Developed by SquareSoft USA
While it certainly isn't on par with 'Final Fantasy VI', 'Chrono Trigger' or ‘Secret of Mana’ it is leagues ahead of the majority of JRPG games produced by non-SquareSoft companies during the life of the Super Nintendo. So you have to ask, why do so many people despise, what is by all accounts, a pretty good (though not excellent) game? It's not because of anything ‘Secret of Evermore’ does wrong, it's simply because it's not 'Secret of Mana 2', it's not 'Seiken Densetsu 3'. If you look up "16bit RPG scapegoat" in a very peculiar, very niche dictionary there would be a picture of the ‘Secret of Evermore’ box.
You must applaud the Japanese publisher's desire to break America. After 'Final Fantasy II' failed to sell, SquareSoft made 'Mystic Quest'. This was a Japanese developed game, designed specifically to appeal to an American audience fearful of the complex nature of Jrps. The end result was a game that is so simplistic it patronised new fans and bores established ones. At some point it was clearly decided that if SquareSoft were to find success in the West, they would have to have Westerners make their own games. ’Secret of Evermore’ was always intended to be a Western game for Western audiences and tellingly it is the only 16 bit SquareSoft game not to be released on the Super Famicom.
This allows quick access to items magic and equipment. You can switch control to your companion dog, who actually has higher defence, more HP, and a vicious leaping attack. Indeed, you’ll ask yourself why you shouldn’t use him when Billy spends a lot of the start of the game armed with just a bone. The dog can also help you find hidden items, but if you're in control of him and the protagonist dies it is game over. Of course if this were ‘Secret of Mana’ someone else could take control of Scruffy the Dog, but ‘Secret of Evermore’ is strictly one player only. This felt like a big back step for many and few reviewers didn't acknowledge it as a shortcoming. According to Fehdrau it was a calculated, if regrettable decision. "The single player game choice was actually an attempt to reduce complexity. We were a brand new team, many of us new to the industry. Having two or more players independently controlling characters on a large scrolling map is a bit of a minefield. Early on, we had experienced a couple of instances where we managed to get our characters stuck in ‘Secret ofMana’, and had to reload the last save. That worried us. If an experienced and clever team in Japan hadn't quite gotten it right, it looked bad for us."
Armed with this knowledge I was excited to meet each regions ruler, but every time I did, I was disappointed. Yes there are narrative twists and turns but they all involve everyone having an evil twin who happens to be a robot. If the repetition was meant to be an amusing joke it didn't work, it just made the story feel gimmicky and throwaway. As Tony Mott points out, ‘Secret of Evermore’ doesn't meet lofty narrative expectations. "It all feels so damned lightweight when you compare it to something on the scale of Square's Japanese productions" he noted in Super Play. Indeed, at the end of the game, when you take to the skies for an obligatory flying section, you quickly realise just how small the game world is. With only four world locations you can cover the entire map in seconds which hardly makes ‘Secret of Evermore’ feel epic and sprawling in the way 'Final Fantasy VI' is. It's a game that can be finished in 12 hours and a quarter of that involves two rather boring fetch quests, back through the environments that you've already been in. As Mott says, "the bottom line is that 'Evermore' will make you realise just how spoilt you've been with 'Mana'."