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Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (GameCube) artwork

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (GameCube) review


"Iím fairly certain that the scariest thing Iíve ever experienced in a video game happened in Eternal Darkness: Sanityís Requiem. In one of the gameís many stops along the timeline of an ancient book detailing the history of a dark, unseen force, I found myself in the shoes of a Persian swordsman named Karim, who was journeying into the desert to claim a legendary treasure for his lover. The Forbidden City that Karim came upon looked startlingly similar to the one Iíd explored as Roman sol..."



Iím fairly certain that the scariest thing Iíve ever experienced in a video game happened in Eternal Darkness: Sanityís Requiem. In one of the gameís many stops along the timeline of an ancient book detailing the history of a dark, unseen force, I found myself in the shoes of a Persian swordsman named Karim, who was journeying into the desert to claim a legendary treasure for his lover. The Forbidden City that Karim came upon looked startlingly similar to the one Iíd explored as Roman soldier Pious Augustus several hundred years prior. Piousís story didnít end well, as his trek led him to a cursed artifact that transformed him into a skeletal liche. I soon came to the realization that Karim was after the very same object, which still corrupted the city, infesting it with vicious, gaunt-looking zombies. A number of encounters with them left Karim beaten and bruised, and I began avoiding the creatures rather than engaging them. I walked into another room and found myself surrounded by at least four more zombies. Thatís when my controller lost its connection.

Now, Eternal Darkness came before the days of the Wavebird, and as such, battery failure was obviously not the problem. I bolted over to my system to make sure that the cord was plugged securely into the controller port. It was, yet an on-screen message continued to alert me of the issue. I began slamming on the buttons frantically as I watched a motionless Karim get brutally mauled to pieces by the zombie horde. I was reaching for the reset button when came a bright flash on the screen, and suddenly, without explanation, Karim stood in the same spot in perfect health, with no enemies in sight. And I realized, right then, that Iíd blindly walked right into developer Silicon Knightsí trap.

The horrific sights revealed to the dozen playable characters of Eternal Darkness are perhaps too much for one person to take in. As such, each individual journey gradually takes its toll on the characterís mind, and soon enough, the player feels the effects, too. Vision becomes distorted. Music plays in the distance, soon to be drowned out by the sounds of footsteps, rattling chains, and people screaming. Walls begin to bleed. And then an increasingly more random (and bizarre) string of events unfolds. In one instance, my characterís body parts began to explode systematically, until only a lifeless pair of legs was all that remained. The example of my controller supposedly shorting out just comes to show that Silicon Knights werenít afraid to break the fourth wall and put the player directly at risk, either. Itís a brilliant and unique way of bringing freshness to the survival horror genre, which has all too frequently relied on much cheaper tactics to generate fear.

The gameís twelve protagonists comprise a book called the Tome of Eternal Darkness, which tells of a war between several godlike Ancients, and chronicles the adventures of the human pawns who happen to get caught up in the ordeal. The recipient of the book is Alexandra Roivas, who finds it while investigating her grandfatherís mansion following his grisly murder. The stories span a timeline of over two millennia, and very few of them end well. Pious, the first victim of the Tome, becomes the gameís chief villain following the aforementioned event in which he is consumed by the Ancientsí evil and becomes a minion. Many of his predecessors meet equally tragic ends, and uncovering the mysteries of the Ancientsí plot is Eternal Darknessís big draw. The discovery by a Roivas ancestor that an entire city of monsters lies beneath his mansion is only one of many clues leading to the death of Alexís grandfather.

The events of the Tome donít always unfold in chronological order, yet Eternal Darknessís one true goal Ė aside from scaring the piss out of you Ė is to drive its narrative forward, and so much of the gameís fun is in examining its individual chapters and putting the pieces together. The game is set in only four recurring locations, presented during different time periods. A heavily booby trapped temple deep within the Cambodian jungles would have made a fine setting for an Indiana Jones movie during the 12th century; even more so 800 years later, when a British archaeologist happens upon its overgrowth-infested walls. A monk of the Inquisition days has a ghastly premonition of his cathedral being transformed into a field hospital during World War IÖ but thatís only after he battles the living corpse of a messenger who, hundreds of years prior, fell ill to a curse that was meant for Charlemagne himself.

