Google+   Facebook button  Twitter button 
3DS | DS | PS3 | PS4 | PSP | VITA | WII | WIIU | X360 | XB1 | All

foe_en_s4_b22.jpg

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (GameCube) artwork

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (GameCube) review


"Eternal Darkness (ED) arrived for the GameCube with a fearsome aura about it. In common with Resident Evil Zero, this horror opus was originally slated for release on the Nintendo 64, before that console's premature exit prompted ED's migration to the next console generation and its entering into an even more drawn out development period. When the game finally emerged, it commanded immediate awe from anxious GameCubers, who had heard that it was going to be the next killer app, yet..."



Eternal Darkness (ED) arrived for the GameCube with a fearsome aura about it. In common with Resident Evil Zero, this horror opus was originally slated for release on the Nintendo 64, before that console's premature exit prompted ED's migration to the next console generation and its entering into an even more drawn out development period. When the game finally emerged, it commanded immediate awe from anxious GameCubers, who had heard that it was going to be the next killer app, yet who for the most part were still getting used to the idea of quality horror games being born on their console at all. The ED hype spoke of an action-adventure which would simulate hallucinations, boast an innovative magic system, and whose magnitude of plot and scale would be immense beyond anything seen in gaming before.

I wasn't immune to all of this advance scariness. The prospect of playing twelve characters across two millennia to combat a Cthulhu-like threat to humanity gave me the biggest case of pre-game excitement and anxiety I'd ever experienced. I was afraid the whole thing might prove to be too hard to play, too hard to follow, or just plain unmanageable and overwhelming.

To my great relief, ED turned out to be a game of vastly generous design. Consistently helpful and intuitive, it introduces its myriad elements in logical fashion, taking you into the embrace of a majestic horror adventure with grand plotting and themes, yet which is also transparently simple to play.

The darkness begins when cat-like heroine Alexandra Roivas returns to her family home in Rhode Island after the mysteriously gory death of her grandfather. Exploring the mansion, she discovers his hidden journal, which relates a startling tale of his research into a centuries old and ongoing battle between humans and an ancient evil force – the Eternal Darkness. Chapter pages of the diary open onscreen, with the sepia illustrations fading into animated life as the game. You will play through generations of individuals who have fought the darkness in turn, and bear witness as all their efforts and storylines build towards mighty consequences in the present.

This is one of the richest and most beautiful narrative designs I've seen in any game, and its scale felt genuinely new to me at the time as a creative possibility of 128-bit consoles. Locations are seen to change over centuries. Characters' actions and their consequences echo in memories and across time. Revelations and plot twists can shoot forwards and backwards. The game manages all of this, yet never loses sight of the fact that each chapter is about an individual, and that individual's often bleak story.

ED enforces the joys of playing a broad and unlikely range of characters, encouraging you to empathise with all their different physical qualities, both onscreen and via their responsiveness of control. Alex sprints about with a young woman's energy, but with her light frame she tires rapidly in a fight. Guiding Alex feels nothing like guiding a tottering overweight scholar armed with flintlock pistols, a bald middle-aged monk of deceptive strength, a lithe dancing girl whose bare feet can be heard slapping on the temple floors, a pudgy architect of the Renaissance, or an Errol Flynn-like prince. I once read a review of the game which joked about the need to play 'fat old men', but that need is part of the game's point, that the evil isn't fought by conspicuous heroes, but by a disparate group of frightened and often unwilling individuals.

A slew of zombies and demons threaten your protagonists across all historical periods. To cut them down you will have at your disposal the respective weapons of all those historical periods, from the blowguns, bastard swords and chakrams of the past, to the assault rifles and grenade launchers of the present. Combat is uncomplicated in execution, with an attack button, a combo for each character (often the same combo) and a targeting system which allows you to remove limbs and heads. There are sequences of deceptive difficulty in the game, but for the most part the battles aren't difficult. This doesn't mean that they're not engrossing or brilliantly portrayed, and it's hard not to feel your pulse rate rise as a horde of zombies closes in.

The alignment-based, magical and constitutional elements of the game are elegantly interwoven to create a coherent mythology. Red represents health, green sanity and blue magic, a system applied consistently across runes, spells, your characters' statistical makeup and the monster design. In a rock, scissors, paper fashion, each alignment or colour bests another. The strongly hyped concept of 'sanity' is ED's own. Being discovered by demons, or bearing witness to some of their more horrific behaviour (a bone thief erupting from a corpse's skull, for instance) or to other arcane events, drains player sanity. Heavy sanity loss results in increasingly severe hallucinations which are experienced in game as if they were real.

