It’s obvious that western RPGs are a big deal nowadays – Mass Effect 3 was recently launched out of space. In honor of Mass Effect 3’s release, we should take a moment to look back when JRPGs dominated during the 90’s, as one western RPG with incredibly unique gameplay features still managed to hold its own. That game is none other than Secret of Evermore.
Released in 1995, Secret of Evermore for SNES is one of a kind. As the only game developed by Squaresoft of North America, Evermore was very different from its Japanese turn-based contemporaries, instead using a real-time battle system. It was even the first game scored by Jeremy Soule, now famous for composing the music for The Elder Scrolls (and Skyrim’s super catchy main theme). Although not its sequel, Secret of Evermore shares many game mechanics with its Japanese predecessor Secret of Mana, such as real-time battles, multiple playable characters, and ‘ring menus’, but also contains its own unique gameplay features. Evermore has several clever mechanics that modern developers could learn a thing or two from.
Perhaps Secret of Evermore’s most exciting feature is its magic system, known as ‘Alchemy’. Rather than simply using a stat (Magicka, Mana, PP, etc.) to determine how many spells you can cast, Evermore goes a step further and casts its spells with a collection of ingredients. 1 part brimstone and 2 parts ash unleash the Fireball spell, while 2 parts wax and 1 part crystal cast the Stop spell. This means you’ll have to manage a large amount of ingredients to have enough for your favorite spells, which is surprisingly fun.
Evermore’s Alchemy doesn’t end with just mixing ingredients. Magic is not something your character intrinsically knows; leveling up won’t get you anything. Magic must be taught to you. Scattered throughout the game are various ‘Alchemists’, magic users who will teach you a new spell and often sell you ingredients to use them. This feature makes exploring the game rewarding, as some Alchemists are hidden far from sight. For 100% completion of the game, you’ve got to find them all.
The ingredients that fuel your spells, including limestone, oil, and meteorite, also provide incentive for the player to explore. The main character is accompanied by his faithful dog, who will constantly sniff out hidden ingredients waiting to be picked up. Maybe the dog will find some root at the base of a tree or some bone in the Mammoth Graveyard – you’re bound to find ingredients hidden everywhere you go. While modern western RPGs like The Elder Scrolls have you collect ingredients to make potions, Evermore puts greater importance on your stock by making defensive and offensive spells possible.
Rather than staying at an inn or waiting out in the open to recover your magic points, Secret of Evermore’s Alchemy system forces you to seek out the ingredients you’ll need. Many Alchemists and other characters in the game sell various ingredients, but might not always be around when you need them. It’s a good idea to stock up when you can – running out of water will cost you your ever useful Heal spell.
Despite being a campy SNES game from the 90’s, Secret of Evermore has a unique sense of realism through its currency system. Like many titles, in-game money lets you purchase armor and recovery items. Whether it’s gold, Meseta, Rupees, bottle caps, or Gil, video game currencies are varied but universally accepted throughout their respective game worlds. Evermore is surprisingly original because its four worlds use four different currencies. When you arrive in a new world, you can exchange your old currency, but often exchange rates don’t work in your favor – Prehistoria’s Talons aren’t worth nearly as much as futuristic Omnitopia’s Credits.
Losing half of your funds between worlds might sound annoying at first, but the currency change definitely helps establish those worlds. Toward the end of the game, you will likely walk around with four different sets of currency as you return to previously visited areas. Modern RPGs should consider adding this feature if their games span several lands to draw the player in. Secret of Evermore added a fun twist on video game currency before it was ever boring.
Secret of Evermore – A Best Kept Secret
Developers continue to innovate, but as Secret of Evermore shows, gaming’s past still has some fresh ideas. Although Secret of Evermore has shamefully never been added to Nintendo’s Virtual Console, you might try searching for it in a retro game shop or online. I urge those who didn’t grow up with the SNES and Secret of Evermore to go back and pick up where they never left off. For those who did live with the SNES and passed up Secret of Evermore, it’s never too late. Some games just get better with age.