Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Secret of Evermore (SNES)

Oh damn it's Super Adventures' 8th birthday today! I didn't write anything for the site all last year but I'm fairly sure those 12 months still count towards its age.

I gave writing about games a long rest because it became too much like work to me and I was so done with this site that I couldn't even get one post finished a week anymore, but I've managed to slowly regenerate my interest in playing games in the meantime thanks to my time off. In fact I've decided that the break I took worked out so well that I should take more breaks, more often. So this year I plan to take a two month break every two months!

Unfortunately this does mean that I have to give you two months of game articles each time or else I'm not actually taking a break from anything. So it is with deep regret that I inform you that Super Adventures is now back (for two months).

Developer:Square|Release Date:1996 (1995 NA)|Systems:SNES

This week on Ray Hardgrit's resurrected Super Adventures in Gaming I'm playing Secret of Evermore, which I'm fairly sure isn't a spiritual successor to Secret of Monkey Island.

All I know about it is that it's an action RPG on the SNES by Squaresoft... made in America... with music from Jeremy "Elder Scrolls" Soule. So that's a bit unusual. This was actually the only game ever developed by a Square team in the US, which sounds like a bit of a warning sign but probably isn't. They briefly considered making a sequel to the game in fact, until it was decided that it was time to jump ship from the sinking SNES.

The US only got one more Square RPG on the SNES after this, Super Mario RPG, and us folks in Europe didn't even get that for some reason. Evermore was only the fourth Square RPG to ever get a release in PAL regions, after two Mystic Quests and Secret of Mana, and the next game we got was Final Fantasy VII on the PlayStation.

Okay I'm going to play the game for a couple of hours, write about what happened, then finish with a bit of a review at the end. Even though I've got no business reviewing a game I've only played a couple of hours of.


There's no game options at the start, but it does have one of those classic stone-background name entry screens.

Well I could spend an hour trying to think of something or I could just put my own name in and move on. They've given me a 'space' character and enough letters to write it all in so really it's their fault if this ends up making conversations weird. If they wanted just a first or a last name they should've been more specific.

The unskippable intro begins in 1965, just before colour was invented, and I'm starting to worry that Batman's parents are about to get shot. Fortunately this isn't Gotham, it's Podunk U.S.A., famous for its beautiful pixel art architecture. It's rare to see a 16-bit RPG have actual sized buildings like this and they look great in my opinion.

Though you might have to get a magnifying glass out to really appreciate them because I couldn't resist stitching a panning shot together. I'll see if I can make up for it with the next image.

There you go, there's a proper obnoxiously huge stitched together panning shot, showing the mysterious mansion a few buildings down from the cinema. I have to say, those are some bloody long legs. Rob Liefeld wishes he could draw legs that out of proportion.

We don't get to see what's inside but the text makes it seem like a mad scientist is up to something, flicking switches and twiddling knobs. There's a flash of light and the story jumps 30 years later to 1995. Hey that's the year the game came out!

The present day is a lot more colourful and a little more worn down, but they're still showing movies with 'Adventures' in the title. I can respect that. Also the cat's still there and the hardware store's been replaced with a software developer, which did make me smile.

That seems to be the hero on the left; not the guy on the skateboard, the other one who just took his dog into the cinema with him. The one who's currently trying to have a conversation with his canine buddy about the quality of the visual effects. It's not working out though as the dog's more interested in that cat over there, and he soon takes off down the road after him.

The dog gets as far as the creepy mansion and then takes a sharp 90 degree turn to rush inside for no reason, with the protagonist right behind him.

Oh damn, this place only got creepier over time. The faces have decayed to skulls! That's rarely ever a good sign.

The protagonist (who I guess is called Ray Hardgrit, because that's what I named him), goes inside and finds a secret entrance. Thankfully the game joins him inside this time so we're not left waiting outside again.

Oh man those are some beautiful looking fans. You reckon they were 3D rendered? They must have been. Can't quite figure out what the ones on the floor are connected to though if that whole platform is supposed to be elevated enough to need stairs.