No game had tried anything like this prior to ED, and there are inherent difficulties in making certain surprises work more than once in a repeating system like a videogame, especially when the player can check his/her own sanity meter. But this doesn't detract from some fantastic, imaginative and often hilarious shocks which are likely to stop most players' hearts, nor from the general atmosphere which accompanies low sanity, that sick tilt on the graphics and the harrowing audio assault, which is always effecting.

The biggest flaw in the system is that the average player will find it easy to keep their sanity levels in the safe zone with just a little diligence, by 'finishing' any downed monsters. And without the insanity assaults, ED proves to be a strategically gentle game. There are almost no hardcore action sequences that demand the use of a particular weapon, spell, or precise placement or planning. On the one hand, this invites a great freedom, and it's fun to experiment with all of your spells and weapons once your basic skill level in the game is sufficient to dispatch different configurations of zombies, horrors and bonethieves. On the other hand, there is no mounting sense of combat danger or strategy in the late end of the game. It's just 'more of what you killed before.'

There was also some player complaint upon the game's release of ED's puzzles being too simple and repetitive. It's true that ultimately I never had to make a map or note down clues to keep progressing through the game, and that I was able to hold it all in my head at one time – which was the very thing I had been afraid I would be unable to do. But the formal qualities of ritual and repetition are crucial to the meaning in ED. To visit the same church as three different characters in three different time periods and for three different purposes, for instance, makes you aware of the echoes of the actions of individuals in time, and of the historical memory gathered by a location, and even suggests a weird vestigial memory that spans time ('You' the player have been here before, but 'you' the character have not.) ED creates the supernatural sense that people related by blood or cause will unconsciously repeat each other's actions through time. The idea of a collective unconsciousness is not too alien to most of us, and it's even mentioned in the game's dialogue at one point, as is synchronicity, but for a game to tap into these abstract concepts and give the player a lived sense of them, as ED does with its persistent take on deja vu, is a very impressive feat.

Playing Eternal Darkness produces a sad resonance that arises from seeing the daily struggles and hopes of individuals placed in the context of greater passing time and mortality. The Cambodian slave/dancing girl Ellia dreams that her small life might open onto some excitement or higher purpose, and suddenly finds her wishes granted at great cost. A monk's faith is tested when he finds corruption in the holy order. A page's loyalty to his lord has tragic consequences only for himself. A Persian prince's lust for a princess sends him on a fool's errand, and so on.

ED is thus a horror adventure about the brave and sometimes wasteful ends of the lives of good people, temporal futility and the unforeseeable echoes of the actions of individuals. Not all of the characters are related or could even have imagined or dreamed of each other's existence in different ages, but they all play their part in events which ultimately lead to one moment. The game emphasises the connections by flashing up an ever-lengthening blast of images from the stories of characters you've already played each time you enter a new chapter, and you can feel the cumulative meaning of all their actions – and in some cases, their deaths – gathering like a weight.

That the game achieves this gravity is its great accomplishment, far more important than its occasional over-easiness or repetitiveness of combat. It also demonstrates a formidable amount of historical research. The rich variety of costuming, architecture and social customs, and their placement in the context of historical events and situations across multiple time periods, is remarkable. This was another aspect of ED whose degree struck me as unprecedented, for an action-adventure game, when the title was first released in 2002.

ED's newness lay above all in its ambitious narrative scale, and secondarily in its attempts to figure distortions of perception into game mechanics through the sanity meter and effects. If you can't trust what your senses feed you, what can you trust? ED delivers this idea as a series of shock-horror tricks that will certainly frighten you, and just as often make you squirm with relief, delight or laughter when you realise you've been fooled, but the discretion and low repeatability of these tricks is limiting, and it's too easy to maintain your sanity. I'm not aware of any later game which tried to build on ED's sanity model, and that's probably because it's just too flawed. Nevertheless, it presents boldly for its single outing.

Even as I write this, eight years after ED's arrival, the game remains unique in scale as something like the Gone With The Wind of survival horror games. With its many player characters working together across a range of time zones and historical settings, its spiderweb of a grand narrative and its butterfly effect like sense of causality, it is undoubtedly one of the best stories told in videogaming. The game's evocation of the mysteries of time is fascinating, eerie and inspiring. There's a lot of bravery and sacrifice on display (as opposed to the more typical survival horror motive of self preservation) and while a lot of characters face a lot of grim ends, the ultimate sense of the game is one of optimism. ED gives you the feeling that even in the grander scheme of history, you as an individual may have an important role to play as you live today.