Amidst all of this, gameplay rings as a surprising non-factor, which comes as a shock considering how polished it is. Our journey through the Tomeís timeline has our protagonists going from swords to blowguns to actual guns, yet the game always leans on a user-friendly targeting system that allows players to pinpoint specific body parts. Silicon Knights ignored the tank-like mechanics that dominated the Resident Evil games for years and opted for fluid, precise movement as well. Handicapping a player with clunky controls and awkward camera angles is a sure-fire method of generating fear, but it also makes the game cumbersome. Eternal Darkness is instead as playable as you could want it to be, and thatís the point: The game is so successful at haunting the player with its imagery that the fact that I was playing it escaped me. I became absorbed in it.

I mean, I havenít even mentioned the bone thieves yet. These are short, spindly creatures with scythes for arms. They burrow into a personís flesh and literally replace the skeleton, thereby possessing their human hosts by wearing their carcasses. They do the Ancientsí bidding, using their powers to manipulate other humans who have been caught in the web. When theyíre done with their hosts, they violently slice themselves out of their victims, leaving each body a torn, bloody heap on the ground. The first time I saw this happen, I was so shocked that I dismissed it as a sanity effect. Later encounters proved otherwise, and I came to understand that I had once again been playing right into the developersí hands.

Fear, you see, is uncertainty. If I know something is going to happen, Iím not as frightened by it. The brilliance of Eternal Darkness is that it creates a world in which not all things are real, and what is real is so twisted and disturbing that it could be mistaken for illusion, anyway. You do have some semblance of control over your sanity meter, of course: A monsterís gaze is what ultimately injects fear into a characterís heart, so defeating said enemies will restore confidence, even more so if you manage to execute a devilish finishing move on an enemyís downed body. But the threat of a declining sanity meter hangs over you for the entire length of the adventure. No matter who you are, no matter where you are, no matter when you are, itís the one impending force you can never escape from.

And thatís Eternal Darknessís triumph. It has fluid play control and logical puzzles, and these aspects alone put it head and shoulders above its survival horror brethren. But youíll get so caught up in its complex narrative and unsettling images Ė and wind up so rattled as a result Ė that in the end, nothing else matters. Itís the quintessential survival horror title; seven years later, Iím still haunted by it.

Rating: 10/10

Suskie's avatar
Featured community review by Suskie (July 15, 2009)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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bluberry posted July 16, 2009:

awesome game. haven't had a chance to read your review yet so I guess this thread is pointless but good taste.

I'd only give it an 8, though. I had my problems with it. having sanity as a meter was beyond stupid.
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Suskie posted July 16, 2009:

I would have given it an 8 at the time, probably because it's such a slow-paced game and my attention span was shorter at the time. But it REALLY stuck with me after all these years, and I realized recently that this game is so much better than anyone gives it credit for. My reasoning will (hopefully) make sense if you read it.
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True posted July 16, 2009:

Let's just say I'm glad he's on my team, and I'm not facing him this week...
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aschultz posted July 16, 2009:

Me too! I had fun proofreading it(not that I had any real suggestions) and I like the tricks described that the game plays on you. I'm too lazy to try survival horror & while reviews like this make me want to play it, it's more expedient just to reread.
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zippdementia posted July 16, 2009:

Great review, Suskie, and a fine example of how to take a single point from a game and run with it. For me, while I enjoyed ED the first time through, by the time I'd played it enough to get the "special" ending, I was thoroughly bored. The reoccuring locations, the fact that sanity is readily available (hell, there's a spell that recovers it), the baseness of combat... by the end they combined to make a memorable, but somewhat stunted, experience.
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mardraum posted July 16, 2009:

I disagree with this part:

"You do have some semblance of control over your sanity meter, of course: A monsterís gaze is what ultimately injects fear into a characterís heart, so defeating said enemies will restore confidence, even more so if you manage to execute a devilish finishing move on an enemyís downed body. But the threat of a declining sanity meter hangs over you for the entire length of the adventure. No matter who you are, no matter where you are, no matter when you are, itís the one impending force you can never escape from."

this is about where Venter would be telling me my opinion is stupid because I'm too good at videogames, but it was all too easy to cast sanity recovery spells and never have to worry about it. and there's not as much of a blur between illusion/reality because if something weird is going on, you can just take a look at the little green bar to see.

still, good review.
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sashanan posted July 16, 2009:

Agreed. What I settled for in the end - what a lot of people I've talked to seem to have done - was to deliberately leave the sanity low, using sanity recovery only when an empty sanity meter started chipping into your health. Topping up sanity all the time - easy to do - throws the game's biggest draw out the window.

