I. Am a gamer. But I’m not much of one.
I don’t play in a Diamond League.
I don’t play tournaments.
I don’t play competitions.
But that’s all right, because that’s some high level play. Very few people actually play video games at that level.
I don’t play competitively.
I don’t play that many games at all.
However, even the most infrequent of gamers can share something with many of the most intense and dedicated: enjoyment. In similar fashion to any given speed runner or Pro Tour player, just like frequent gamers with giant libraries, even in the same vein as other fans with a short stack of their favorites on hand, we all play games because we like them. Sometimes the fuel to the spark is quality of game. Sometimes they come with hooks that just get right in you and hang on with effects, graphics, or scintillating plot. Sometimes the driving force is nostalgia. And sometimes it’s everything.
Secret of Evermore is a Super Nintendo action RPG by Squaresoft – pre the fall of Square, pre SquareEnix. It is a kind of a spiritual successor to Secret of Mana, one of my all time favorite games. In Secret of Evermore you control a boy and his dog who are accidentally transported to an alternate existence comprised of realms based on science fiction and fantasy tropes with subtle twists on them. For instance, the first area of the game is a prehistoric setting but the people’s benevolent ruler is a geeky 12 year old girl from the modern era who protects the people from besiegement by giant insects and sentient viper lizard men. Other environments include a medieval castle town and a space station in classic 50s future fashion.
I’m sure I’m selling the game short, but I know I could never hope to do it justice. The gameplay is solid. The plot is compelling. And crucially, the graphics and music both are some of the most beautiful to come out of the SNES. As a visual person, the graphics are important to me, because a plot may or may not be excellently structured but with visual mediums, it’s gotta be pretty or I’ll bounce.
The protagonist of this game is not silent, as so many can be nowadays. The boy frequently relates his situation back to his dominant area of expertise which is cheesy Science Fiction movies. This is also used as a firm nudge against the fourth wall, but tastefully so. Upon further consideration, it is ultimately positive toward immersion because the player need not wonder “How could he possibly be coping with being mysteriously transported to such a strange land?” In a sense, he’s probably prepared his whole life for just such a thing. If you really needed to, you could extend that to explain building stats in the various weapon types in the game. He has an idea of what to do with them, but with usage, he becomes more effective. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
The 16-bit era still finds a place in the hearts of gamers old and new, the latter being exposed to new creations by the previous generation as they grow from consumers to creators and bring the aesthetic they grew up with into the new age for new audiences to experience and fall in love with. Somehow, the couple dozens of pixels comprising avatars and adversaries hold up better than the few dozen polygons which comprised early 3-D entities we’ve encountered as games have evolved. Some of us will continue to love the sprites of Secret of Evermore and Final Fantasy VI even long after we’ve decided that the most advanced Masters Chief and the finest soldiers Called to Duty have outlived their timeliness on our dinky 1080p screens. There’s a lot to be said for working within constraints posed by video game hardware, but that’s probably an entirely other think-piece unto itself.
I don’t remember what life was like at the time I played Secret of Evermore. I can’t imagine there was much for me to be escaping as a young pre-teen, but not having to dodge the slings and arrows of reality did not prohibit a loss of ones self into a gripping, novel fantasy world with a main character who was just as entertained to be in the situation he was in as the player was. Many tens of hours were spent in Evermore across several play throughs, and much was learned about exploration, the necessity of frequent game saving, and the nuisance of grinding to power up weapons and abilities enough to face impressive boss monsters.
I found myself sorting through my games now, eleven years later, and happened upon the game, and slotted it into that same dusty control deck to see if everything still worked as it should. My surprise should probably not come as one. But I did react with surprise that booting Secret of Evermore up could cause the same familiar experience to start happening all over again. Maybe I’ll just make a character to see if the battery is still in order. Oh, I remember this introduction. And now I’m walking back through the same starting jungle, and recalling the attack patterns of the animated plants, and how to dodge them, and when to strike. And then I remember how to not trigger the first mini boss so I could back track through the jungle to keep powering up my weapon expertise so I’d be ready for the encounter. I even enjoyed the simple menu structure in this game.
And then… well, I’m already on my way to the next main area, an hour has passed in the blink of an eye, and hopefully my dog companion will find me enough wax and oil along the way so I can fireball the hell out of that horrible first boss.
And I’m in. Just like that. The characters are old and familiar, and they don’t have anything new to say, but it’s nice to see them again, and I wonder how far I’ll go until I get distracted and put the game aside in favor of something else, or, perish the thought, some new responsibility life has seen to saddle me with. Or maybe I’ll go all the way once more.
It’s hard to say. But it’s easy to know that this was not a bad way to spend a Friday afternoon.