My uncle smuggled Secret of Evermore to Taiwan in 1995, as a Christmas gift to me and my sister. It was the first American game I’d ever played. It also turned out to be the only game Squaresoft’s American studio ever designed. I was nine years old, illiterate in English, and depended on my sister to translate everything.
The mood was not lost to me, though. It’s the cheekiest game among Square’s hyper-earnest canon. The tropes were classic American sci-fi – time travel, new age colonies, utopian universes gone awry – and the whole game smelled of a musty Californian hobby shop. You start in a American suburb called Podunk (yes), and end up, through a machine, in four utopian worlds your geeky neighbors dreamed up.
The game got so many things right:
1. The moody sountrack
“Secret of Evermore” was composer Jeremy Soule’s first major project. He later made music for “Harry Potter” and “Elder Scrolls.”
…who eventually evolves into a robot toaster.
3. This creepy first boss.
The game’s stylized grimness had all the hallmarks of the 90’s alternative comics, like a Tim Burton movie or a Garbage Pail Kid come alive.
Swamp beasts straight out of MTV cartoon’s hellhole imagination.
4. The script felt like it was written by a college film major who listened to a lot of Pavement.
Wry, meta, a ton of fun, even a bit overbearing. I’m glad Squaresoft America went all out on its only project.
5. The slacker hero quoted movies that don’t even exist.
Only a gum-stained Jansport is more 90’s than that.
6. The hero starts off pathologically addicted to pop cultural references, but he gradually lets go of that.
Whatever this game was trying to say about us, it was probably right.
8. You could make witchy spells from the ingredients you find.
Your dog sniffs for bits of oil, bones, and brimstone. You pick them up to make potions and summon Enya, or something.
9. This was the best city to get lost in. You learned how to barter and bargain.
The market felt alive, lived in, messy. It’s probably the most vibrant city created in any video game.
10. This skeleton gondola scam.
Don’t give him the amulet. Don’t.
The game was rife with people trying to scam you, give you an unfavorable exchange rate on your money, offering you bad trades.
11. The Moogle from Final Fantasy came to watch you die in a coliseum.
12. And Cecil from FFIV sold you armor at a steep mark-up.
13. Most of all, it allowed you to stumble through history and time…
Tripping from one era to the next…
…to find that scientists, librarians, girl-geniuses and beautiful weirdos finally ran the world you lived in.
The dream of the 90’s is still alive in Secret of Evermore.