I don’t care what my editors say, I think this game was worth missing many deadlines over. It was worth it to experience the best videogame ever created. Ok, I might be exaggerating but I assure you, not by much. I am going to need half a minute to get my gushing out of the way though, and then we can get down to brass tacks. Here goes, I’m going to talk kinda fast - *deep inhale* this game is art, scary, edge-of-your-seat crap-your-pants art, with a style and flair that only Nintendo can produce. (22 seconds remaining) No detail in Eternal Darkness was overlooked; try to find one, go ahead. I defy you to find a single overlooked detail in this game! We’re talking MC Escher-brilliant here, folks. (17 seconds) Forget the term ‘survival/horror’, this is a straight-up ‘psychological thriller.’ Needless to say, production values are through the roof. (12 seconds) ED plays out like a Miramax published high-quality suspense/drama. In my opinion Eternal Darkness is a monumental release that raises the bar for what people will expect from games in the coming months. (6 seconds) I feel like I’ve taken videogame-heroine and that I’ll be chasing the proverbial dragon’s tail until part 2 is released. (3,2,1) It’s not fair, manů Ok, no more gushing, I promise.
The first thing you probably want to hear about is the sanity effects. Nintendo devised dozens of ways to mess with you and your character’s mental state. More precisely, the big N integrated an insanity-simulator into Eternal Darkness. When your character loses too much sanity (as depicted by a visual gauge, more later on gauges) things will start to happen; blood will ominously bleed from the walls, or the game may turn itself off. Sanity is a precise commodity in Eternal Darkness and can be easily lost by being attacked by monsters or, in some cases, just from looking at them. The various sanity effects are original, innovative, unique and more often than not, scarrrrrry, ohhhh, scarrrry *ahem*, sorry. They didn’t play too big a role in my experience with the game though, at least not as much as I had originally expected they would. To be quite honest, it seems to be an over-hyped feature. The characters I played as rarely lost their sanity, and I mean, I could have purposely let them lose their sanity so I could see all the effects, but what is the point of that? You’re supposed to do good at games, not purposely do bad so you can see what kind of stuff Nintendo has up their sleeves. I didn’t want the insanity effects to feel like nothing more than a novelty, and that’s exactly what would’ve happened if I’d purposely tried to trigger them. Nevertheless, there were instances when my gaming ability fell victim to ED’s many perilous obstacles and I was made privy to some cool insanity effects. None of which I will mention here for fear of spoiling the game, but it’s safe to assume that the insanity facet of the game is not overly-gimmicky.
One of the coolest things about the game is the way it ties together different eras in time in it’s relation to the various characters of the game. The locations featured in the game are the Roivas Mansion and the evil/ancient Gaurdian City, which is conveniently situated in the basement of the mansion. These, and a few smaller locales, are shared between all the personalities, but since each visit is at a different point in time, it feels like an entirely new area on every visit.
There are three gauges that will dictate your level of health (both physically and mentally) and amount of magic ability; they are color-coded red, green, and blue, respectively. Different things happen depending on which gauge depletes. When the green sanity meter depletes, you’ll start hallucinating and experiencing the much ballyhooed sanity effects. When your blue magic-meter depletes, you’ll be unable to conjure magical spells. And of course, when your red health-meter depletes, you’re dead. Each character that you play as in the game will have different size gauges. The buff fireman towards the latter half of the game has a large health gauge but his magical meter ain’t that great, whereas the priest has a large sanity-meter but not much of a health-meter. You can replenish gauges by killing enemies or performing restore spells, and your magical-meter replenishes all on it’s own over time.
Now let me explain the combat-system. In order to target an enemy, you hold the right trigger button. By pressing any direction on the left analog stick while holding the right trigger button, you can target specific body-areas. To attack, you hit A. Hitting A without first targeting performs a general attack and damages nearby enemies. A wide assortment of melee and long-range artillery weaponry can be used in this fashion. Depending on the time and location of the scenario, you’ll be able to use different weapons. Some characters are more adept to combat scenarios while others sorely lack in that regard and are harder to control when it comes to combat situations. Some of the included weapons are an ancient broadsword, your run-of-the-mill fireman’s axe, an 18th century musket, and a G-36 Heckler & Kotsch combat rifle/grenade launcher.
