secret of evermore

a review of Secret of Evermore
a videogame developed by Square Los Angeles
and published by Squaresoft
for the super nintendo entertainment system
text by tim rogers

4 stars
#22

Bottom line: Secret of Evermore is “confident and modern”

Secret of Evermore is constructive criticism of the best form. It’s a Japanese role-playing game made by Americans. It is a love letter to the most insipid feature set to ever grace the trade of game design, penned by a gorgeous woman, saying nothing in particular, though capable of making a man quit smoking if he’d just take the time to read it. Japan, however, did not take the time to read it: it was never released there. America and Europe hardly listened, either: here is a game that stood in the shadow of a hideous giant from the moment of its announcement, in a quarter-page preview in an issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly (we’d tell you the issue and page number, though that would make us look vaguely like weirder people than we really are): the screenshot-accompanying, paragraph-long blurb, written with all the joy of the side panel of a cereal box, focused entirely on the fact that, though the game was being published by Squaresoft, though it featured realtime combat, and though it had the word “Secret” in the title, it was not a sequel to Secret of Mana. The groaning began, and eventually evolved into LOLling. Eventually, the game was released; EGM didn’t even review it. If you came down with an ear infection before your local Blockbuster heaved a great sigh and tossed the ignored rental copy into the Used ‘n’ Abused bin, then no doubt, to this day, you will look back on the game with a kind of delicate reverence. We here at Action Button Dot Net hold that same reverence. In the interests of history, we have gone back to this game, breathed very deeply, and dove in: not only does it hold up, it holds all the way up.

Perhaps no one has appropriately loved Secret of Evermore, except for maybe this one game review site called Action Button Dot Net. It’s unfortunate. As touched upon briefly in the previous paragraph, the game was a “failure” because it shared many conceptual similarities with irreparably flawed Japanese games; in filling in all the holes in Secret of Mana‘s game design, all Secret of Evermore ended up obviously doing was making the games its creators had idolized look flat and ****ed. The attention to detail regarding world locales and game mechanics — for better or for best — and corresponding cultural conscience employed by Secret of Evermore were way ahead of their time. It’d take a decade and change for pointed, intelligent rebootism to become an entertainment zeitgeist (see the new “Battlestar Galactica” TV series, “Casino Royale”, and “The Dark Knight”). Secret of Evermore was trimming away the fat and streamlining the experience of its peers in real-time, which flies fiercely in the face of one of the most ironclad rules of Japanese game development: Never. Cut. Anything. To cut something out of a sequel, or a game that aspires to be better than an established game, is quite simply to make less of a game as far as the critics or money-holders are concerned.

This review, so far, has been pointed, dreary generalities. We hereby seek to pretend that that’s the point: pointed, dreary generalities are the only thing that Evermore ever really managed to objectively triumph over. From where we stand at this exact moment, it’s only obvious that, as much as the main character in Evermore quotes drop-dead-unfunny non-existent B-movies, the one thing Evermore never is is tacky. You want tacky? Get a load of the fact that Square-Enix has released the original, creatceaous Final Fantasy game seven times (twice for the Famicom itself (once as part of a collection of Final Fantasy I+II), once for the WonderSwan Color, once for the PlayStation, once for the Gameboy Advance, once for the PlayStation Portable, and once for the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console), without changing an iota of the core mechanics. (To be fair, in the first remake they fixed the crippling oversight wherein you had to buy potions one at a time; to be even fairer, they did not fix the fact that you absolutely need 99 potions at all times.) So we’ve got this molasses-thick battle system, dungeons as much “fun” as crawling through a minefield on your two front teeth, and booming, fetishistically recorded orchestral music. The music only highlights the absolute stuff you’re drowning in; though seriously, as people who have seen the way Japanese video game developers spend their lunch breaks (usually leaning back in their chairs with towels over their faces in hopes that The Boss will walk by and think “That guy’s definitely not not a hard worker!” before remembering that he’s supposed to be thinking about hookers), we know that The One Nice Thing that ends up in any game made by these hate-pushers is usually at the very bottom of a spreadsheet list of “things we could perhaps maybe do to please our mathematically loyal customers”. Time rolls on, the future becomes the now, and the past is still the now: we have Lost Odyssey, a game with nice-enough artistic conscience, well-composed music, interludes of actual literature, and The Same Battle System they’ve been using in these games for an eternity. On the one hand, we have actual literature; on the other hand, we have sixteen-hit combos, accessories that teach party members new abilities, and the option to fiddle with the triggers to as to close a circle on the enemy as your character goes through his attack motion for the twelve-thousandth time. It’d be naive to think that the designers of these games don’t realize that they possess the potential to bore literally thousands of people; it’s just that the realize the innocent people will pay them anyway. It’s like, the rule “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies worldwide; in Japan, however, the planning meetings go one step further, and conclude that “if it sells enough copies to pay for development costs and put one yen in the boss’s pocket, it isn’t ‘broken'”.

A new paragraph, the same story (think of it as a “random battle”): the developers of Secret of Evermore liked Japanese RPGs. We’d say they particularly liked Final Fanasy VI (speculation). They must have also liked Secret of Mana, because the game plays something like it. It’s not for us to decide whether or not the makers of Secret of Evermore worked within the Japanese RPG genre because they saw “potential”, or if they were merely attempting to make a game exactly like Secret of Mana. If it was the latter, they failed miserably. If it was the former, they did an excellent job. We love the game either way.

Secret of Evermore is a game about a boy with a dog. They live in a terrifyingly boring town called “Podunk”. The only thing to do in Podunk is to see terrible films at a rotten cinema. This is all the pleasure the kid knows: terrible B-movies. Since they’re all he knows, of course, he’s obtained a sweet taste for sour stuff. (The same could be said of all RPG fans of the time. Hmm! We might just have an unintentional metaphor.) He quotes space captains and zombie-slayers in much of his dialogue — which is sometimes monologue, because we get the impression that the dog isn’t really listening. His dog is a dog. The dog basically does things that dogs do, like sniffing the ground. Early on, the story makes a cute little curtsy, and deems the dog “Important”: it’s because the dog is chasing a cat that the boy ends up in some old creepy mansion. In the dark, he stumbles on a machine. In minutes, he’s inside some orbital space-station thing. An old bald man sees the boy, greets him, gets nervous, and leads him to a door. The door happens to lead the bewildered boy to an escape pod that crashes to the surface of a prehistoric jungle. The boy regroups with his dog, now transformed from a little yappy mutt to a broad-shouldered wolf-like animal-contraption.

The adventure begins.

It turns out that the prehistoric jungle is just one of the four worlds in “Evermore”, a synthetic planet created by a group of intelligentsia who found life in Podunk too boring to bear. Each of the world’s creators lords over one region of the world: there’s the prehistoric Prehistoria, the Roman megalopolis-like Antiqua, the dark-ages dungeons-and-dragons-and-decadence of Gothica, and the orbital space station Omnitopia. Fantastic as these places are, the boy will spend the duration of the game trying to get out of Evermore and back into Podunk, though not until after uncovering the “Secret”: all of the creators of Evermore kind of want to go back, too. It’s just that they can’t. This is where the adventure comes into play.

According to the Wikipedia page that shares the same title as this game, the concept of a young boy questing through worlds inspired by b-movies was “dictated from overseas”. What that truly means, no one knows. Was it Square Japan’s idea? Whatever the case, there are a million ways it could have gone wrong. It didn’t go wrong. Secret of Evermore is a masterpiece of flow. The prehistoric world is just barbaric enough — our hero wields a bone in lieu of a sword — to warm us up to the action. The on-the-fly tutorial is invisible. Eventually, we’re in the ancient-Roman kind of world, with cliffs and Mediterranean vistas and caves and temples. There’s more adventure in the second world of Secret of Evermore than in most other games of the time, anchored by vast environments that, unlike the field segments in all other “Japanese RPGs”, each contain a minimum of one shockingly personable gimmick. In Antiqua, for example, there’s an enormous, gray, desolate desert. You can cross the desert on foot, or you can offer a specific precious item to a skeleton in a rowboat in exchange for a quick trip across the sand. The quirks, here, split like a skill tree in a real-time-strategy game: if you don’t have the medallion the skeleton requests, you’ll have to walk. If you walk, you lose hit points as time passes. The desert is many screens wide and many hundreds of screens tall. There are several oases in the desert, located at seemingly random points. Enter one to recover all of your hit points. Monsters dot the desert as well. They’ll follow you. Eventually, walking (or running) across the desert comes to feel really hopeless and kind of depressing.