Also the machine turned my dog into a pink poodle! Though to be fair it was his own fault for chewing on the cables, and really this is a better outcome than you'd usually get for doing that. Though the machine's not done yet and both of them are soon teleported away.

Our hero wakes up and finds himself dogless in the room's identical twin, with a lack of crates, a metal floor, and an absence of teeth marks on the cables being the only clues that he's even moved. Well that, and the arrival of a strange chin, soon followed by the strange man it belongs to.

You'd think that this would be the part where we get some exposition about what's going on, but the man isn't interested in telling us anything. He just doesn't want some kid from Podunk U.S.A. screwing up the Professor's experiments!

The professor actually seems like the nice kind of mad scientist, more of a Dr Light than a Dr Robotnik, though he's not quite nice enough to give a damn about his strange visitor from another world. Carltron tells him to ignore the kid who obviously just came through his teleporter and he immediately loses all interest in him without another word.

This seems like a good time for the hero to say something, but he's just silently going along with whatever Carltron wants to do. He's sent through a door and locked inside with only a strange bronze device on the floor to keep him company. It's up to me to decide what he does about it though because I've finally been given control! Five and a half minutes of unskippable intro isn't so bad the first time around but I hope I don't end up having to sit through it again.

The good news is that I found a bazooka inside the bronze thing. The bad news is that two drones came out and now they're shooting at me. They've got a good look to them though; maybe they started out 3D rendered as well.

I got one decent shot out of the bazooka and then he started uselessly beating the drones with it like a club instead. Oh hang on, I've figured it out, the game's got a stamina meter on the bottom of the screen like in Secret of Mana and if I want to do any real damage I have to wait a couple of seconds for it to charge back up before attacking again.

The drones were fairly trivial once I stopped waving my rocket launcher around like a feather duster and the hero walked over to investigate a hole in the floor, finding his dog waiting for him down there.

Turns out they've found themselves in some kind of futuristic escape pod, which he accidentally launches across the Mode 7 landscape. So far there's not one bit of technology in this game that our heroes haven't immediately activated, stolen or destroyed.

Personally I think I would've tried a little harder to actually talk to the people who know anything about what's going on first before answering the call to adventure. Though maybe it's not too late if he can land this thing back at the mansion... but is it the castle or the chessboard? Or the other castle?

This doesn't look like a castle. Plus that's two more bits of technology he's wrecked, leaving me entirely defenceless out here.

At least the dog's been transformed into a monster, so that helps. Plus he's brought me a bone to use!

He's got a very bouncy walk cycle this guy, and incredibly bouncy hair. Usually it bothers me when I see characters turn their head left and right as they walk, but he's so cartoony that he makes it work. Plus I've discovered that he's ambidextrous, as when he walks to the left he holds the bone in his other hand instead.

Oh wow, this radial menu is all kinds of familiar. It's not the exact same art as Secret of Mana's menu but it might as well be.

The dog gets his own menu that spins around him as well and I can also switch to play as him instead by pressing 'Select'. Though he seems busy sniffing the ground right now and I don't want to interrupt him.

There's two sniff buttons? Seems a bit extravagant.

I was a bit surprised that there's no magic button listed here, but I checked and it turns out that Secret of Mana doesn't have one either. I guess I'm going to be firing it off from the menu instead.

This is different though. Secret of Mana has a grid, with 'Attack' and 'Guard' on one axis, and 'Approach' and 'Keep Away' on the other. This is more 2 dimensional with its AI set up. Which I'm going to leave alone.

For some reason these tiny ankle-high plants are an impenetrable barrier and my bone is incapable of cutting through them. I guess I need to find myself a Mana Sword, or a machete. Until then I ain't going this way.

I didn't want to go near the creepy plant anyway, especially not with 19 health left! Though I'd totally let my dog go and kill it for me. He's been very helpful for that so far.

I've spotted another big difference between this and Secret of Mana: there's no music, just ambience. It needs some moody Jurassic Park music, like from that Amiga game, or Jurassic Park II: The Chaos Continues on the SNES. Also I just noticed that I played those two games back in 2011, which mean those articles were posted closer to the Jurassic period of prehistory than to the modern day. The games must have done something right if I can still remember the music.

