Secret of Evermore
Secret of Evermore is a science-fiction action RPG for the Super Nintendo Entertainment system. Released in 1995, it is the only game to be fully developed by Squaresoft's North American branch, having been developed completely in-house at the Redmond, Washington office space. Contrary to popular belief, the game does not use the engine or any programming assets developed for Secret of Mana--it is in fact an homage to the beloved title with a distinctive American spin.
In Dr. Sidney Ruffleburg's old, decaying mansion, a boy and his dog stumble upon a mysterious machine. By sheer accident they are propelled into Evermore, a one-time utopia that now has become a confounding and deadly world. A world of prehistoric jungles, ancient civilizations, medieval kingdoms and futuristic cities.
During his odyssey, the boy must master a variety of weapons, learn to harness the forces of alchemy, and make powerful allies to battle Evermore's diabolical monsters. What's more, his dog masters shape-shifting to aid the quest. But even if they can master enough skill and courage, even if they can uncover the mysterious clues, they can only find their way home by discovering the Secret of Evermore.
Secret of Evermore begins with a black and white flashback to the autumn of 1965 in Podunk, USA, before showing a science experiment taking place in a mansion outside of the small town going terribly wrong. Thirty years later, the player is introduced to the two main characters as a boy and his dog exit the local theater, with the youth professing his love of B-movie science fiction as his dog picks up the scent of a stray cat and gives chase.
Chasing after his pet through the town, the boy eventually catches up with the dog at the decrepit mansion on the edge of the town. The two stumble upon a hidden laboratory after prodding through the assortment of eccentric belongings littered in the building. Centered in the room is a raised platform with an unusual apparatus hanging from above and when the dog begins to chew on some wires connected to the machine, the pair find themselves transported to a sterile laboratory in a space station. Later revealed to be Omnitopia, the butler of the station declares the boy to be an intruder as soon as he appears, and locks him in a room with several attack robots to dispose of him. The boy makes use of a bazooka in the room and scraps his assailants before escaping in a shuttle pod, where he finds his dog holed up in the cockpit.
The shuttle crash-lands in the heart of a primitive jungle, demolishing itself and ruining the bazooka. The boy wonders where he's landed, but notices his dog has gone missing once more. Calling out to his pet, a ferocious wolf approaches instead but does not attack him. Tossing a bone and seeing the feral-looking animal fetch it, he is astonished to realize that the dog has changed shape. Lost but together, the pair explore the dangerous environment and enter a prehistoric village. Finding the village leader's hut, the boy is shocked to find that the leader is a modern day little girl wearing modern clothing named Elizabeth.
The girl explains that the boy and his dog have entered the world of Evermore, and that they are inside of her prehistoric. She states that if the boy can rescue the villager's lost alchemist from a nearby wasteland, she will aid him in getting home. left with little choice, the boy agrees and retrieves the old man after fighting a colossal insect. Upon returning to the village, Elizabeth alters the deal and sends the boy out to prevent the cooling of the region's volcano and prevent an ice age from beginning. Elizabeth also reveals that she too is from Podunk, and that her grandfather's invention is the cause of all of this.
Elizabeth's grandfather developed a machine that could send people into worlds of their own design, perfectly matching their interests and hobbies. Elizabeth is one of four participants in her grandfather's experiment, and each person has been trapped in a prison of their own design for the past thirty years without aging. Elizabeth concludes by stating that she can occasionally feel influence from the real world upon her paleolithic domain, and if the boy and dog venture to the center of the volcano where the sensation of the real world is strongest, they may find a way to escape. Upon reaching the heart of the volcano, the pair discover that a robotic duplicate of Elizabeth is responsible for the cooling affecting the region. After defeating the robot's mechanical guardian, the boy and dog are blasted away by a thermal vent into the region of Antique, another section of Evermore and begin a new attempt to return home.
After meeting with three of the four experiment subjects and assisting them with defeating the mechanical duplicates that seek to destroy their respective regions, the pair confront the final subject: Dr. Ruffleberg himself. The doctor rules over Omnitopia where he is free to conduct all manner of experiments that he chooses, allowing his mechanical butler Carltron to handle the day to day operations of the space station. The doctor also explains that Carltron was once a simple chess playing robot that he had enhanced with a more sophisticated artificial intelligence chip, but the upgrade also caused him to develop a controlling and malevolent disposition. With Ruffleberg's help, the boy and his canine companion break into Carltron's room. The area is guarded by android copies of the boy and his dog, along with a giant mecha version of the butler himself. At the last moment, Ruffleberg appears and deactivates Carltron, who promptly freezes in place.
Upon stopping Carlton's plans to rule over Evermore through his mechanical puppets, the dog and boy gather the remaining three test subjects and leave evermore as it is assumed to grow unstable without Carlton's maintenance. However, upon all six returning to Podunk the world begins to stabilize, and Evermore continues to exist without human interference.
- The Boy: Named by the player, the boy is a B-movie fanatic who finds himself living a surreal adventure straight out of a matinee. Though shaken by his sudden transportation to Evermore, he takes the dire circumstances in stride and does his best to keep his cool. He regularly makes referential remarks in regards to current happenings, comparing things to the details of movie sequels.