Also, if you’ve decided to name your main character something profane (you get sixteen letters), the skeleton will refuse to carry you.

At the other end of the desert is a mammoth town called Nobilia, with a marketplace that transcends perhaps any location ever represented in videogames. Children play in the streets, insects scurry in sunlit shop buildings, a crazy old man shouts conspiracy theories, chickens peck at stone, people bustle between market stalls. (If you talk to the man shouting the conspiracy theories, it turns out he’s actually Hideo Kojima (not really): he insists that someone is standing beyond where our eyes can see, pressing buttons, manipulating the world. Talk to him enough, and the game offers you a choice to turn him into a chicken.) The marketplace scene is epicly great for several reasons, one being that it is only a small part of the city of Nobilia — which also has a palace with shiny floors, a fountain square with some surrounding houses, and a coliseum. Far from merely making the marketplace look good, the game designers go one further, and decide to immerse the player in its logistics. It’s an honest enough idea to try to impress Roman marketplace microeconomics upon a player; it’s a lukewarm miracle that they manage to make it feel like an essential part of a videogame. (Even though it’s purely optional.) Each stall in the marketplace trades something for something else. You might be able to trade beads for a jar of spice. Then you can trade the jar of spice for something else. Some sellers offer one-of-a-kind items in exchange for other one-of-a-kind items. Getting the first one-of-a-kind item might require a half an hour of researching what several-of-a-kind items will yield the most of another, more useful several-of-a-kind item in a trade. Before you know it, you’ve spent two hours of your life walking back and forth across a large, gloriously textured, living chunk of digital real estate, and at last, you’ve gotten your hands on a Very Useful Accessory. Though you don’t know it for certain the first time you play the game, you get the impression that if you don’t complete this challenge now, you won’t get another chance ever again, unless you start the whole game over. This impression is correct: Evermore is about the here and now, and unlike virtually every other Japanese-styled “RPG” to follow it, it manages to reward your weirdly existential-like curiosity without ever feeling like busywork. The marketplace of Nobilia presents you a sweater with a dangling piece of loose yarn. You pull at it a bit, and suddenly you’re entranced. In any other RPG, this feels (and looks) like kleptomania. In Evermore, it looks like a cute kitten playing with a ball of yarn. The act is joyful, and innocent. Evermore‘s more “Final Fantasy“-titled contemporaries had enforced within players the tendency to search anything that looked like a clock in hopes of finding an Elixir, an all-powerful medicine. The average Final Fantasy player never uses those Elixirs; they stack them up, like trophies. Though unlike trophies, they are not anything hard-won — they are received, through brainless (and usually fruitless) repetition of one rarely reinforced obsessive behavior. What Evermore does is posit that the “RPG fetch quest” can be contextualized through a wondrous environment, actualized by interesting play mechanics (ie, not “kill 100 of [quirky RPG monster variety name]”), and solidified with valuable — though highly optional — rewards that express their value when used in the context of the main thrust of the game (battle). In Final Fantasy VI, for example, we have to equip the Cursed Shield for 255 battles, suffering a plague of status ailments, before the curse is lifted, so that, finally, we can fight more battles with no disadvantages. In the world of the game — and on paper — this seems like something to do, though in the Real World, all it’s doing is making the player dig a hole so that he can marvel as the hole fills itself back up in an instant. On the one hand, you just did a bunch of work; on the other hand, all you get for it is the sight of dirt.

Fetchy quests of the shield-curse-dispelling variety may or may not exist in Final Fantasy because the game needs to mask the brainless hours of repetitive grinding some way. Evermore, however, with its scaled-back battle system, allows the concepts of the battles, not the promise of “getting stronger”, to take the center stage. Carrot-dangling is a nice way to keep a player playing a game, though in RPGs, it’s actually kind of rude: the player can’t see the carrot, and has no idea how big it is. He just knows it’s there; he smells it. He runs at that carrot, and when he finally goes after that boss, he kills him in one round. Evermore is, from its outset, deeply concerned with contextualization of play mechanics and story. The carrot being dangled is, as in any other RPG, invisible, though the carrot’s name is not “Higher Numbers” — it’s “What Happens Next”. What world do we get to see next? Do we get this poor B-movie-loving schlub back home, or not? The battles are not party-favors like in Secret of Mana. They’re not something to do with a couple of friends. They’re Serious Business. There’s a reason the game doesn’t have two-player co-op, despite its engine supporting it quite viciously: this is an introspective, forward-crawling game; its chief goal is to immerse you its world and make you feel accomplished. Switching between the boy and his dog during a battle actually feels like strategy. Either way, the dog is a dog for a reason — he takes orders. You use him like a tool. And he’s a great tool.

Some consider the “magic system” in Secret of Evermore “kind of broken”, and hey, so do we. That doesn’t mean we can’t still stand up and slow-clap at its amazing intentions. Magic in Evermore comes from execution of alchemical formulas. Each formula requires a certain number of ingredients: a couple balls of wax, a drop of oil, a dash of gunpowder. Each alchemy ingredient is packaged snugly into its own item slot. The adorable logistical fetishism of the game designers comes fully into view when you realize how alchemy ingredients are acquired: literally anywhere.

Most RPGs encourage the player — for reasons unknown to both the game and the player — to press the “investigate” button while facing any suspicious-looking object. The tragedy of the moment, however, is that, in a videogame — in an imaginary world contained inside your TV screen, everything is suspicious by default. Evermore rises above and beyond the call of duty by making some objects genuinely look more suspicious than everything else, without looking so suspicious as to force you to lie down and have a nap. It’s a delicate balance; the player nudges a rock, and out comes a drop of oil, to be collected and used for a future alchemical moment. You can also buy some ingredients in stores; sometimes, the ingredients you get in stores will be readily available in the wild, though sometimes, the ingredients in the wild might plain not exist anywhere else. Contemplating the amount of conscience, thought, and fine-tuning that must have gone into this results in an awesome headache.

It’s also a migraine and a half to ponder the brainstorming meetings that went into dungeons and combat in this game. Basing everything on the Secret of Mana template was probably a good start, and though they could have just thrown together monster closets and made back their money, they went leaps and bounds further, instead opting to create intelligent monsters who possess vaguely 8-bitty sparring patterns. Secret of Mana had allowed players to charge up weapons to eight levels — earning each charge level required the player to kill as many as a hundred monsters with said weapon. Evermore trims out the fat, gives every weapon three charge levels, with each of the three attacks being something purely optional and radically different in purpose, range, delivery, and tactical usefulness. Where Mana‘s weapon list reads like digital photograph of a whiteboard post formal brainstorming session (whip, spear, javelin, etc), Evermore only features the weapons it wants the player to use — including the staple sword and a most-deliciously thrusty spear. Mana‘s leveling system requires the more completist-minded player to raise each character’s experience with each weapon up as high as it will go. Evermore merely encourages the player to keep playing, keep moving forward. Mana — and most any RPG of the day — had featured dungeons in which rooms were merely excuses for monsters to appear; occasionally, there’d be a locked door, in which case you’d go into the door that wasn’t locked, and flip a switch to unlock said door. The dungeons were slogs, to be frank; it didn’t matter, so much, because the game’s fighting was supposed to be “fun” for multiple players. Most people (warning: using our own experience as “most people”) played most of the game alone, which sometimes felt desolate. Either way, there’s no use comparing Evermore to Mana: Evermore is more of a halfway point between Zelda and Final Fantasy — action-based fighting with numbers and slogging endurance test dungeons with actual puzzles. Bosses all require some strategy that exists in your head just seconds before its pieces become visible in the game. Within Evermore‘s running time are several two- to three-minute segments that contain as strong an “Aha!” as the part right before a point-and-click adventure starts to collapse like a house of cards. Again: there’s more to this game than there has any right to be. More than any normal player wanted. More than the games industry is willing to supply even until today — “today” being that day where a game is either a mechanical masterpiece with impenetrable atmosphere (Godhand) or a well-crafted world gimped by game logic (Bioshock). How Evermore managed to get everything right way back in 1995 is a mystery, though we can only use the word “mystery” facetiously: the solution to the puzzle here is that Evermore was made by people who just wanted to make a good game that played well, and decided that SGI workstations alone weren’t enough: they’d need to call in some common sense.

