustration, which builds up by its self with how the boss battles play out. Even the effects give little sense to emphasize what they are portraying. It’s nothing I would consider “poor” but nothing I could label as “thoroughly memorable” in any sense.
It’s been a few years since I was supposed to take up Secret of Evermore in any kind of playthrough, whether it be for business or for pleasure. I did so for business and with pleasure in mind, but unfortunately for me, there wasn’t much in the way of pleasure to be had on my behalf. While its frustrations, padding, backtracking and other annoying nuances don’t decisively make it a horrible game, it makes it one that lives too vicariously through every trope that the genre is know for, and relays it to players in such an abrasive manner. As someone who doesn’t mind grinding, it felt a bit overboard, but if that’s you’re thing and you enjoy grinding through frustrating enemies with a neutered AI partner, to take on frustratingly difficult bosses that most likely require backtracking to, from and back to again, give this one a go. It’s not a bad game by any means, but it’s one where patience will help immensely, though honestly the end result leaves a bit to be desire anyway. It might also seem that years removed from such an aggressive set of gameplay frustrations (such as frequent grinding) would change my view, as opposed to what I might have thought years ago. We’ll never know for certain, although even with a high level of tolerance for these issues, I would have likely conceded well before the second area.