Oh man, this is what I get for mentioning Jurassic Park; now I've got a raptor mini boss harassing me! He likes to race over to one of these four bushes, poke his head out, then pounce at me from a different bush! Fortunately I got a health refill from levelling up and The Dog wasn't too far behind. That's his name by the way, 'The Dog'.

Turns out that there was actually a whole pack raptors of them hidden in those bushes, but I got them all in the end by smacking them, then running off and letting my power bar recharge. Sadly they managed to take down The Dog, so I've lost 50% (or more) of my combat effectiveness.

I'd try giving him a healing item if I could figure out how, but all I've got is a run button, an attack button and two sniff buttons, and the run button doesn't work. Oh duh, if this is like Secret of Mana they'll be hidden in a secret radial menu above the main one!

There they are! Well, there it is anyway, as all I've got on me right now are these petals I've been finding. Hopefully they work as health potions. Hey puppy, want a petal? No?

Using one on the kid gave him 40 health back but I couldn't target the dog. Fortunately the dog is not dead, he is only sleeping, and he picks himself up whenever it's time for walkies. That's an interesting way to handle a second player getting knocked out of a co-op game, I don't think I've seen that before. Though the way they float behind you as ghosts in Secret of Mana is pretty similar.

Right, now I need to go find a prehistoric inn. Quickly.

Wow, that was convenient. I went up to the next area and found a village full of useful huts and NPCs that look like lemmings. They also act a bit like lemmings as they won't stand still and they keep blocking paths.

Their village chief is a bit strange though, with her blonde hair, modern clothes and glasses. The hero never comments on it, but I get the feeling that Elizabeth is maybe not from around here. She was curious about my sleepy dog though, asking me his name, which meant I finally got the chance to give him one! I called him "The Dog". She thought it sounded original.

Turns out that we're in a world called Evermore and the local magic is called alchemy. She gave me the alchemy formula for a fireball spell called Flash, which uses 2 oil and 1... uh candles? So I have to stock up on these ingredients if I want to keep setting things on fire.

Elizabeth also needs something from me though as the village alchemist has gone missing. If I get him back she'll help me get back to Podunk. Well I don't have an option to say no, so I'll do it! There was no dialogue option to ask about a local inn either (or any dialogue options at all) so I guess I'll just keep checking all these identical huts.

I've found a shop at least. This pixie dust has the same initials as phoenix down so I'm thinking it might wake my weary dog up. It'll only cost me near everything I have to buy one, 150 talons, so I guess it won't hurt to give it a shot.

Nope, couldn't use it on him. Some other dude sold me a grass vest to increase my defence by 3 though, so that was cool. I've also been raiding their houses for alchemy ingredients, which they're all totally okay with. Seriously, one of them actually told me it was fine as they know I'll be using what I find to help them out somehow. I guess I have "protagonist" written all over my face.

The path north of the village was blocked by impenetrable plants, so I went east instead and now I'm smacking studded skeleton turtles. Plus he might not look it right now but my dog's back in the fight! I couldn't find the inn in the end (or a save point) but I tried throwing him a dog biscuit and that resurrected him.

I'm doing alright against these enemies by hitting them, running off, and letting my dog jump in and land the finishing blow. The combat's been slower than I'd like due to the delay before I can attack again but neither of us have been taking many hits during the process. The dog could've been a real liability, seeing as I have to share my healing petals with him, but he's been holding his own and I get XP for all of his kills! Not bad for an AI sidekick in 1995.

It's just a shame that the actual music hasn't turned up yet because I could do with something to trick me into thinking that the combat's less tedious than it is.

Well the dog didn't like that. I wasn't expecting to be randomly teleported across the level by a whirlpool either to be honest. Hey maybe there's a save point in that cave up there!