The different spells and magical effects of Eternal Darkness are what add the primary essence of strategy to the game. Some rooms will be flooded with destructive magic that unless your shielded with a certain alignment, you will not be able to pass. Also, some entrances and areas will be guarded by magic, which you’ll have to figure out via spells how to overcome. The way spells work is this; you have a Circle of Power and each Circle of Power has a certain amount of points that comprise a shape within the circle. At each point on the shape, you can place a differently powered codex, and combined they will form new spells. For example, placing the Bankorok and Santok codices together with an alignment produces a shield-spell that wards off enemy attacks. Different combinations result in different spells, and as you progress through the game you’ll get more Circles of Power that allow for more versatility in codex-combinations, resulting in devastatingly powerful spells.
Spells can do anything from recovering your health to summoning a monster to do your bidding. Every spell can be easily mapped to unused buttons on the gamepad, which makes for very convenient spell casting. The alignment of your spell is important. You’ll always have the option to align any spell using three different colors: red, blue, and green. Shifting a spell to different colors has different results based on the alignment of the object or enemy your spell is intended for. Also, setting your color alignment to an opposing color of the enemy you are dealing with will result in more powerful attacks. As you progress through the game, you’ll become familiar with all these aspects. It would be too time-consuming to explain them all here, but suffice to say that it’s complex enough to stay interesting and intuitive enough to inspire you to keep experimenting; it’s so like Nintendo to do it just right.
Another big part of ED’s gameplay is exploration and discovery. This particular facet of the game is not unlike that of traditional survival/horror games like Resident Evil or even Onimusha. But the content, the actual writing-style and literary excellence found in ED that’s used to glue these traditional elements together is incredibly exceptional and makes the hide-and-go-seek aspect of the game feel thoroughly entertaining. Progression always feels smooth and easy thanks to the fact that the developers went with a point-in-the-direction-you-want-to-go control scheme instead of opting for the traditional and frustrating Resident Evil method.
The visuals in this game are drop dead gorgeous and get increasingly more impressive as you progress through the game. When the game starts, the graphics look a little bland and generic, but as the story unfolds you’ll be treated to enormous, sweeping scenery and visual splendor that is rarely, if ever, seen in interactive entertainment. Animation is unlike anything I’ve seen before; every detail of the characters in the cut-scenes is accounted for. Sometimes the most subtle facial expression is used to purport the deepest of emotion. The phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ has never been so true as it is with Eternal Darkness. Most of the cut-scenes are real-time rendered but there are instances where pre-rendered CG graphics are used. The look and feel of these sequences is very uniform with the real-time rendered cut-scenes, assumably to keep an unabridged aesthetic style from beginning to end. The lighting effects are unbelievable and actually play a very important role in the gameplay itself, in the sense that you’ll often be exploring areas that are dark and which you need a light-source to see in, like a torch or a flashlight; even an enchanted-weapon can provide adequate lighting. The way the light reflects across the surrounding objects and cast real-time shadows looks jaw-droppingly impressive. Sometimes when you do a particularly intricate spell, the color of the spell’s alignment will subtly emanate and linger in the air, leaving a hue of the aligned spell behind. It’s barely noticeable but it’s a nice touch.
The voice acting in Eternal Darkness is some of the best work that I’ve heard out of a game, ever, and there is lots of it too. Every personality sounds exquisitely appropriate and incredibly believable. Production values in the sound department, like the rest of the game, is unmistakably top-notch. The styles in music vary widely from sequence to sequence, but they all share one thing; they are absolute masterpieces, brilliantly orchestrated and enchanting. Just about every graphical and audio effect you can think of was used in the creation of this game (short of unsupported a/v features on the GameCube) and it really shows through on the finished product, despite the fact that this title has been in development for right around four years.
Quite simply, Eternal Darkness is a passionately, beautifully crafted digital-masterpiece that will go down in the history books as an instant and well-deserving classic. Silicon Knights really kicked some ass with this title. If you have a Gamecube, it is imperative that you obtain a copy of this game by any means necessary. If you don’t have a Gamecube, get one, it’s that good.