These developers treated their “genre” less like a template and more like a format. They understood that large sections of what had masqueraded as “game design” for several years were actually just placeholders for “interesting things” to come; without the slightest hint of pretentiousness, they tossed off an armful of ideas for what those interesting things might, in fact, be. The Nobilia market, again, is a shining example: here’s a bunch of guys who loved RPGs and LucasArts point-and-click adventure games, and decided to marry them and encourage them to copulate. In an industry that has always been scared of collapsing into financial ruin and/or being pointed / laughed at, it took acres of testicles to make something so crucial to the glory of your game purely optional, though isn’t that the way it should be? Why must the optional things be so bland in these games? Final Fantasy VI (which, yes, we just dissed re: the Cursed Shield) was kind enough to make getting the majority of the characters optional, though at the same time, if you take out all those optional quests, you’re left with half a game. Somewhere between Zelda: Link to the Past and Final Fantasy VI, the concept of workflow got hecked up in Japanese game development, and it’s just never worked itself out since. Years later, we get a great man (term used loosely) like Hironobu Sakaguchi plopping out a game like Lost Odyssey, with high aspirations, shining production values, and bankrupt game design. Sakaguchi plays Gears of War, marvels at the togetherness, the unity of the (admittedly meatheaded) storytelling and the weight of the action. He says, “I wish we could make a game like that.” (Paraphrase.) The thing is, the common sense to make a together piece of artlike work has existed since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Eventually, Naughty Dog would make Jak II, with elements of racing, platform action, skateboarding, car-hijacking, flying, and shooting, and the reviewers would marvel at the heterogeneous ingeniousness of it. Meanwhile, all these years ago, there was Secret of Evermore, hand up in the back of the class, squirming with enthusiasm, and there was the teacher, thinking that the big-headed buffoon just needed to go to the toilet again.

Secret of Evermore was a way out: it was an action game, an adventure game, and an RPG all at once. It didn’t overstep any of its boundaries — it did the inverse. It set its bars at a medium height, and jumped over them so many times it started to feel good. The game was the West taking something they knew and liked about Japan, and reinterpreting it. A little cross-cultural revising. Some Greek philosopher said that imitation is the highest form of flattery; well, revision is the highest form of imitation. Japan, however, though they have made a history of imitating and revising the west, simply refuse to revise western revisions of Japanese things. It’s a weird syndrome. Look at “The Matrix”, which the Wachowskis apparently pitched to Hollywood by showing Joel Silver some Japanese animation — which had in fact been inspired by western science-fiction in the first place — and saying “We want to do this with real actors”. When “The Matrix” was a worldwide smash hit, did it change the way the Japanese thought about their own animation? Of course not; one would be justified in suspecting that Japan took a weird degree of offense, and decided to separate themselves, in shame, from the subject matter that the Americans had Done Better. A decade later, the prevailing theme in Japanese animation is “female toddlers in short skirts and omnivisible panties, with melon-sized breasts, wearing maid outfits (maybe robotic)”. They’re like that kid in the neighborhood whose birthday party your mom forces you to go to; you give him a new baseball bat as a present, and he drops it on the ground and promptly kicks you in the sack. The bastard doesn’t even hit you over the head with the bat you just gave him: that’s how little he thinks of you.

Secret of Evermore is a considerate episode of “Doctor Who”; we’d like to think that maybe we need more games like that, games that — groan-worthy “humor” included — toe the dangerous line between entertainment and education without ever sacrificing explosions or thrills. Even if The Doctor is showing us a far-off, fictional alien world, we take something away from the plot and the way it’s presented; in Secret of Evermore, every little situation, cheesy as it might sound on paper, is blessed with a sweet little injection of didactism. A decade and a puberty later, the games industry keeps talking about “casual games”, which isn’t as terrible a thing as We, The Hardcore sometimes pretend we think it is. “Casual games”, more than being brain-trainers, bilingual dictionaries, or Professor-Layton-like series of gamelike brain-teasers, could always just aspire to, you know, be genuine “entertainment”. The line between “game” and “non-game” isn’t nearly as important as the line between “entertaining” and “not entertaining”.

What we’re (maybe) (kind of) saying is — that heap of schlock called the Japanese retail scene, bloated with so many by-the-book RPGs copping Tales of…‘s button-slamming battles and corridor-slogging dungeons (the Tales of… series is excluded, for reasons we won’t get into (it’d take ten thousand words of saying nothing), or else trying to be Kingdom Hearts, could benefit from trimming out the believed-essential fat (stat numbers, equipment baubles, overcomplicated battle menus) and pouring in an ounce of the artistic conscience (simple thrusty battle mechanics, calm level design and flow) that went into Secret of Evermore. We’d probably be looking at lower high-school drop-out rates across the board.

 

 

design by reroreroSecret of Evermore could have perhaps left a wide and ugly mark of righteousness on the world by being a little more bombastic. We might be looking at a different games industry if that had happened, and we probably wouldn’t be including the game on our list of the best twenty-five games of all-time if it had actually been popular.

Yes, that’s a joke: we like Evermore because of its delicateness and its nobility. We appreciate way that the game’s snowglobe representation of world history shows us only prehistoric times, Ancient Rome, the Dark Ages, and the distant future. We appreciate that it doesn’t strain to include a fire world, an ice world, a dark world, et cetera. We appreciate that its many sections, varied and foreign as they feel, possess deep-bleeding visual motifs: the interior of a pyramid looks and feels like both itself and a distinct part of this world where a town is also erected inside a wrecked ship. Evermore‘s use of computer-generated imagery shuns the flashiness of Donkey Kong Country, instead opting to use the new software as a tool for better conveying the original vision, with its carefully calculated color palettes: gray morning light, dark purple leaves in a medieval forest, cold blue bricks of an city inside a tower, rain-blue sky over a cracked granite chessboard atop a mountain.

Jeremy Soule’s music stays superb throughout, never trying to take center stage. It was his first videogame soundtrack — though it wouldn’t be the last by Soule, or even the last in the same tradition: there’s just so much about the fading-in-fading-out, floating, transient composition that just works for a game, and the quiet and contemplative plucks of digital classical guitars might well be the only element of Secret of Evermore that managed to revolutionize any one aspect of game development. Playing the game today reveals its sound design as shockingly modern. Each crunchy thrust of a spear into enemy flesh, each bark or sniff of your trusty can be heard over the air-holes in the ambient wilderness-wandering background music. Back in Secret of Evermore‘s day, games were an unproven medium. They still are, to be certain, though not for lack of trying. Circa 1995, everyone was trying to make everything stand out in a game. This kind of thinking yielded splatter-painting masterpieces like Megaman, with razor-sharp play mechanics, iconic visuals, and vein-pumping music. Those games were miraculous occurrences: a group of people somehow firing, independently and constantly, on more than all cylinders. Secret of Evermore represents an early — and near-perfect — attempt to make a good game where every element fits together neatly by calculated coincidence. It was intelligent — and highly so — because its creators were intelligent, not because they wanted to give off an air of sophistication. Surely, there are people who will play this game today and call it “bland”. It’s not that the game is outdated or outdone — it hasn’t been, and it won’t — it’s just that some players are so conditioned to want everything in a game that they don’t appreciate it when everything a game does give them is very considerately thought out. Even more often than “less is more”, “good” is better than “less”. So here’s to Secret of Evermore, a sophisticated game by necessity, just deep enough in scale, just huge enough in scope, just gorgeous enough in presentation, as good as it can get, as good (not to mention polite, noble, humble, modest) as any game of similar aspirations (“have a character, have a quest, kill monsters, get (real world) money”) has been since. And no, we didn’t forget to mention that it stars an amazingly buried game-shattering flow-related “bug”: we just decided to save it for the last sentence.