- The Dog: Also named by the player, the dog is the lad's faithful pet and companion on the adventure in Evermore. Unwaveringly loyal, his personality does not change even as the regions of Evermore force his body into different shapes to reflect the theme of the environment. His nose is a powerful tool for finding alchemical ingredients. The forms he takes in each region are a feral wolf, greyhound, poodle, and mechanical dog respectively.
- Elizabeth Ruffleberg: The doctor's granddaughter and the creator of Prehistoria. The villagers of her region call her "Fire Eyes" due to the reflection of fire off of her glasses when performing her alchemical spell.
- Horace Highwater: The creator of Antiqua and museum curator of Podunk before the experiment went haywire. Fascinated by ancient history, Horace's love for archeology causes him to continue performing excavations even in Evermore and as such he is the only experimentee to not actively rule his region.
- Camellia Bluegarden: The creator of Gothica, Camellia was the librarian of Podunk in the 60's and her region of Evermore is based on her love of medieval fantasy. She originally ruled Gothica as the benevolent queen before secretly being replaced with a robot duplicate that quickly became tyrannical.
- Dr. Sidney Ruffleberg: The well-meaning but misguided scientist whose experiment created Evermore as a whole and spirited away the test subjects. He has toiled for thirty years to return hims companions and himself to the real world to no avail, and monitors the boy and dog on their trek through Evermore. By doing so, he pieces together that his mechanical butler Carlton is behind the sabotage that trapped himself and his friends inside Evermore and has conspired to keep them there.
- Carlton: The game's main antagonist who was once a simple chess playing robot before being given a substantial A.I. upgrade by the doctor. His new found intelligence cause him to go insane, and he tampered with the doctor's experiment to trap those present in Evermore. He keeps up a facade of obedience, but has manipulated events to replace the rulers of Evermore with robotic copies so that he may rule over the new world from behind them.
Secret of Evermore plays very similarly to the games of the Mana series, featuring the real-time combat, ring menu system, and A.I. controlled party members the series is famous for. A variety of weapons with different properties are available to the boy to aid in combat, and the player may switch between controlling the boy and dog at will.
Two distinct traits of the game is the way in which it handles currency and eschews the typical magic systems of RPGs for alchemy. In the case of the former, each region of Evermore has it's own currency that must be collected to purchase items, rest at the local inn, etc. An exchange rate also exists, allowing players to convert one land's cash for another. The alchemy formula system discards the typical magic points for one based on possessing the ingredients needed to cast spells. Each region has shamans, hermits, and researchers who will pass on their knowledge to the boy to teach him new spells, instead of the lad learning new abilities as he levels up.
Development of Secret of Evermore began in 1994 as a result of Squaresoft seeking to expand it's developmental capabilities outside of Japan. Douglas Smith was appointed to helm the project, having developed a friendship with Hironobu Sakaguchi years earlier during his employment at Broderbund software. The project would grow to incorporate 25 programmers and artists, mostly first-timers, and the team would accept suggestions and ideas from every staff member to encourage the creative process. Squaresoft's headquarters in Japan were supportive of the project being an entirely American endeavor and gave full autonomy to the staff, and only assisted in technical advice and debugging tips concerning the SNES hardware.
The project was originally given the working title of Vex and the Mezmers, and instead of a modern day, science fiction setting it would involve the adventures of a group of wizards who could manifest dreams into a figurative virtual reality, allowing the dreams to experience their creations with lucid, waking minds. One day, a dream wizard by the name of Vex would have become trapped in a dream and begin to corrupt it, with the player having to track him down and put a stop to the chaos he'd caused.
The name was dropped when George Sinfield was hired on to help write the scenario and script, having had a high school friend who'd changed his legal given name to Vexx and being too embarrassed to use it. Suggestions for a new name were submitted by the team, and Secret of Evermore was the most popular. The fantasy elements were gradually removed as development continued, with the framing narrative instead being a mad scientist who inadvertently traps his friends in a prison of their own creation. The reliance of B-movie references were implemented by Sinfield to give the protagonist something to relate his situation to, and to give him more personality. the development team was happy with the result, and requested that Sinfield continue to add the quirk until it reached the point see in the final product.
The lead artist for the project was Daniel Dociu, whose emphasis on conveying as much expression as possible through the use of sprites put the project's budget in danger, with the 12-megabit cartridge quickly reaching maximum capacity with the assets he created and supervised. Permission was granted to expand the game's size to a 24-megabit cartridge from Squaresoft, and even with the doubled storage capacity it was necessary to use clever and discreet asset mirroring to fit the majority of the planned content into the ROM. This also meant that the game would not have the multiplayer feature found in Mana titles.
The similarities to the Mana series, most specifically Secret of Mana, are intentional though the project never used any of the software developed for the title nor the engine. The game was highly esteemed by industry critics and gamers alike, and was considered by most of the American branch of Squaresoft to be the finest product the company had released up to that point. Applying the proven Mana formula to Evermore and adjusting the specifics to accommodate feedback that the game had received back in 1993, the project staff were able to create a richly fluid experience that built upon an already rock-solid foundation.