Rating: 9/10

bloomer's avatar
Community review by bloomer (January 13, 2010)

A bio for this contributor is currently unavailable, but check back soon to see if that changes. If you are the author of this review, you can update your bio from the Settings page.

More Reviews by bloomer
Rule of Rose (PlayStation 2) artwork
Rule of Rose (PlayStation 2)

While coming on strongly like a survival horror title, Rule of Rose nods to some of the genre's mechanical demands in an almost obligatory fashion, being basic at the basics and downright bad at combat. The game's power and meaning are instead invested in atypical areas; in a weird and chronologically difficult mystery...
Dracula (Commodore 64) artwork
Dracula (Commodore 64)

Dracula is an exciting, garish and highly confounding 95% text adventure which was released for the Commodore 64 by CRL in 1986. It was the first of a series of similarly themed horror adventures by Rod Pike (and later, other authors) including Frankenstein and The Wolfman. Dracula broadly follows ...
The Lurking Horror (Apple II) artwork
The Lurking Horror (Apple II)

Infocom released more than thirty Interactive Fiction titles in their time, setting the standard for sophisticated text adventure game parsers in the process, but only one of these games declared itself as belonging to the horror genre. That one was 1987's The Lurking Horror (TLH). In this adventure you assume the role...

Feedback

If you enjoyed this Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

board icon
zippdementia posted January 14, 2010:

Really I don't see why everyone loved ED so much. Yes, it took some really huge leaps forward in the genre, but because of its lackaluster story and script, pointless battle system, terrible level design (with the exception of the main house and the church), and a sanity system that was negated by its magic system, those leaps were doomed to obscurity.
board icon
Genj posted January 14, 2010:

All this talk about ED is reminding me that it's pretty much the only GameCube game I wanted that I never got to play. The last time I tried to buy it, GameStop had a case out but no game behind the counter. A shame since it was selling for $10.
board icon
bloomer posted January 14, 2010:

> Really I don't see why everyone loved ED so much. Yes, it took some really huge leaps forward in
> the genre, but because of its lackaluster story and script, pointless battle system, terrible level
> design (with the exception of the main house and the church)

What are these leaps you grant the game? You just placed all of the things people consider to be the leaps - plus every other part of the game - in the rubbish bin.

> those leaps were doomed to obscurity.

Empirically the game has clearly not entered any kind of obscurity at all. It is prolifically reviewed on all sites and also has an active player community.

Your comments seem to be addressed to everyone in the world but me, the guy who wrote the review you're commenting on, who just explained his position at length, and you aren't making sense anyway.
board icon
LowerStreetBlues posted January 16, 2010:

ROAR!

That stands for really outstanding awesome review, by the way. This was terrific.
board icon
EmP posted January 16, 2010:

I give up. The recent spike of convincing ED reviews have made me slope off to EBay to buy a copy and hope my Wii isn't choked full of so much dust it still runs.
board icon
zippdementia posted January 16, 2010:

Bloomer, that's because they pretty much were aimed at everyone else in the world.

I haven't actually gotten around to reading your review yet, but the fact that there was two ED reviews written in such close proximity made me reminisce on the fact that I think it's simultaneously an underplayed and yet overpraised addition to the Survival Horror genre.

I think the level design was terrible and making the player run through the same four areas over and over does little to help. I think the story is a good idea done pretty haphazardly. Some of the scenarios are downright bad while a couple are really compelling. I think the combat system and the sanity system both negate themselves (in the combat, cool things like being able to cut off enemy limbs so they are less effective against you are made pointless by easy headshots; the sanity system is rendered pointless by easy access to sanity increases). I think having to play through the game three times to get the true ending is masochistic with little pay-off.

So, yes, this is more of a commentary on the game and the fact that it's seen so many reviews recently. I will soon read your review and give you detailed feedback on that as well. Don't take offense at this, it really has nothing to do with you except that I was inspired to think in more depth about the opinions surrounding this game.
board icon
bloomer posted January 16, 2010:

> Bloomer, that's because they pretty much were aimed at everyone else in the world.

That's the problem right there. I believe the onus on the first person to click the feedback button on a review is that they should comment on the review or at least demonstrate they have read it! If they don't, frankly it's kinda insulting and thoughtless. This onus isn't even on the 2nd person so much, because I know that comments often turn into freeranging discussions, but it is on the first person.
board icon
bloomer posted January 16, 2010:

Thanks LSB and Emp.
board icon
randxian posted January 17, 2010:

I'm ambivalent about the review. I like the attention to detail and how you delve into the differnece between you as a player and you as the character when revisiting familiar locales. There is certainly some good stuff here.