–tim rogers

 

Comments

25 Responses to secret of evermore

  1. Hi Tim,

    Reading your article has unearthed a memory from my childhood which I will share with you because I feel it’s extremely relevant to the points you are making.

    Secret of Mana is probably my all time favorite game. If you also had 2 loving brothers to play it with, I think you might have very different feelings about it.

    In any case, there was one time, when I was 10, where I played Secret of Mana with a good friend of mine, and it made me acutely aware of a basic psychological difference between Asian kids (I grew up in Asia playing mostly Japanese games) and Americans. While playing the game, my friend would rush enemies and spam the attack button. I asked him “why don’t you wait and charge up your weapon?” He replied that this way was simply easier and more effective.

    That confused the hell out of me because in my mind, the whole fun of the battle system was to do cool looking attacks, to “act out” an awesome fight as it were, and I always made sure to finish with a charge move, because it was like a dramatic finishing blow.

    I wanted to be immersed in a grand adventure in a high fidelity fantasy world. My friend just wanted to kill things. My friend was goal oriented, while I was more concerned with the quest itself. He was no dummy either, he was a smart kid, read books, got good grades, now makes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. He was and is an objectively smart, and considerate dude, I’m just saying that we had very different basic instincts about games and stories in general. I’ve found in my lifetime that these differences in motivation have been consistent between my friends who grew up in the US vs growing in an Asian country (including, but not exclusive to Japan).

    You make some good points about Secret of Evermore refining Mana’s gameplay elements, and you also make alot of generalizations about Japan and how people of a different culture think. As someone who is a product of that culture, I am telling you right now, Evermore may have better gameplay, but it has no heart, or rather it has a heart concerned with things different than what would appeal to the average Asian Kid Gamer of the time.

    For me and my friends in Asia, Secret of Mana was a sandbox game. It didn’t matter that the weapons were all functionally the same, what mattered was that it was an awesome, thoughtful checklist of weapons that had CRUNCH when you used them. I gave the dwarf an axe because it was iconic. When we fought a Dragon, my little brother used a lance because he had just read Dragonlance and thought it was appropriate. I loved hitting owls with a charged up javelin because they would burst like a balloon filled with feathers. Seriously, the first time I read your use of the word “crunch” (great word by the way) I thought of killing the owls from Secret of Mana.

    In modern terms, Secret of Mana might have gameplay imbalances, but it more than makes up for them with heart. The plot was simple, but elegant in its fine tuned way of playing up a child’s feelings. The graphics were iconic and sharp and goddamn sparkling in personality. I remember recreating each character pixel by pixel on my old 285 non windows computer using a small EGM preview screen as reference. My brothers and I would sculpt the characters and monsters out of clay. I used an old tape deck to record the music. Why did I do all this? Because the game sparked my imagination, there was just so much there to love. The world it presented felt very complete and had a great sense of imagination and fidelity to it.

    I simply didn’t get the same feeling out of Secret of Evermore. I tried playing it and was appalled by the graphics, the story, the ambiance of it. I won’t get into the specifics of what I hated about it (and i HATED it out of instinct, not cos of poor reviews) because I don’t want to be an asshole. I really am interested in starting a discussion.

    So my basic point is this. Sure gameplay is important, but really, in my heart of hearts I play games for their overall feel and esthetic, not just the gameplay. To each his own etc etc yes… But I feel its important to share this viewpoint because I don’t hear it very often in discussions of games, and also because from my experience there are great deal of gamers with the same motivations as me.

    Also one more thing. At the risk of starting another topic and again, sounding like an asshole, I have to disagree with alot of your statements about the Japanese mentality, especially in regards to resenting “western refinement”. The Matrix was a nice movie, but I would not consider it an improvement on any Asian conventions. It merely gathered them in one place and made them presentable to a western audience. It was a nice movie though. And yes, lots of Japanese Anime and Manga are influenced by Western Things, but it would be extremely imbalanced to exalt that western influence while ignoring aspects that are 100% uniquely Asian about them.

    And besides, the Matrix has influenced lots of Japanese products including games. For instance, Viewtiful Joe made very creative and fun use of the “bullet time” concept, while Devil May Cry uses lots of “impossible” camera angles that can’t be done in live action (without computers), and i would say it uses them in a way that builds on top of the Matrix because Devil May Cry actually presents the action with flow and progression, rather than as a collage of detailed but clumsy action shots.

    Boy I wish I could just sit down with a cup of tea and discuss this with you at length… but this forum is the next best thing!

    Keep up the good work! Even if I don’t agree with you all the time, the discussions here are really really great!

  2. You have left me a lot of things to think about / comment on. Let’s see what I can remember:

    1. A game developer cannot be 100% guaranteed that the purchaser of his game is also the owner of “love”. (Then again, these days, they can’t even be guaranteed that the purchaser knows they can’t play PlayStation 3 games on a PlayStation 2.)

    2. I don’t think “The Matrix” was an “improvement” so much as it was definitely more “palatable” to the “mainstream” than most Japanese animated science-fiction. It should have shown the Japanese entertainmentsmiths that it is possible to make more money. After having worked in the Japanese entertainment industry for several years, I have arrived at the conclusion that these people do want more money, that they do want more money today, and that they do want more money in every way. It’s just that sometimes they have absolutely no clue how to make the most money.

    You may or may not have noticed how many Japanese game developers are giving up on Japan and making games that they know will sell more in the US or Europe. It’s kind of like that. That’s a whole ‘nother can of whatevers, though.

    For the meantime, I will say that Secret of Evermore, whether you like it or not, never second-guesses the player. It knows what it’s doing; it rolls forward smoothly. It’s a champion of a game.

    Fun fact: prior to writing this review, I had considered Psychonauts for this position on the list.

  3. Man, if it’s between Evermore and Psychonauts, I would have made the other decision.

    I actually do like SoE, and you make some cogent points, but there’s enough irritating stuff in it that I can’t quite see numbering it among the best ever. Sure, A for effort as far as the alchemy goes, I GUESS, but in practice it’s still really hecking terrible, and really, games are for playing, not sitting around stroking one’s chin and going, what an intriguing idea! Which is to say, for me at least, practice wins out over theory. In a similar vein, having to level up each new iteration of each weapon individually is NOT a barrel of monkeys, funwise.

    Furthermore, some of the dungeons–I’m specifically thinking of the Pyramid and the Hall of Colossus here–are just REALLY weird and buggy and irritating. Perhaps one more revision before shoving it out the door would have helped.

    And seriously, as I may have mentioned in comments to the other review, lack of multiplayer=NOT COOL. If you prefer to play it by yourself for highbrow conceptual reasons, fine, but I would have had SO much more fun with it with two-player mode. And the designers were quoted in Nintendo Power at the time as saying that the reason they didn’t include it was to cut down chip space and lower prices, so it’s not as if it were an aesthetic decision on their part. Buggy as it is, the fan-made multiplayer patch provides a potent taste of what might have been.

    Shit, now I sound hypercritical. By way of praise, let it be known that aside from the magic the battle system is really good, the dog’s greyhound iteration is beautiful, the marketplace in Nobilia is indeed impressive, I really, really like how the mechanical world is designed, and there are FFVI characters in the audience at the colosseum. Whoo hoo.

  4. I echo nobinobita sentiment on this game.

    In the world, there is the American style, and there is the Japanese style.

    For core Japanese style entertainment consumers, like myself (despite I being American) secret of evermore fails miserably to capture enough of the core set of emotional values, that encompass the Japanese style, and that are essential to engage in “fun”. In that sense, secret of evermore becomes as fun as vomiting trough the nose, for many continuous hours.

    Because I only specialize in the Japanese style of entertainment, I won´t make opinions if the game has any merit in being valuable fun for American style consumers.

