"However, ED adds to the incessant zombie slashing with the innovative ''Magick'' system. Aside from basic healing spells, the different magicks include enchanting items for added power or solving puzzles, creating a magick-proof shield to aid you, or revealing invisible enemies or objects, among others."
Nintendo seems to have gotten the ignorant reputation of being a company geared towards kids, often referred to as an overall “kiddy” company, producing software meant for, well, children. Of course, that isn’t true, but this is not an editorial...
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, developed by Silicon Knights and exclusively published by Nintendo, is a testament of just how untrue the aforementioned reputation is. Not only is the title scary—oftentimes playing with your mind in merciless, horrifying ways—but its plot, as well as its content, is definitely not meant for children. And yet, while most mature titles rely on blood and violence to entice buyers, Eternal Darkness becomes a triumph of gaming, offering mature content while simultaneously delivering superior gameplay that should be expected by Nintendo.
First off, it’s worth mentioning that the plot in ED is excellent. Because even a minor spoiler would practically ruin the overall experience, this much I can say: behind the veil of normal reality, underground Ancients, diabolic creatures bent on destroying humanity, assemble, awaiting their chance to take over the world above. A select few individuals, however, unite with the Tome of Eternal Darkness to combat the demons, and their respective stories are separated into “chapters,” each one connecting with the others in unexpected ways. The plot takes many surprising twists, each one seemingly obvious, yet astonishing.
The game follows Alexandra Roivas, a woman in her twenties, whose grandfather was mysteriously murdered in his large estate in Rhode Island. As she begins to uncover the secrets behind the Tome's past, she learns of her own destiny, one to save humanity. After each chapter, Alex will need to solve puzzles in order to find the next chapter page, where the game will then switch to that respective character’s story, and, when completed, back to Alex. Sure, it’s repetitive, but it doesn’t seem that way, as the game reads like a book, with interesting characters and, as I already stated, a spectacular plot throughout, complete with a strong ending that even connects to the very beginning of the story, which you won't notice until you play through again (which you'll want to do).
But a strong story is meaningless without a good game to back it up, and ED definitely delivers. On its exterior, Eternal Darkness is a survival horror title, much like Capcom’s popular (and also GCN exclusive) Resident Evil series. However, ED adds to the incessant zombie slashing with the innovative ''Magick'' system. Aside from basic healing spells, the different magicks include enchanting items for added power or solving puzzles, creating a magick-proof shield to aid you, or revealing invisible enemies or objects, among others. The three different alignments—Xel’lotath, Chattur'gha, and Ulyaoth, the three primary Ancients—affect how the spells will work. For instance, using Recover under Xel’lotath’s alignment will refill sanity, while using the same spell with Ulyaoth will restore your magick meter. Different “points” affect the spells (and how much magick power they deplete) also. For instance, a level 3 Magickal Attack will be relatively weak, but at 7 points, it is devastating. Spells can be learned by obtaining all the necessary components—a spell scroll, its respective runes, and an alignment—or can be learned prematurely be experimenting with your own rune combinations. It’s all rather innovative, and surely a great (and useful) addition to the game.
The combat system is also rather innovative. Using the R button, you can lock on to certain parts of the enemies. For instance, hold R and press up on the control stick to aim at their head, or press left or right to aim at their arms. When attacking multiple enemies, a melee weapon can be used to attack them all at once, however, the attack will be weaker than targeting them individually. The only problem with the combat system, apparently, is it’s rather difficult to fight multiple enemies by targeting their limbs; the game says you can let go of R and press it again to lock onto a different one, but it ends up just being frustrating. Simply running into enemies, also, depletes sanity, which you can restore by casting a finishing move on one once it’s been defeated.
The controls themselves are incredibly easy to use. Obviously, the control stick moves your character, who can run by pressing L. If your character runs too long, they get tired, and will slow down unless you let them stop to catch their breath. The A button fires your gun or swings your melee weapon (or selects in menus, of course), X allows your character to quietly sneak past certain enemies, and the Z button can be used to reload your gun before its ammunition has been depleted. B is context sensitive, and acts much like the action button in the N64’s Legend of Zelda games. The control pad and the Y button are used for “quick-spells,” which are basically magick assignments that can be used without opening the Start menu. All the controls are responsive, and well mapped. One thing to note also is that they are a tremendous step up from the Resident Evil controls, which were scarier than the actual game.
The real kick of Eternal Darkness is the numerous insanity effects that occur when your character loses sanity. Some of these include sublte things like moving busts, bleeding paintings, or creaks and moans inside the mansion. Others, however, are much larger, such as the camera tilting wildly, the game suddenly turning to mute, or even appearing to shut off mid-play. What makes them interesting, however, is that they can happen almost anytime, as long as your sanity meter is relatively low. This adds a new dimension to the gameplay, and ultimately gives the game its horror. I don't know how many times after playing this title that I've felt my head was about to fall off at any minute, or a room would be completely changed as I opened the door. In terms of innovation, the insanity effects are what makes ED such the triumph it is.
Furthermore, the lighting effects and textures are brilliant, and though they aren't the best seen on the GameCube, many of the character models are detailed and well-animated. A few, however, are rather blocky (Alex's, for example...). However, the overall dark atmosphere immerses the player well into the dark story and frightening scenarios. And as I said before, the insanity effects are all perfectly animated and presented.
The sound is also wonderful, adding deep, ambient music (which gets more and more pronounced as sanity wears off) and amazing sound effects. Phones ringing, floors creaking, guns firing...it's all there, and flawless. The voice acting, too, is superb. Each character's respective voice blends in perfectly, and the actors themselves portray their roles with professional style, each as good as their peers. Nervous characters sound nervous, villainous beings sound evil, good characters have ambition and determination within their dialogue. It's like an animated movie, really. They're just spectacular.
Overall, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem is near flawless, with every aspect combining into a luscious, rewarding title that becomes a must-have game for any console, surpassing some of the best games in existence, while delivering a new presentation method for Nintendo. With Too Human just around the corner, after playing ED, I can not wait until Silicon Knights' next offering to the GameCube brings more spectacular action to Nintendo's ''kiddy'' hardware.
Staff review by Zack M (August 05, 2002)
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