I went inside and found a bloke selling stuff. But he also offered me a free Jaguar ring with my first purchase, which gives me the ability to run for a short time! A magical skill indeed. Though it runs off my stamina gauge so I need to rest a while after using it before I can attack. Maybe I should give up attacking altogether and let my dog do all the fighting if the game's so keen for me to stop.


 SOME TIME LATER


I'm trying, man! You think I want to sit through the unskippable animation of you two getting spat out of a whirlpool back near the start of the level over and over again? Because I don't.

I know I'm supposed to run whenever a whirlpool appears under me, but it's hard to get away when an enemy wanders in front and blocks my escape. At least I don't have to worry about the dog getting teleported away as he's immune to whirlpools. He's a good dog.

Oh by the way I ended up giving in and checking the internet to find out how to save the game, and it turns out there's an inn inside one of the many unmarked huts back at the village. I'm really starting to get a new appreciation for tiny JRPG towns with signs over every door. They had signs in Secret of Mana!

It finally occurred to me to go check to see what the dog was sniffing at when he walked off, and it turns out he's locating alchemy ingredients for me! It's just a shame he's not finding me any wax and oil so I can try out my Flash spell. It's supposed to level up the more I use it, but ingredients are so rare I don't want to use it until I really have to.

Though I did find a dude selling ingredients in a hut nearby. He gave me the Hard Ball formula and let me save as well! So that was nice.

Man, I don't like where this is going.

I'm starting to think that this master alchemist guy wanted to get himself captured by monsters, because this is the path you go down if you want to get captured by monsters.

I found a creepy lair type place and headed inside, finding a maze where the floor looks like walls. Plus there's slides running down either side for the times when bits of the ground collapse around me, leaving me trapped. They're also handy if I want to see the dog's dumb expression again.

Well it sure is nice being right back at the start of the maze again for like the fourth time. I'm used to it now though, after the whirlpools.


LATER


Oh damn, it's the creature from the game box! I've never been less happy to reach the end of a dungeon. I was expecting the kid to say something, maybe tell us what made up B-movie this reminds him of (he likes doing that). But nope our two heroes just stood there in silence for a moment, then The Dog turned around and walked away.

But he was just getting into position for the fight, as evil maggots fell down around us.

C'mon, not this unavoidable special move shit again, I had enough of this in Secret of Mana. The boss can use Acid Rain magic on me with no warning and I have to just stand there and lose half my health. Worse, the poor dog lost all his health and I didn't bring any dog biscuits so he's out of the fight now. Which is a shame because I could really use his help against these infinite maggots.

Every time I kill some of them three more drop down and it's getting as old as this tribal drumming music. Turns out I can only carry 6 healing petals, which is pretty pathetic, but defeated enemies are dropping just enough to keep the hero healed and trapped in this endless purgatory. (I should mention that other healing items are available but my cash was limited last time I was in town).

I've been trying to watch how the monster moves and learn its routine before attacking, but there doesn't seem to be much going on up there except some waving of arms. I hoped he'd eventually find a reason to open his ribs and let me smack his heart around but it seems like I need to try a more proactive approach.

Or I could just get hit by Acid Rain and lose. I guess having 75 health isn't enough when I'm fighting a creature that can hit me for 50.

That's really demoralising, especially as I've been kicked back to the title screen and I'm going to have to start from back in the desert. It's lucky I'm listening to a podcast really or else I'd feel like I wasted the last... wow it's only been 20 minutes since the last save point? It felt longer.

Right, my new plan is go back to town, buy armour and stack up on dog biscuits (assuming I can ever find the hut with the merchant in again). Though I'll also need money and extra max HP, so I should go smack some of those respawning enemies around too. Hmm, 20 xp per turtle skeleton, and I need 459 xp to level up... that's only 23 kills!


SOME GRINDING LATER


Secret of Evermore character stats screen
Well levelling up as raised my HP by a whole 9 points. Plus I've gotten my defence up by 4, and my evade % has gone up by 1, that's going to make all the difference that. How many turtles for the next level up? 40? Eh, I'll just settle for what I've got.

