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Secret of Evermore is not my favorite video game. That honor belongs to EarthBound. Nevertheless, Evermore surpasses EarthBound in what the latter executed so famously – namely, a shrewd glimpse into American culture. If EarthBound is a JRPG which happens to focus on “Eagleland,” then Evermore is, more simply, a USRPG.
We start in Podunk, where a boy and his dog are teleported to a world called Evermore. The hero wants nothing more than to find his way home, a task which happens to require that he overthrow a robotic butler named Carltron. Don’t laugh if the plot sounds similar to The Wizard of Oz – just as Oz is the only American fable to plumb human consciousness as powerfully as Andersen or Grimm, this RPG is the purest stateside showcase for Squaresoft’s 90’s prowess.
The game is as American as baseball. It thrives on the charming dissonance between Podunk and Evermore, the latter buttressed by a swashbuckling mythology which, back in Everytown, can only appear in theaters and dime novels. It is this same All-American idyll, however, which pulls the homesick hero through an alien world – an individualistic quest which, besides abandoning the standard fare of prophecies and Chosen Ones, throws an enchantingly open-ended spotlight on the nuances of the American Dream.
To that end, the discord between home-spun fantasy and mechanized utopia begs to be revisited in multiple play-throughs. Just as Evermore is threatened by a warped utilitarian object in the form of Carltron, our hero watches his dog transform into a literal capitalistic commodity in the form of a toaster. The suburban dragonslayer is thus pitted against a familiar B-movie monster – not the mere incarnation of drive-in abominations, but rather, the Frankensteinian imposition of industry on small-town modesty. His foray into Evermore is as quintessentially American as George Bailey’s God-sent nightmare – an implicitly patriotic dissection of a garden-variety bumpkin, if only for the number of dominoes that his middle-class incentive sets before him.
Delightfully, Evermore invites players to grapple with its themes of individualism and home-town loyalty. With an alchemy system relying on ingredient-based spells, the protagonist can navigate this fish-out-of-water myth with a customizable strategy of commerce and management. If not regarded as a flawless mechanic today, this system at least reformats “magic” as an emblem of self-made gaming success. So, too, the game's aesthetics are inimitable; eschewing the shrunken symbolism of most JRPG environs, Evermore’s graphics sport the necessary grandeur in a world all too large for an American everyman. The soundtrack favors life-like ambiance, and in turn, widens the gulf between humble roots and an unforgiving wilderness.
Ignore comparisons with the Mana franchise. Evermore is a rare slice of RPG apple pie, and a must-play for any SNES aficionado.
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