    What catch my attention is what are you doing in Japan Tim, if you always show a strong American type of entertainment taste.

    As a side note, this remind me when Tim, in your nex-gen column, you wrote a piece, about how Japanese game studios where evading the need to produce realistic models of players in baseball videogames, by making cartoon style models. Despite technology already being available to make the realistic type of characters models.

    At that time I wrote a hate email to you, in which I made the point that Japanese style entertainment consumers actually PREFER the cartoon style Japanese models for baseball games, as I personally certainly prefer them.

    Tim thanks for sharing your awesome writing and insight, and all the great comments that surface in this website. Keep on.

  5. Copied from that other Evermore review.

    “I would hate a 2-player mode in Evermore. The entire point of your dog is that he is silent, useful, and loyal… he’s a dog. To have another player controlling the dog would simply make the whole dynamic bizarre. Can you give your dog complex instructions on how to run around and draw attention during a boss fight? Wouldn’t the whole dynamic of having a dog be ruined if it were really your friend, a human being, sitting in the room there next to you?

    What it Agro could be controlled by a second player? Would that enrich the Shadow of the Colossus experience?”

  6. walkskull you are being highly presumptuous and kind of self loathing.

    I’m pretty sure there are either a whole lot more or a slight bit less (ie, 1) kinds of entertainment than “Japanese” and “American.” Growing up playing video games instead of racing model cars or reading 19th century russian novels doesn’t make you an arbiter of culture.

    You are essentially saying that Japan puts emotion into its works whereas The Rest of the World does not, which is essentially the most baffling statement the internet has ever shouted at me.

  7. You could say that in the world there is the blue color, and there is the red color. That doesn’t mean that there don´t exist millions of other tones. Along that sense I was going.

    Anyway, I don’t even pretend that I am a great writer, so perhaps you are right in your complain, negativedge. I always have worried if my excessive work as software engineer could deteriorate my others skills, and that perfectly could be the case.

    The point that I was making, is that some people, who tend to prefer Japanese style entertainment, may find this game boring. In my personal case, if I vaguely remind, these where the main reasons:

    – Game characters: uninteresting
    – Settings: ugly color palette, uncool prehistoric world. uncool using a bone as weapon. (I didn’t advanced more in the game)
    – Alchemy system: if I correctly remind, I found boring to random try formulas, to discover those that work. The context of mixing these materials, failed to engage on me.

    Now reading this review, perhaps I should have given the game a bit more of opportunity at the time.

    The conclusion of all this in this context, is that Japan and American are two big style categories into which games ascribe in different degrees. And that all time best games list , take a position in the degree in which it favor each of these two broad tendencies.
    And I would love to see a world statistics, of how each of the tendencies gauges regionally.

  8. Tim,

    Thank you for your gentle response. You’ve created quite an amazing forum here. You’ve got people discussing Japanese vs American sensibilities in a fairly civil manner that just might steer clear of name calling and flaming!

    I think it’s best to discuss these subjective things while being clear of your own preferences (or “biases” if you want to get emotional about it). I find it fascinating that I am incapable of feeling love for Evermore, inspite of your great review which very effectively outlines the best points of the game.

    negativedge,

    Walkskull seems to feel the same way, and it’s kind of strange to call him presumptuous or “self loathing” just because he’s an American that prefers something from another country. It’s not weird for people to say “the French make the best food” or “the German’s make the best cars”, so why give him a hard time when he says “I think Japanese games are tops!” ?

    No one is stating that “ONLY JAPANESE GAMES ARE MADE WITH LOVE”, so much as “since I was a child, I have really only felt love for Japanese games, not American ones–I wonder why?”.

    I think there are alot of people who feel this way (especially those from the 8 to 16bit console eras), and I think you’re really skirting a potentially interesting issue if the internet continues to write these people off as self loathing weeaboo japanophiles (I’m talking about forums in general, not this one).

    I felt inclined to chime in about this on this particular forum, because I know it’s one of the few that might actually want to start a discussion rather than an argument (not that we’re arguing here of course–don’t you just love how polite everyone here is?).

    CubaLibre,

    Shadow of the Colossus isn’t a good parallel to Evermore since Evermore was billed as a spiritual successor to Secret of Mana, a game that truly excelled because of its multiplayer gameplay.

    Also, upon further reflection, Shadow of the Colossus could still stir up emotion even if the horse were the second player. Can you imagine how shocking and sad it would be if you got to the last stage with your best bud and he is suddenly ripped away from the game?

    Hey, that’s not a bad idea! I should sell that idea to 2K Games!:

    Bioshock 2’s tough moral choice: DO YOU HARVEST THE SECOND PLAYER’S SLUG???

    walkskull,

    “I would love to see a world statistics, of how each of the tendencies gauges regionally.”

    I’m actually deep into a project just like that right now. I’ve been studying gamer habits and tastes in China vs America and Japan. I can’t give you the numbers, but I can tell you that people in Asia generally prefer the “Japanese” style, which I prefer to call the “Asian” style, since it’s really a good reflection of what Asian people naturally prefer in general.

    People here play World of Warcraft because it’s well distributed and fun, but according to my statistics they don’t actually like how it looks all that much. People prefer things like Monster Hunter, which is at least as popular in China as it is in Japan despite the PSP and Capcom both having no official presence here.

    I think Monster Hunter is a very fascinating example of a divide that is occurring in Western and Asian tastes. Monster Hunter does not have an obviously “Japanese/Anime” look to it, yet it appeals so deeply to people who prefer Japanese Things and has largely been ignored in the west though it has a very dedicated and hardcore following.

    Aren’t these things fascinating?

  9. Well, there is historically a schism between Japanese and Western (not American, mind) design in video games, yes, but walk seemed to be going a little broader than that, striking at some wider cultural expression that seemed rather naive. It’s ok to prefer Japanese games. I myself do. Or did. I’m not really sure anymore, but that has been my traditional background.

    Saying one has “heart” and the other doesn’t is something of a copout. It doesn’t say much. You’d get more out of saying western developers tend to stray towards mechanical expression, while the Japanese prefer an aesthetic expression of their ideals. But even that is highly simplified and near useless. In fact, tim’s review here isn’t hinting that Evermore is a great game because of its western design decisions. He’s essentially commenting on its modest sincerity; its humbling ideas and slight nuance in its approach to a well worn concept. Those ideas are, in fact, more Japanese than Western if you’d like to label them. My only experience with Evermore came playing a friend’s rented copy when it came out, so I can’t exactly say much for or against the games quality and motives myself, but it seemed fairly obvious to me that tim wrote this review more or less as a response to people that hate this game because it is America Does Japan. The things that make people like these games are there (apparently), they are just slightly more thought out and intuitive than normal. Which is good. I mean, if the argument is there is no “heart” because it doesn’t feature an anime aesthetic, then I don’t know what to say.

  10. “Shadow of the Colossus isn’t a good parallel to Evermore since Evermore was billed as a spiritual successor to Secret of Mana, a game that truly excelled because of its multiplayer gameplay.”

    True, but I think this brings us to an excellent point: most of the people that seem to hate Evermore seem to love Mana. I can’t help thinking that this is because they really wanted another Mana, and Evermore was certainly not it. I’ve always despaired at this sort of reasoning – I mean, Secret of Mana already exists: it’s called Secret of Mana, and you’ve already played it and loved it.

    I could see how those expectations would sour you on Evermore, but as a responsible adult you should be able to go back and give it the old college try, divorced from such expectations. I’d like to hear some more objective reasoning from you on why you consider Mana superior to Evermore.

    A lot of it has to do with the co-op, or lack thereof, as you say, but it seems pretty obvious to me that Evermore would simply be bizarre with co-op. This is a cue for that guy to sweep in with the statistic that the developers originally wanted to put in co-op but ended up cutting it to save on memory costs. That’s subsequently my cue to respond that I don’t really care, exactly, what the developers did or didn’t want in some abstract sense; I have played Evermore in its consciously non-co-op form, and found it delicious. If that isn’t “authorial intent” then I don’t care about authorial intent.