Oh by the way, despite it saying "Other player" up there, the game doesn't actually have co-op. Which is strange because Secret of Mana does. I guess the developers didn't want the extra hassle seeing as this was their first game.


EVEN MORE TIME PASSES


Okay I've made it all the way back across the desert and through the dungeon maze and this time I'm going to let my dog handle the maggots while I see how this bug boss likes unavoidable magic damage when it's aimed at him for a change. I'm going to spam my Flash alchemy at him as many times as I can... which is approximately 'once', because I never found any extra ingredients for it. I do have a dozen or so Hard Balls to lob at him afterwards though (the icon's there in the radial menu just under the dog's nose).

Firing off alchemy is like using magic in a typical turn based JRPG, as everything pauses and I get to choose my target (or multiple targets if I feel like sharing the hurt). Spells are constructed on the fly from two sets of ingredients instead of being crafted beforehand in a menu, so right now it's like I have four separate MP bars. That's not so much to keep track off, but there's apparently 20 or so different ingredients in the game shared by more than 30 spells, so it seems like I should get a notepad handy.

Oh he didn't like that! I hit him until the chest cracked open then smacked him right in the heart (after waiting a few seconds for my attack to recharge of course). He retaliated by blasting us back right across the room, but that's not going to stop me going right back over there and hitting him again. I've got to end this quickly as I'm all out of petals now and I don't see any more maggots around.

DID IT! Then I cut that cocoon open with my new spider axe and saved the alchemist, mission complete.

Well that sucks, I was looking forward to rage quitting here. Now I have to keep playing at least until I find an inn to save at.

That's interesting, seems that my new axe can cut through the tiny ankle-high plants I've been noticing along the way. Now I can go back to the start and cut open some new paths.

But first I need to tell Elizabeth that I've saved her friend and defeated the evil boss creature. Man, she's going to be so happy.

Oh. Well at least she's willing to help me get back home... by giving me another job to do. Apparently the local volcano is cooling down and that could trigger an ice age, so she wants me to go in there and sort it out. Not sure any of this is how science works, but it turns out that there's a reason for that.

She reveals that she dreamed up this world herself using her grandfather's machine, because she loves dinosaurs. So the secret of Evermore is... it's a virtual world? Again no one's explaining why we can't just go talk to the professor, but if the person messing with the volcano is also from the real world then they might be worth talking to as well.

The volcano is north of the village, which works out well for me as now I've got the axe I can cut down the plants blocking the path.


SOME ACTION RPG GAMEPLAY LATER


I'm getting really bored of this mid-boss fight now. I thought the battles in the last area were a bit of a tedious slog, but at least it didn't tell me I'd got a 'MISS' quite as often. Also I'm going to have to take a break from getting hit for a moment so I can heal my dog, again.

I got a heal spell from another alchemist soon afterwards, which seems like it could be really useful provided the ingredients are common, as 6 petals ain't all that many for two characters. Unfortunately I accidentally closed the alchemy formula screen without activating it, and I can't find a way to bring it back up. I guess I'll have to live without it until I find another alchemist.

Well here I am next to some water, using my new spear on something that almost certainly isn't a frog.

It seems too early to quit, I feel like I might unlock a new game feature at the volcano (like how I got the ability to switch weapons from the bug boss), but I'm losing a lot of health out of carelessness right now so I'm taking that as a sign that my heart's completely gone out of playing this. I'm done here.


CONCLUSION

If there's one thing I've learned from playing Secret of Evermore, it's that I shouldn't call characters Ray Hardgrit any more, as it makes writing about them awkward.

I already knew that the game was going to be a bit more Zelda than Chrono Trigger, but I was surprised by how Secret of Mana it is. It is very Secret of Mana. It's like there's two Secret of Mana IIs, one released in Japan called Seiken Densetsu III and one in the West called Secret of Evermore, and neither region can be allowed to have the other region's game. It was apparently cost (and maybe bugs) that kept the complicated SD3 from reaching the West, but that doesn't explain why this didn't make it the other way.

