Secret of Evermore was the first (and only) project of Squaresoft's "Square USA" branch. You might think they simply overhauled the Secret of Mana engine, but apparently the game was actually constructed from scratch by the American team, simply using Mana's battle engine and "ring menus" as a rough guideline and inspiration. It garnered something of a following when released, but never really seemed to reach the levels of popularity and critical regard that Mana did, and a lot of people expressed hostility toward it believing that it pre-empted the translation of the much desired Seiken Densetsu 3 (which turned out to not at all be true).

I think the primary reason for Secret of Evermore's relative lack of popularity is that the first area of the game, Prehistoria, kind of sucks. The game gets quite a bit better after that point, but you've got a few solid hours of relative tedium to plod through to get there. Prehistoria is a bit dank and boring in it's graphical and level design, but the main issue with the game is that the battle system is a bit flaky, and this is at it's worst early on where you have a limited amount of weak weapons and very few spells to work with. I get the feeling this caused a lot of people, especially those renting it first to try it out, to quit the game before giving it a fair shake.

The battle system is very similar to Secret of Mana - you have a meter that charges from 0 to 100 every time you take a swing, and if you swing before it hits 100 you perform a significantly weaker attack than normal. You also can switch between multiple types of weapons, and you have spells in the form of "alchemy". Spells are handled similarly to Mana, with the same "ring menu", but in this one you have ingredients that are consumed each time a spell is cast (these are found lying around in various areas and can also be purchased). Both spells and weapons upgrade in strength as you use them, just as they do in Mana.

The problem with the battle system is that there's simply too much running around. While charging your attack, you of necessity have to play keep-away from the enemies. However, unlike in the Mana games, the enemies fight you in a similar way, constantly running away and keeping at a distance until they are ready to strike you. So you tend to end up running around in clunky Benny Hill style trying to hit each other without getting countered. Add in the fact that, especially early in the game, your attacks tend to miss a lot, and that your computer AI partner likes to walk right in to danger (there's no two-player mode for this game, though there's a rom hack linked below that adds it), and the fact that the hit detection on weapon swings can be really finicky and precise, and what you end up with is a lot of tedious drawn-out fighting where it's hard to accurately land a hit and you have to chase enemies around constantly to do so.

As mentioned, this is at it's worst in the opening area Prehistoria, but there are three other "worlds" in the game that you move on to, and each of these is vastly more colorful and interesting. If you can be patient and sludge through the opening four hours or so (which isn't really horrible, just sometimes boring and frustrating), you'll be rewarded with a game that's often clever and inventive, and has a lot that's worth seeing (and a lot of little hidden bonuses).

The graphics are, on the whole, pretty nice, especially some large and impressive boss battles. They have a tighter resolution and greater depth and range of color than Secret of Mana, looking more akin to follow-up Seiken 3. The music is also really good - it was composed by Jeremy Soule, who has done a lot of video game work, and his soundtrack here has a haunting and ambient quality that is very different from the usual Japan-based console fare.

One final thing to mention is that of the programmers, who goes by the handle "ItsBillsFault", has been popping in to the GameFAQs board for this game over the last few years (which is where a lot of this information came from). So if you have a technical question pop on over there and he may show up to answer it, but check the link below of his archived posts first to see if it's been asked already.

As far as a recommendation on the game? Yeah, I'd give it one. I think the battle system is weaker than any of the Mana games, and it frequently annoys me, as well as the over-complicated mazes in some of the dungeons, but on the whole there is a lot to like about this game and it's worth at least one run to see. It has a good sense of humor, there's no Engrish as it was actually written by roundeyes, it has some graphically pretty areas, the soundtrack is really good, and overall it's mostly pretty fun.

Links :

* Two player patch
* "ItsBillsFault" post archive

Videos :

Gameplay Video
* U.S. commercial