    I mean, your sidekick is a dog. You can love a dog, but it’s different from loving a person. It’s somewhere halfway between loving a horse and loving a power tool. A dog is a curious, self-unconscious operant who has some skills that you don’t and unwavering loyalty to you, if not to your commands, per se – if only because a dog is slightly too dumb to understand them all. Evermore evokes this spirit of compassionate dominance and reliance beautifully. All I’m saying is, if my best buddy who I play all my co-op games with, who acts as an absolutely equal (but not absolutely identical) part in a well-oiled two-man Raven Shield terrorist-slaughtering machine, was sitting next to me on my bed in my dorm room playing as my dog, well, I don’t know exactly how I would take that. At the very least, I would start thinking of Evermore as a whole lot less of an experience and a whole lot more of a videogame, which would be a pretty big loss, in my book.

  11. Cubalibre

    Thanks for your thoughts. Before I get into a direct response, I’d like to draw attention to your call for more objective reasoning. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect objectivity from a review, much less any discussion where people draw on their feelings. The things we are discussing are highly subjective, so even if we are citing facts, we are arranging those facts to suite our own agendas.

    If you meant you wanted “objective criticism” in the literary sense, then again, that’s not something I can give you. I really like the idea of objective criticism, that is, the meaning of a work should be derived from evidence from the work itself rather than outside information (such as biographical information on the author). But we’re not discussing the meaning behind the story of Evermore, we’re discussing how much we liked it. Tim’s review itself draws much of its power and meaning from presenting Evermore in its social context as an under appreciated game with better sense than most games of its time (and perhaps even now).

    I apologize if I sound like a snarky, mildly college educated douchebag. It would be silly of me to expect you to sift through every single word you use to make sure it’s the most correct and appropriate word possible. It’s just, that one word that bugs me: objectivity. It’s a great ideal for making logistical or even moral decisions, but in practice most people draw on their emotions first, then justify them with “objective” reasoning afterwards. Please know these comments about “objectivity” are not aimed at you so much as people in general.

    I think its best to just be clear with our biases, because that’s the most honest thing. That’s why I was trying to provide my own social context for why I liked Secret of Mana and hated Evermore. But in the interest of at least providing less “soft” reasoning like “love” and “heart”, I will try to explain why I have such strong disdain for Evermore citing evidence from the game and related materials (which is what you were asking for in the first place ha).

    Basically I just think the game is ugly as sin. Videogames are a visual medium, and for me, playing an ugly videogame is about as exciting as reading a poorly written book. My favorite writer is Nabokov. If you go by plot, his books are basically torrid romance novels. But it’s his masterful prose elevates his stories to great literature. His way with words, the particular descriptions he uses are just mind numbingly beautiful.

    I enjoy the visuals in videogames to a similar degree. I have always liked art since I was a child. I did it in my free time, as I got older I studied it in school, now I do it for a living. I love pictures, they speak to the core of who I am. A good picture is really worth a thousand words. You can instantly grasp the meaning and intent of a picture, but grasping the reasons why it works is not always so obvious.

    For instance, I love that our good pal Tim really appreciates Toriyama Akira’s artwork. Toriyama’s artwork is fun and immediately accessible, but it’s also full of depth. He’s a remarkable draftsmen. He’s able to draw things with a great sense of volume and line weight. He’s also really really really goddamn exceptional at breaking things down to their most iconic elements and rearranging them in imaginative, neat looking ways that are full of personality (which is why he was so particularly great for Dragon Quest in its original, limited 8-bit format). He makes so many subtle, sophisticated design decisions, and his execution is so idiosyncratic, so tied into his own unique abilities and experiences as an individual that his drawings are entirely pleasant and unique. The same can be said of most visual artists. In the natural course of trying to draw something, so much of your personality, your abilities and limits, comes out in your work.

    NOW TALKING ABOUT THE GAME (LOLz)

    I can’t enjoy Secret of Evermore, because its graphics are extremely off putting for me.

    I find the game ugly becuase it strikes me as a game made by people who are very lacking in their ability to convey visual information. Here is an example:

    http://www.rpgamer.com/games/other/snes/soe/art/soe-hero.jpg

    That is the hero of the game. I don’t want to be this guy, and I’m immediately turned off by this artist. The design is simple, uninspired and generic. But lets not talk about design, lets talk about something more substantial like the actual technique in the illustration.

    This is simply a very bad drawing. The character has no weight to his stance. His leftmost foot seems to be positioned on a different plane or perspective than his right. His face is exceptionally uneven, with his leftmost nostril INTERSECTING WITH HIS EYE while the right side is freestanding. His overall silhouette is very generic, by which I mean it’s a very generalized form made by someone who does not understand how the body is actually shaped or how clothes fall on a figure. It’s a bunch of straight lines with inconsistent line weight (that is modulation of line thickness to describe something either advancing or receding) that travel around an arbitrarily generalized form of a human without any precision.

    His pants don’t look like pants, and his hands don’t look human. I don’t expect him to be perfectly realistic, but I can tell you with full confidence that whoever drew this has never done a thorough study of fabric, hands, or the human figure. The fabric of the pants do not fold in any way resembling actual jeans, and his fingers are misshapen and all pointing in totally different positions, which is very unnatural and unintuitive for any normal human being to do.

    The artist attempts to hide these faults in the drawing with coloring, but the shading adds even more problems. For instance, look at the shadow immediately above the hand holding the bone. It’s much darker than other surrounding shadows, and also gradiated, which implies that it is receding a greater distance than it should and also emphasizes a non focal part of the illustration.

    Also, why does he have a hard shadow only on the upper right hand side of his face? It’s one of the only sharp shadows in the whole picture, and its very awkwardly positioned. Is his face just very sharply contoured in that one special area?

    Also, the way the highlights (that is, the brightest parts where the light is falling) are handled is very random. Highlights in real life occur on the most raised parts of an object, relative to the viewer. That’s not the case with this drawing, where highlights occur in many random, recessed areas especially on the pants and vest.

    And one more thing. He has no forehead. His eyebrows go right into his hairline.

    I could go on much longer, but I’m starting to feel like a bully. The reason I’m harping so much on this drawing is because this is the official concept art for the main character for this game. Someone was paid to draw this. Someone that can’t even describe what pants look like. If I were reading a book and the author somehow actively failed to describe what jeans are like, that would really pull me out of the story. The same goes for the designs for Secret of Evermore. The same care and expertise that went into this illustration are reflected in the graphics of the game itself.

    The overall look of the game is muddy. It would be nice if it were an intentional muddiness which described the dull horror of living in a small town in the middle of nowhere. But the game remains muddy, even when you escape into fantasy worlds created as a countermeasure to the boring mundane world you start in.

    The actual reason the game looks muddy is because almost everything is shaded towards black. This is pretty much the most primitive form of shading where if you want to make something look darker, you add black to the color. The pixellers just didn’t have a very sophisticated concept of color theory, where shadows can actually take on different hues, as they do in life.

    The result is a game with a very primitive color palette, where everything is the literal, local color, with no regards to ambient light and all shaded towards black, which reduces the overall chromatic value of each setting, making all of them look dingy.

    http://www.rpgamer.com/games/other/snes/soe/screens/soemrkt.jpg

    What’s worse is the coloring is rather busy and high contrast (in an attempt to add detail to cover up a faulty framework), which makes it more difficult to distinguish characters from the backdrop. All this detail and contrast also makes the tiling elements in the backdrops very intrusive.

    Aside from the execution, there’s just very little actual design in the stages. For instance, the mechanical stages tend to be a collection of boxes and tubes with gradiated shadows:

    http://www.rpgamer.com/games/other/snes/soe/screens/soe004.jpg

    There’s a little bit of flair here and there like the statues in front of the theater:

    http://www.rpgamer.com/games/other/snes/soe/screens/soe003.jpg

    But even those are a simple copy of an Emmy Award. Not very far reaching or creative in its inspiration or execution.

    http://www.heroestheseries.com/stills/emmy-statue.jpg

    Designs for the sprites are similarly generic.

    http://www.rpgclassics.com/shrines/snes/soe/enemies.shtml

    The dragons are the same tired old dragons you’ve seen in countless fantasy illustrations.

    http://www.rpgclassics.com/shrines/snes/soe/images/enemies/sterling.gif

    And it’s not like they are referencing the tradition of generic dragons to give me some new insight on a classic design, so much as they simply didn’t have the imagination to draw the dragon any different way. The only unique thing about it is that its wings are inexplicably sprouting from its neck, which coupled with its poor execution gives it the sense of being wrong and arbitrary, rather than a bold design decision.