To be honest I'm not sure I would've picked up on the fact that it was written by an American if I didn't already know, because it hasn't been all that different to a translated Japanese game of the time so far. Though I suppose the lack of legendary crystals and the hero making references to B-movies all the time should've been kind of a giveaway. Reminds me of how they make references to Marvel characters all the time in The Flash TV series.

I was going to recycle some points from the conclusion of my Secret of Mana post from a year or so back, but I just checked and I didn't actually write one! I guess I really was starting to get burned out on the site. Anyway, Secret of Evermore is... well, it's a game. A game where you walk around and hit things.

Oh, one thing I did mention back then is that the "the constant ... three second ... pauses ... between ... attacks ... during ... combat" were driving me mad, and that's just as true for this game. It's a simple one-button combat system that encourages hit and run tactics, but it also felt like the game was saying "No, NO! Bad player!" every time I tried to have fun.

Though it is one of the few games with a canine sidekick that lets you play as the dog any time you feel like. But only you, not your friends, because there is no co-op. There's no two player and definitely no three player. He's a pretty good dog though, who pounces on the enemy you're fighting while you're recharging your stamina and does the fighting for you if you can't be bothered. Trouble is I found him to be equally as dumb as I am, so he used an equal share of our 6 potions. The magic system suffers from your limited resources as well, as you're encouraged to use a spell repeatedly to level it up, but also to hold onto it because the ingredients are far from abundant. Plus different spells can share ingredients so you have to keep track of what you're burning through else you'll be using up your casts of other magic without realising it.

Graphically it can look great, with some decent use of 3D rendered tiles and nice animation, but there's only so much an artist can do make a desert or a prehistoric tar pit look appealing. I can't comment on the music though because I quit playing before I found any. Well okay there was some tribal drumming at times, but most of what I got to hear was moody ambience. Especially during times when it would've been really nice to have an excuse to wake up and give a damn about what I was doing. Though on the plus side it made it very easy for me to put a podcast on, and later a movie... with a commentary track. It was not a game that required my full attention to make progress in.

It's been a while, so here's how my rating system works on Super Adventures: if a game's terrible it gets nothing, if I can see myself ever playing it again it gets a 'Not Crap' star, and if I can't stop playing it I give it a little badge which says 'Wins the Prize' on it. The system made more sense back when I was playing a lot of really bad Amiga games. Anyway, this game is not really bad, in fact it's fine for what it is, so I'll give it a star:


Would I really play it again though? Probably not, I'm just being nice to it because I liked the shiny fans.


By my calculations if I keep posting articles every week for the next 2 months, that's 8 more games before I can take my first 2 month break. But what will the next game be? It's a mystery that can only be solved by figuring out what that tiny image over on the left is from. You could also leave a comment about Secret of Evermore. Or just to say 'Hi'.

Hi, by the way!

6 comments:

  1. Happy birthday SAiG!

    That's not a "hi" but I hope it's close enough. It's good to see you back in the game, pun not at all intended.

    I think my favourite CPU sidekick is Quiet in Metal Gear Solid V, because she's so competent she can do whole missions on her own without my input and I am a super lazy game player sometimes. I am also quite fond of Deathtrap from Borderlands 2, for similar reasons.

    My least favourite is the other player in Chaos Engine, because the Bitmaps gave it bastard AI so it would run around and steal all the loot while you're getting eaten by monsters.

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    Replies
    1. Quiet is a bad sidekick because once I recruited her I never needed to use the dog again, so he stayed at base sad and neglected, waiting for walkies that would never come.

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    2. I prefer to think of it as D-Dog being nice and safe from Russian snipers, and he gets to hang around with the horse and the robot.

      Delete
  2. Glad to have you back, sir! I got hopeful for a new review the moment I saw the new logo.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The music was composed by Jeremy Soule (of Elder Scrolls fame). I believe this was his first video game score, and he hadn't really nailed down the balance between ambiance and melody that you see in later soundtracks like Skyrim and Oblivion.

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  4. Dude! So nice to have you back! I hadn’t checked the site in a while and I’m super glad I did. Hope all is well and I’m looking forward to reading these.

    ReplyDelete

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