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Volume 2: Secret of Evermore. From Weekly Famitsu Magazine 11/10/2022

Since I could barely even read or write I loved Japanese RPGs. While other American kids would eat peanut butter sandwiches I would devour JRPGs like Mother 2 and Final Fantasy VII for their nutrients. Because of that my bones and muscles grew weaker and weaker, but my brain transformed with cool magical animations. When I was a kid I had a small problem with relying on these games as my source of protein. Most Japanese RPGs didn't come out in America. At the time the market for RPGs in America wasn't as big as it is nowadays, so games like the entirety of the Saga series, LIVE A LIVE, Dragon Quest IV, Dragon Quest V, Dragon Quest VI... and many others never saw release in the west. Even Final Fantasy V wasn't released! But actually... At the time there was a Super Famicom RPG that wasn't released in Japan.

It was developed by Square Soft inc, an American branch of SquareSoft based in Redmond Washington (by the way the headquarters of Nintendo of America inc is also in Redmond.) Square Soft Inc. was incharge of publishing games for the American market, such as the first Breath of Fire game (developed by Capcom) For some reason they made the main character Ryu look like a barbarian on the box art. Why did they think that American kids wouldn't buy the game if the main character didn't look like Arnold Schwarzenegger...?

But! Just once Square Soft Inc. made an original RPG. They based the game on Seiken Densetsu 2 (released in America as Secret of Mana) and it was born. Secret of Evermore.

This game's combat systems are the same as Secret of Mana. You can use spears, swords and axes as weapons and the skills are also similar. Weapons can be leveled up and can be used with various charges. The game uses the ring command system and the options are largely the same. On the other hand though that is where the similarities end.

First of all the setting is completely different, the protagonist is a cocky American boy. He always spoke in quotes from a fictional-B movie and always had his canine companion by his side. He has an orange jacket and blue jeans, almost like a 16-bit version of Marty McFly from Back to the Future.

The game begins with the boy chasing his dog into a deserted laboratory after watching his favorite low budget movie. There he finds a mysterious machine which has him plunged into an alternate world called Evermore where various time periods exist simultaneously. He travels through prehistoric swamps where dinosaurs roam, fights minotaurs in the bronze age, and ultimately even travels to space.

The goal of the game was to meet other people stranded in Evermore and together search for a way back home.

Magic in the game was changed to Alchemy to fit with the ancient earth setting. So instead of MP you have to collect various ingredients like oil, water, and clay and combine them to use alchemy. These materials can be purchased at a shop but they can also be found all over the place at invisible spots.

That sounds like a pain to find right? Well actually thanks to your dog buddy who comes along with you it's actually not that stressful. By holding the R button the dog will use its nose to sniff out the location of nearby ingredients for you.

That's right, the only party member in the whole game is the dog. They can't use any magic but is crazy strong, and will change their appearance in each era. In the first area, the prehistoric era jungle area, they are a huge scary looking white wolf. In the next they are an elegant greyhound. At the time Secret of Evermore was really groundbreaking in the field of playable dogs in video games. I think the only game that comes close is Metal Max 2. (I think little Pochi with a bazooka on his back looks a bit better though)

What was great about this game was the atmosphere and especially in the beginning section. You can hear bugs buzzing around and the strange cries of birds and be heard here and there, you can really relish in the feeling of being lost in a jungle. After a bit you arrive at a village with a simple tribal sound that gives you the feeling that you'll be safe here but if you take one step out you have no idea what could be lurking around. All of that is conveyed just with the audio. The soundtrack written by Jeremy Soule who was only 19 at the time, really set it apart from other games on the Super Famicom.

Synthesizer strings, bells, choirs, deep sounding drums, sustained bass with no interruption... These all create a dark atmosphere that conveys many emotions that draws the player deeper into the game's world.

By the way Soule would go on to work on soundtracks for games in the the Elder Scrolls series such as Skyrim.

(Many songs from DELTARUNE Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 take inspiration from Evermore's soundtrack.)

Although the game has its downsides. The weapons and alchemy system use the game level up system as Seiken Densetsu 2 but are unbelievably slow. On top of that, because you need to collect materials to use alchemy you couldn't use them very often. There were also quite a few bugs, judging if your hits were actually landing was bad, and the boss battles were really hard. Most areas in the game were laid out in a maze-like fashion which were hard to get your head around, and most importantly the story wasn't quite thought out enough.

Even with those problems it's worth trying the prehistoric area of the game to get that feeling of frantically trying to escape from a dangerous world. And if you play until the end your dog will become an invincible toaster. Isn't that enough of a reason to play it?

While the game has its fans it also got a lot of backlash when it came out. Not because of the game design but because of certain rumors. An English version of Seiken Densetsu 3 was never released and some Square Fans blamed Secret of Evermore for that. Although Square said that the two games had nothing to do with each other, Seiken Densetsu 3 was actually recently released as TRIALS of MANA for the Nintendo Switch. I can't believe I've had to wait this long to hear Nuclear Fusion...!

So that's why I wanted to talk about Secret of Evermore this time. It's a game with some rough spots but has an atmosphere unlike any other game on the Super Famicom. So if you ever get lost in an uninhabited lab and get transported back in time 30 years get it along with a VHS copy of Back to the Future at a rental store.

(...Wait! It's against the law to rent games in Japan?! That's a long story for another time.)

Oh and Square if you're reading this... You can hire me to make "Secret of Dogmore" anytime!

It's simple, we'll just change the boy to another dog. Don't worry it'll definitely sell...1 copy... I'll buy it.

—Question for the readers—

Here's a question for the readers! Are there any games you wish would come out in Japanese? Are there any games you've been waiting a long time for to play in Japanese? Please let me know!

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