    All the characters just look very stiff and square too. Look at this guy:

    http://www.rpgclassics.com/shrines/snes/soe/images/enemies/son_of_anhur.gif

    He’s running, but his shoulders are completely square and unnatural looking. It seems to me that whoever drew this sprite did not know how to draw a run cycle, so they just drew the guy very plainly standing with his hand at his side, then pumped his legs.

    I could go on and on about things that are lacking in every sprite, but there’s an even greater problem. The game lacks a coherent esthetic. Each sprite looks like it was done by a different person in a different style. Some enemies are realistically proportioned, others more Super Deformed, but there’s no coherence or reasoning behind it. The only consistent thing about the sprites is that they project no personality beyond being angry and wanting to hurt you.

    Some of the sprites are particularly bad and unreadable:

    http://www.rpgclassics.com/shrines/snes/soe/images/enemies/mad_monk.gif

    What is that? Or this guy:

    http://www.rpgclassics.com/shrines/snes/soe/images/enemies/metal_mosquito.gif

    It takes a while to even begin to register what those sprites represent. I have a hard time figuring out where individual body parts, including the head, are supposed to be. That’s just bad design and execution.

    I don’t want to go on too much longer and just make this sound like a list of knitpicks. It’s not these specific things that ruin the game for me so much as their overall cumulation and the lack of consideration and ability in the art direction and execution they reflect.

    Also, I have to note that it’s exceedingly difficult for me to put words to how I feel about pictures. Pictures can be felt instantaneously. That’s how they have value beyond words. I don’t approach visuals with a checklist, I feel them out first, then my conscious recognition of why they work comes later (emotion first, reasoning second).

    I apologize for the negative tone that this post has taken.

    I’m not intending to change anyone’s mind about this game, and I think it’s fine if you enjoy it. My intention is to provide a window into the mind of a dissenting viewer with values that are of course, not universally felt. But hopefully, through the wonder of language and the internet, I can close the gap between us just a little bit. Or at least explain why the gap is there.

    Thanks for reading if you got this far!

  12. So I am to be dismissed as “that guy,” eh? Whence this passive aggressiveness?

    You keep emphasizing how “self-evidently bizarre” it would be for there to be multiplayer without perhaps realizing that other people don’t find it self-evident. “DOGS AREN’T HUMANS!” doesn’t strike me as a very compelling argument. Okay, granted–but so what? I can still control the dog, can’t I? So in those sections is the boy using TELEPATHIC MIND RAYS to make the dog do EXACTLY what he tells it to? Or in those instance is the BOY the unwaveringly loyal yet dumb one? If the dog were not a controllable character, I would have to concede the point, but he IS. If you don’t want to play co-op because you’ve worked out this elaborate–if apparently not very explicable to others–human>dog hierarchy in your head, fine, but it seems like a pretty strained ex post facto rationalization to me.

    YOU may not know how you would take the idea of your friend playing as the dog, but, as I believe I’ve noted before, I DO: it felt…pretty much the same. It utterly failed to raise troubling theoretical issues of collapsing interspecies hierarchies and blahdy blahdy heckin’ blah. It was just a good time, sharing the fun parts and laughing at the goofy parts. Does this data point not perhaps suggest that your personal experience is not absolute objective reality? I mean, I can be as guilty of the odd solipsism as anyone, but REALLY now…

  13. Geo: no passive aggressiveness, just too lazy to look up your name.

    It just seems to me that Evermore expends a lot of effort making your dog act like, you know, a dog. (This aspect is the thing I’m most looking forward to from Fable 2, I’ll have you know.) It also seems to me that there’s nothing at all elaborate about a human>dog hierarchy; it’s an iconic archetype of literature through the ages. In fact, it’s the game’s considered reflection of this idea that so redounds with the humble common sense that’s the major talking point of Tim’s review.

    Again I put the question to you: would Shadow of the Colossus be improved if a second player could control Agro? Hell, would Half-Life 2 be improved if a second player could control Alyx? These characters represent objects in the stream of narrative that are decidedly NOT the player, reflexive though they may be. And though you have a point about the player being able to control the dog, I think it’s important that the player controls the dog himself (so that the dog becomes the player); it’s a shift in perspective rather than a conflict of perspectives. Speaking of which, a game about being a dog might be a damn interesting thing, just like SimAnt was a damn interesting thing.

    But anyway, I never said Evermore would disintegrate if a friend controlled the dog; I only said, “At the very least, I would start thinking of Evermore as a whole lot less of an experience and a whole lot more of a videogame,” which is exactly what you say: “It was just a good time, sharing the fun parts and laughing at the goofy parts.” There’s nothing bad about that; it’s just not as good as what’s presented.

    nobinobita: wow. Forgive me if my response isn’t as complete as yours, though I have a reason: I agree with you about the art.

    Now I see where you were coming from. You didn’t want another Mana, you wanted another beautiful game, and Evermore certainly wasn’t it. For that, I simply can’t fault you. There’s no question that games are aesthetic objects, and predominantly visual ones, and that an appealing visual language is vital to a great game. There’s also no question that western game design was, until very recently, very much a mechanics first, art second (or sixty-seventh) affair. And if Evermore is anything, it’s very western (another one of Tim’s main talking points).

    But I ask if you can look beyond its offhanded ugliness to the considerate and humble mechanics beneath. Truly Evermore was doing things far more interesting (if far less pretty) than Mana ever aspired to. If you can’t, again, I can’t fault you in the least. But that’s why this game is on this list, and deserves its place, I think.

  14. After all reading this review and this discussion I think I will give the game another chance. I’m sure I can find a used copy of it somewhere.

    When I was looking up screens of the game to refresh my memory it wasn’t actually quite as bad as I remembered. Or at least, relative to how aggressively unpleasant alot of games are today, Evermore seems pretty tame.

    And if the dog mechanic really does play out that well, then well, that does sound pretty awesome.

    Hehe, I think I just went a little bit off the deep end on the visuals because it’s not often that I get to discuss the very particulars of game visuals in any great detail outside of my talks with other artists, and I wanted to see if I could convey my thoughts to someone who might be outside of that industry (though for all I know alot of you dudes and dudettes posting here could be artists–or at least, people who think about this stuff all the time too).

    Well, thanks for giving me a listen and not immediately calling me shallow for prioritizing graphics and art direction!

    Thanks for the conversation!

  15. There seems to be quite a bit of dislike for America “does” Japan(not here), i find it quite strange considering it being Hank Rodgers introducing the RPG to the Japanese market.

  16. panther,

    What makes you bring up the observation that there are many people who dislike “America does Japan”? How often do you come across people with that sort of mindset? Do you think it’s common for people to feel compelled to “choose a side” between Western and Eastern games (or cartoons, or food, or things in general)?

    I know you’re not directly stating this yourself, but there seems to be the mindset that if you hate Evermore, it’s because you only like Japanese things. It’s an unfair association.

    I get the feeling that alot of people of my generation grew up liking all these great 8bit and 16bit games and cartoons that just happened to be from Japan. Their initial love for these things had nothing to do with a bias for Japan, just a basic recognition of appeal. These Japanese products offered them something that they didn’t find as much of in their own country. Some grew older and started noticing a pattern, that they liked Japanese Things, even preferred them.

    For most people, this was something that was easy to live with. Preferring Japanese games or comics or whatever is not much different than preferring Italian food or German Cars.

    But for some less fortunate people, this preference has turned into a source of guilt. They are told (or tell themselves), “you like Japan? Why? You some kind of weeaboo? Do you hate yourself?”

    I get the feeling that nowadays it’s looked down upon to prefer things from Japan. At the same time, it’s great to love America.

