1995 was a great time for the Super Nintendo, but it was also a strange time for the Super Nintendo. It was the year that the 16-bit juggernaut would see many of its most memorable releases: Chrono Trigger, Terranigma, Earthbound, Diddy’s Kong Quest, to name a few. But apart from the sequel to Donkey Kong Country, a lot of the excellent games that came out at this point in time were not worldwide releases. Some regions had to wait much much MUCH longer for 1995's line-up to come out, while some regions never even saw these games officially. But there are two particular releases that stood out the most to me -Seiken Densetsu 3, and Secret of Evermore.
The Seiken Densetsu series is one of Square’s most distinguishable franchises. And the release of Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 2) really helped raise awareness of the series. Originally released in 1993, and then 1994 in PAL regions, Secret of Mana excited and enticed with its graphics, storytelling, gameplay, and ahead-of-its-time music from Hiroki Kikuta. So with a game that garnished such attention, it would make sense for Square to release a sequel worldwide, right?
Only Japan got the sequel, Seiken Densetsu 3. This is because of two reasons. Cost, and technical issues. The cost to localize a game like Seiken Densetsu 3 would have been high. And for that kind of money, it was simply easier to work on games for (at the time) next-generation systems. In many ways, Seiken Densetsu 3 was a much bigger game than Secret of Mana. You could assemble a team of three from any combination of six heroes, and depending on who you chose first, the story near the end would branch off into a specific direction. And you know how Dragon Age: Origins had those origin stories at the beginning of the game for each class and race? Well since Seiken Densetsu 3 had six heroes, there were six different origin stories to go through before the game began proper. Not only did this game push storytelling to the limit, but all the visuals were pushed to the limit. Although Square was hesitant to translate Seiken Densetsu 3, we still got an English fan translation of the game, thanks to the efforts of Neill Corlett.
And while Japan got Seiken Densetsu 3, North America and the PAL region got Secret of Evermore. But I should preface, Secret of Evermore was not developed or released just as a substitute for Seiken Densetsu 3. Secret of Evermore was built from the ground up with new (at the time) developers. It was pure coincidence that in one year, one-third of the world got Seiken Densetsu 3, while the remaining two-thirds got Secret of Evermore.
Secret of Evermore was never intended to be a direct, or spiritual sequel to Secret of Mana, nor was it ever meant to be part of the Mana series. But Secret of Evermore did borrow a lot from Secret of Mana. The gameplay, the ring menu, upgradable weapons, just to name a few. What truly separated this from the Mana series was you were limited to one ally, your dog. The aesthetics fit more in line with the American sci-fi “B” movie genre. Alchemy was essential to your survival as opposed to magic. And instead of Hiroki Kikuta composing the music, we got Jeremy Soule (famous for his work on the Elder Scrolls and Guild Wars games) in his very first video game, which he achieved before he turned 20.
Two “secrets” per se. Released in the same year. Is one worth more than the other? Are they both amazing? Are they both not worth any investment at all? While the gameplay to both is similar to Secret of Mana, the experience is definitely unique in comparison. Thanks in part to the branching storylines, and the multiple main antagonists you could encounter, Seiken Densetsu 3 offers replay value that couldn’t be possible on the more linear Secret of Mana, and Secret of Evermore. Hiroki Kikuta’s soundtrack is a lot more experimental here than it was in Secret of Mana. Whether it’s better or worse is up to the listener. But the moods reflected in the entire soundtrack will range from happy-go-lucky to hopeful to adventures to dark and foreboding to you’re-going-to-die and all the way back again. It’s an incredible role playing experience that allows you some freedom in how the story is approached. And unless you want to find the fan translation yourself, or unless you live in Japan, your best bet is importing the game. Regardless of how you approach acquiring this game, it’s definitely worth it.
As for Secret of Evermore, while not quite as exciting as Seiken Densetsu 3, it’s still a fascinating, North American attempt at a Square style video game. Big boss battles, I mean….literally.
(And this is just the first boss, folks)
Not to mention the way the different time periods are represented, and the mystery behind the travel between the realms. If this sounds like Chrono Trigger, it’s not. What separates Secret of Evermore from Chrono Trigger is that the time traveling is more frequent, and essential to changing the course of specific events. Whereas Secret of Evermore is more about escaping the foreign time periods without necessarily worrying about affecting the past or future. It’s also fascinating to hear what a very young Jeremy Soule was capable of producing back in the day, with the limitations of Super Nintendo hardware.
So in the end, I would gravitate more towards Seiken Densetsu 3. But, that doesn’t mean Secret of Evermore should be overlooked or dismissed. Both are definitely worth the investment if you can find them and/or import them.
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