As for the low bar informing you that weird stuff is going to happen, that's just a matter of immersion, and immersion in survival horror is still best achieved by playing in the dark. Even though on one level you know the game is messing with you, if you can instill enough of a sense of unease you'll still jump when it makes your character's head randomly explode.

Or if - as alluded to at the end of my Fatal Frame review - your cat jumps onto your lap.
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Suskie posted July 16, 2009:

Yeah, what Sash said. That's like... well, that's like playing a great game and continuously casting a spell that rids you of its biggest draw.

(Too tired to make analogies.)
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bluberry posted July 16, 2009:

constantly? I think I had to do it like every twenty minutes or so. and it just seemed silly to leave it empty. that's like saying Doom is at its best when you're low on ammo and struggling to survive, so I guess I'll just shoot my BFG at this Imp to really show it who's boss.

I still liked the game, though.
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True posted July 16, 2009:

Yeah, what Sash said. That's like... well, that's like playing a great game and continuously casting a spell that rids you of its biggest draw.

It would be like Shining Force with a secret code to warp you right to the end of the field and laying a one-hit kill on the boss.
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sashanan posted July 16, 2009:

Granted, I do feel the game itself should have addressed this. Even if a flaw can be redeemed by playing in a certain way, it still would have been better if the game took care of it.

The way I envision I would have done Eternal Darkness would simply be to *have* no sanity recovery spell, and probably limit the effect of an empty bar on your health so as not to unbalance it by that. But if you were playing my survival horror, there is no way I would allow you reprieve from my nightmares by topping off a bar.
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bloomer posted July 16, 2009:

While the sanity tricks got me a few times and were hugely trumpeted in the media, they were proportionally a small part of my overall experience with the game. They make up about the same proportion of the reasons I would give this game a 10, which I would (and, well I did, at least in clicking the rating box). When I first completed it, I played twice through again almost back to back (going with a different alignment each time). I did start a review in 2003 or 2004... and the file's still sitting there, but it ended up in the too hard basket and now I'd have to play again to relight the kindling.

This is a great game for reviewers, as it prompts highly varied responses. You just look at this thread and already you can see how everyone responds to it quite personally, and sometimes without much overlap.
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randxian posted July 16, 2009:

Wow. I typically don't care for more violent, mature, spooky games, but you managed to make me interested in this game. I want to play this just to experience those 4th barrier portions. Sounds intriguing.

I was also turned off by the crummy tank controls in RE, but you explain this game has much better controls, so this might be enjoyable for me.

Hell, I might even pick up a copy. Way to sell a horror game to someone who plays One Piece and Pokemon.
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qxz posted July 16, 2009:

I don't know if I'd ever be able to muster up the strength to return to Eternal Darkness. Last time I played it was about five years ago, and I remember being thoroughly bored by it only two chapters in -- boring enough to the point I just didn't want to care what happened afterward.

My brother, on the other hand, loves Eternal Darkness, and has actually played it to completion. Doesn't really help my interest level any, since I'm usually in the same room as my GameCube when he plays it, and I've been spoiled as to how everything progresses in the game.
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Lewis posted July 17, 2009:

It's a really masterfully created game.

I was in a talk from its lead designer yesterday, about games as an art form (yeah, surprise surprise, I went to the art talk). Inexplicably, he used Too Human as a Silicon Knights example to walk us through their methodology. ED would have been an infinitely better idea.
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Suskie posted July 17, 2009:

Denis Dyack, you mean?
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mrmiyamoto posted November 05, 2013:

Great review, Suskie. I will echo a previous reader's sentiment about the sanity effects being a decidedly small portion of the experience. Often times I had to actively LET my meter drain to actually experience some of the hallucinations, which affected my level of immersion. Still, a great game, and I enjoyed the spell-casting quite a bit also.

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