I hesitate to call a GameCube game “retro.” I’m used to reserving the label for games I played during my childhood, but thinking on it, I’ve never known there to be a set “age” that a game must be. However, with the Wii U’s release date coming closer and closer, the GameCube will be two generations old, and that’s good enough for me.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem was the first video game published directly by Nintendo to receive the “M For Mature” rating. Seeing this, I immediately sought it out. There wasn’t a long, complicated journey involved like with my last retro review, because I bought it in 2002, the year it was released, on sale for $20. To say that this psychological horror game surprised me would be a Hell of an understatement.
A Game That Plays You As Much As You Play It
Eternal Darkness is very unique. In a time where Resident Evil games forced you to point your characters in different directions, you’ll have full analog control of your characters in this game. Featuring a dynamic camera, you get a third-person view of monstrous horrors that relentlessly chase after you. Pivotal to the game is the many different characters you take control of, each from different periods of history. As you relive their experiences, the controls change to accurately reflect whoever they are. For example, the slender young doctor from WWI moves much faster than the overweight colonial plantation owner, and younger, more fit characters can run for longer without getting tired, and have more strength and health with which to battle their enemies.
Speaking of which, the monsters that you fight are more of the Silent Hill variety, rather than Resident Evil. Although there are several zombies regardless of whom you control and during what time period, they’re the least of your worries (so long as you don’t let them surround you). Demons and giants that defy reason begin to appear later in the game, and take much more thinking and quick reflexes to take out. TO aid you in this, each character has a variety of weapons that they can find that are appropriate to whatever time period they’re from. The Roman centurion has his gladius, the modern-day fire fighter has a fire axe, etc. To balance the game as well as make it more historically accurate, each weapon you find has its own weaknesses with the following trend: the more powerful it is, the slower it is. You’re not limited to just physical weapons, though. Throughout the game, your characters will encounter different Magick runes which can be combined to make a variety of spells, from healing, to summoning monsters of your own to do your bidding. Each collection of runes is carried on to the next character, and you find them gradually throughout the game.
The game has what you might expect: a health meter and a magic meter. What you might not have expected, though, is the sanity meter. let’s face it, no matter how great anyone claims to be, you’re going to be suffering psychologically if you suddenly encounter and have to defend yourself against unholy demons. Because of that, whenever you encounter something in-game, it’ll have a negative effect on your sanity. The amount varies for each character and event, but whether it be a cutscene or being attacked by monsters, your sanity will be chipped away, and once it’s gone, the game will take its turn playing you. The game changes when your character is “insane.” The most obvious note is that, once your sanity meter is depleted, any further blows to your sanity will start affecting your health. The part you might not’ve expected is the most interesting. It might be that you’re attacked by monsters that aren’t really there, and, try as you might, you can’t defeat them. It might be that a corridor that you’ve already visited dead ends when it shouldn’t. It might be that the music becomes layered with a satanic chanting. I’ve encountered it myself. I was running along, at full health, when all of a sudden, my character’s head explodes, and they collapse to the floor. A Game Over screen displays, and just when I’m about to reset the console, there’s a flash on the screen. my character is still alive, but crouched on the floor and muttering. I had been tricked by my character’s hallucinations. The sanity meter can be restored in a number of ways, the most common being to perform a finishing move on an enemy.
The targeting system is important to note. When fighting an enemy, you can target different parts of their body. This is often necessary because”just” a beheading won’t kill most of the monsters in the game. They’ll still shamble about until you deal enough damage to finish them off. It can be pretty satisfying when, during the few breaks the game gives you, you take an enemy apart, limb by limb, until there’s nothing left. Disturbing, but therapeutic.
A Story That, At Times, Actually Scared Me. On The Freaking GameCube
I’d have to leave out most details on the story because it’s constantly building on itself, but suffice it to say that it’s good. The man character is Alexandra Roivas, who, when investigating her grandfather’s death, encounters the Tome of Eternal Darkness. When she reads it, she sees the stories of those who’ve encountered it before her. The stories rarely end well, but each one connects a piece of the puzzle on what’s going on, and how to battle the evil force that threatens to subjugate and consume humanity.
As I mentioned earlier, the game takes place in several different time periods. The number of locales you visit is limited and you revisit them, but each time you do is after several hundreds of years. Time has caused the area to change at times, and fall apart in others, but each revisit of a location is both nostalgic and fresh at the same time, as you encounter the same rooms and puzzles as previous characters, but have to think a new, and increasingly difficult way, to progress through the game.
As you’ve doubtlessly guessed, this isn’t a happy game. It’s a game that wants to creep you out, and does it often. Sometimes, it’s in the simplest things, like how the shading of some NPCs is just a little off, or the letters or notes of people you’ve never met, which chronicle the deaths they never saw coming. Several times, I didn’t learn about a trap in a room untilafter it had killed me, suddenly, unavoidably, and gruesomely. While we’re on the topic, it’s important to know that the game isn’t for those that can’t take the sight of blood, because there will be a lot more of it than you expect. Although the camera is pulled up and away from the action most of the time, the cutscenes are brutal, even by today’s standards, and especially by 2002’s standards.
A Surprising Amount Of Detail
When you played the GameCube, you didn’t expect much in the way of detail. It doesn’t seem obvious at first, but the game features many subtleties that you may not notice until the fifth or sixth character, around where you first revisit a level. A great amount of texturing is put into the game, and the levels are never repetitive in their look or design.Everything from the NPCs to the differing designs on spider webs has been given thought. This is probably because the game was initially to be released on the N64. I’m thankful it wasn’t, as the delay gave the developers the time necessary to give everything the look it deserves.
The sound quality is fantastic, too, the best on the system in my opinion.The background music is varied and mood appropriate, and the sound effects are detailed enough that you can distinctly hear the bodies of dead zombies as they hit the floor.Combine the visuals and music together, and you get the kind of subtle creepiness, that gradually grows to full-blown terror, that Hollywood could take note of.
Worth Playing Through Three Times
The game seems long at first, but that is mostly because the first playthrough requires getting used to. Because each character handles uniquely, you have to rework how you play each time the characters are switched. There are many puzzles in the game, as you might expect, but after he first encounter, they’re easy to remember and straightforward. I’m saying all of this because there are three different paths in the story, determined in the beginning of the game. The changes are few, limited to a couple of cutscenes and some dialogue, but after the third completed file, there’s a special treat that HEAVILY hints at a sequel. I’m not going to hold my breath, as it’s been ten years now, but I can say that I would buy it immediately if it were to happen. Until then, I recommend the game. Eternal Darkness is a game well worth your time and money, that will scare you, excite you, and in general creep you out.
As it turns out, Silicon Knights was in development on an Eternal Darkness sequel! Being their most popular game (by cult following, not by sales), and following several big release flops, it’s only natural that they’d begin development. However, following a huge lawsuit loss, Nintendo has reportedly decided they’re no longer interested in working with the company. As such, the sequel is cancelled, until either Silicon Knights gets off their feet, or someone picks up licensing rights for the title, we won’t be seeing anything for a while.
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