    For instance, I went to art school in the US. I studied Animation. I’ve transfered between quite a few schools including the Corcoran, the Pratt Institute and the Savannah College of Art and Design, all well regarded educational institutes. At each school, the faculty greatly looked down upon Japanese art, but exalted American art (of course there were exceptions to the rule–but that was still the rule).

    If you liked Anime, you were misguided and unsophisticated. They would say you were narrow minded and limited in your abilities. If you liked Disney, you were on the right track. Even if all you could do was draw “disney style” you were not considered limited, you were considered a success. I had teachers that would often say things like “no one in Japan can draw a good figure” and they would see nothing wrong or *gasp* racist with that statement.

    I was able to make it through just fine because I understood that each teacher had a set of expectations that you just had to work with if you want to make it. But I saw many other kids have their dreams crushed, who got bullied into liking things that they didn’t naturally enjoy all in the name of being “educated” and “open minded”.

    Perhaps my example is a bit dramatic, but I don’t think it’s specific to my industry, so much as to nerd culture in general. If I talk to the average person who just plays games or reads comics casually, they don’t care what country their entertainment comes from, they just want to have a good time. But if I talk to people with a greater personal stake in said hobbies, they are far more likely to be sensitive to the country of origin of what they are enjoying.

    It’s kind of stupid that if I tell someone I like Japanese cartoons, I also have to tell them that I’m a well rounded person that enjoys Pixar and classic Disney and Paul Grimault and even actual books with words and hard covers. It’s pretty silly that if I say “I didn’t like Secret of Evermore” I have to say “but I do enjoy American games such as Call of Duty 4 and classic PC RPGs such as Eye of the Beholder.”

    I guess, what I’m trying to say is that there is something in nerd cultures, particularly American nerd culture, some sort of seed of self doubt and insecurity that compels nerds to tear down something they used to love to build up the love of something new and more acceptable.

    American nerds are like little phoenixes, as their interests in things wane or are wounded, they dramatically cast themselves into a great fire to burn away the pain of life and rise anew. But unlike the great Phoenix of myth, nerds bear scars of their past lives.

    It’s great to go back and question things, but it’s not so healthy when the great motivating factors are fear and prestige. At the end of the day games (or whatever hobby you have) should be more about personal fulfillment rather than advancing your social standing.

  17. nobinobita: Its just somthing i find interesting to raise especialy considering the two games(i must point out i have played neither). Iam talking pretty much out my arse here, but my opinion is the Japanese are less receptive to games that try to appeal to the Japanese market than games that just be themselves. I know crash bandicoot was given a makeover, but was that at all neccecary? Was Heavanly Sword an epic fail over there? What about WipeOut, an anglo-european-japanese hybrid?

    I belive there will always be a sizeble nerd culture in the west for everything Japanese. Indeed i used to play games in japanese out of force, when Grand Turismo2 came out for example. Yet some how translating the car names into english actually added to the authenticity. I remember being so tempted to just importing Final Fantasy 9 but resisted…There were others. Sonic Adventure, and many more for the Dreamcast. That was the first time i realized sonic was pronounced soniccaa! Games from Japan felt fresh and technilogicaly advanced, now iam thinking about joining the Volk school to learn Japanese so i can play this stuff as it was intended.

    Regarding your art school training, i also went to art school but studied Digital 3D Design, in England. And yes its pretty much the same over here. Any type of manga/anime work is pretty much dissregarded as an insanely stupid idea. The difference being that Disney style is also pretty much dissregarded, indeed video games themselves were seen negativley.

  18. Panther,

    It’s unfortunate that the school’s in England also have that sort of bias. At the same time it’s just life, people have their preferences and you have to work with them.

    From what I’ve heard, alot of art schools in england just don’t like commercial animation at all–is this true? It’s just something I’ve heard from various Richard William’s interviews and also I had two British professors at SCAD who were experts at more experimental animation–though I also must add, they were pretty cool with Anime and animation from anywhere really.

    Re: Japanese prefer Japanese things, I think people anywhere tend to deal better with things targeted at them. At the same time, it’s not so cut and dry as that. I grew up in Asia enjoying things from all over the world. So did most of the other kids around me. We mostly enjoyed Japanese Things yes, but we also enjoyed lots of American and European cartoons (Tin Tin and Asterix are awesome–hell I even used to read Nemesis the Warlock and the ABC Warriors and other 2000AD comics, some of the best stuff out there if you ask me!).

    Though Japan may be the leader in Asian pop culture, people in Asia still have pretty good access and appreciation for media from all over the world. For instance, years ago in Thailand, I picked up 2 movies by Paul Grimault, an all time great French animator whose work is almost impossible to find in the US.

    Re: the games that you mentioned, I liked up some of the sales figures on vgchartz.com (a very useful site). Heavenly Blade sold a modestly successful 60k in Japan, which is alot more than I thought it would have sold.

    Gears of War sold 80k in Japan, significantly more than Heavenly Blade even though it’s a very western looking game on an unpopular console. I think part of this, aside from the fact that Gears of War is just a better game is that it’s more aesthetically competent than Heavenly Blade. Gears of War is very successfully gritty and macho and awesome looking. Don’t forget that people in Japan also like things like Contra and Fist of the North Star and Berserk and WarHammer.

    As for Wipeout, I can’t find the sales figure, but my guess would be that it did alright in Japan. The game has such a strong aesthetic that I think it’d be appreciated anywhere.

  19. yes indeed tutors are very receptive to an experimental, conceptual style of work, this suits students that lack the technical skills such as drawing ability but still have good ideas. Design philosophy is firmly the focus, i`ve seen guys get marks in the high 90s just using primitives and basic animation. Conversely you can be the most bad-ass drawer and have great Maya skills and get away with a 40% pass. One of the most common phrases the professors would say is, “this work is masturbatory” or “are you sure your not masturbating here?”

    Indeed i think this is true for advertising but with games and entertainment arguably our biggest employer, the graduate i`snt the one creating the ideas(unless there a concept artist) realization of concept to finished product is what counts.

    Yet you could not go to my uni, spend the whole time drawing and painting in Photoshop, creating concept art. It had to be 3D and animated. Indeed my professor told me not to do life drawing classes and focus on my dissertation instead?? Alas i ignored him and got a pretty crappy mark.(but some good drawing skills)

  20. i wrote before while at work so couldn’t manage to think and get round to all your points,

    “From what I’ve heard, alot of art schools in england just don’t like commercial animation at all–is this true?”

    I wouldnt say they “dislike” commercial animation. They “prefer” and encourage experimental. Having said that, prehaphs its through many years of conditioning, In my opinion a British guy sitting there drawing pure Japanese Anime is a joke, we had a few like this and these were always the ones that sucked the hardest in every respect. Pure generic “how-to-draw-anime” bull-crap.

    If a student has an interest in Japanese animation though it wouldn’t be thrown out, instead the professors would guide you towards “culturally relevant” originality. For example, focus on the mythology, focus on the woodblock process yet embrace European perspective and figure, That sort of thing.

    I can think of a game like Eternal Sonata that sort of did this in inverse, games like Vagrant Story, WipeOut and Silent Hill have this hybrid quality that exudes originality and awesomeness.

    The problem with all this reasoning is there would never be enough time to get it done, i could be wrong here but the US seems to have this attitude of “get it done” and “get it done looking awesome” in the UK theres a lot of hecking around, thus the simple, effective executions fare best.

    In France there seems to be a great film making mentality, think of a simple story, work hard, and make it breathe. Where as here its think of an idea and see where it takes you. Its risky, If the idea sucks your hecked basically. This is just from my experience at the UCCA, other schools might have different mentality, with a background of computing rather than art for example.

    that was quite an off topic ramble, but anyway interesting and i appreciate the statistic hunting, Heavenly Sword did better than i expected and WipeOut is indeed born awesome, that game is like a sport.

    Oh and Tin-Tin cant forget about that dude

  21. I found Secret of Evermore at a store on Saturday for $20, and I went ahead and bought it. This was possibly only the second time I’ve bought a game based on a review (the first that I can remember being Bangai-O Spirits).

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