On the other hand, the review could be a bit tighter. I really don't care for the intro at all, which basically amounts to "blah blah blah hyped game." Nothing in the intro was particularly useful, nor did it give any indication as to how the review would proceed. I almost tuned out during certain junctures.

Again, you take some interesting and unique angles. There is certainly good, workable material here, but my problem is with the overall presentation, which comes off as a bit windy.

board icon
bloomer posted January 18, 2010:

> On the other hand, the review could be a bit tighter. I really don't care for the intro at all, which basically
> amounts to "blah blah blah hyped game." Nothing in the intro was particularly useful, nor did it give any
> indication as to how the review would proceed. I almost tuned out during certain junctures.

Thanks for reading Rand.

You wouldn't be the first to call me windy.

You can see that this review has a historical perspective. The intro's purpose is to give full context for the arrival of the game in 2002. I try to impart what was around, how gamecubers felt about horror games, which were new to them at the time, and how everyone was quaking about this game. This was one of the most hyped games ever when even 8 years ago, games weren't hyped quite as much as they are even now. People were shaking in their boots about this game - check the gamefaqs taglines and see how many of them are based wholly on the idea 'Can it live up to the hype?' or 'reason to buy a gamecube.'

So the goal of my intro is to try and stick you in my and other people's shoes in 2002 just before we got this game. And I will not let you know how I feel about the game until you've been in my pre-encountering-Eternal-Darkness shoes, otherwise it would undermine the point of this whole writing device.

To me, the next bit where I summarise my overall reaction is still intro, though it's no longer the first paragraph. I think the intro's over when I start talking about the plot of the game.
board icon
sashanan posted January 18, 2010:

You'll want to check your spelling on Cthulhu's name in second paragraph. He really hates it when people miss an h. Otherwise I got little to comment on, the review pretty much clicks with my own experiences.

The thing about combat pointlessness never really struck me, since I mostly relied on sword work and thus did a lot of chopping off limbs and heads for - in WoW terms - crowd control before getting to the DPS. I tend to be so careful with my limited ammo in games like these that I end up not using my firearms at all. Sanity, I agree is a little too easy to combat with magic, which is why for my next playthrough (got two to go after all!) I'll ban the use of that spell.

My main gripe with the game is the one that annoys me in far too many console games - long unskippable scenes right before difficult boss battles. I blame Final Fantasy. They may not have invented it but are they ever the big time offender. ED does it too for its final battle, which took me five tries and a lot of watching the same climax unfold again and again.
board icon
bloomer posted January 18, 2010:

I too loathe unskippable cutscenes before boss fights, but I'm guessing (been awhile since I fought the bosses in ED) I didn't have enough trouble with them to notice.

A game I never even finished is The Scorpion King, cos of a 2 minute cutscene you couldn't skip before an impossible final fight. Wasn't worth the blood pressure or time.

I'm also huge on the decaps in ED :)

Also thanks for the spelling fix.
board icon
zippdementia posted January 20, 2010:

I disagree with your opinion about "first person to post requirements." Your review brought up feelings in me that had to do with the game, not your writing. I don't think I should have to wait for someone else to post before I share those feelings.

Similarly, I didn't really agree with your review, but I promised you I would read it in full and respond. I have nothing against your writing style, it reads well without hiccups or poor transitions or anything like that. You've got your style down and it's a decent style, so good on you for that.

I do think you get a little over-zealous in your claims (ED is Gone with the Wind... the story is the most breathtaking I've ever encountered... etc. etc.). What I learned after writing my FF7 review was that people are turned off by these grand claims. Much better is to just give specific examples from the game and let them speak for themselves.

You do this, too, which reads much better than your huge claims. It also leads me to wonder why you didn't cut your review in half. You have a tendency in this review to say a lot of the same things twice (especially about the story and characters) which led me to have trouble finishing the review because it felt, later on, that I wasn't seeing anything new.

I'm not going to go into what I disagreed with about the review, as that's not really the point. What I said in the last two paragraphs are the things that I think could use improvement in your writing. Otherwise, you've given us a nice addition to the army of ED reviews that marched onto this site over the last year.
board icon
zigfried posted January 20, 2010:

Leaving feedback for reviews you haven't read isn't a crime, but it's definitely kind of weird. When you want to post thoughts about a particular game, that's a good time to create a topic on the oft-neglected System-Specific boards. That way, writers aren't left scratching their heads while unsuccessfully trying to match comments to their review.

I haven't played ED, so I have nothing else to say at this juncture.

//Zig
board icon
zippdementia posted January 20, 2010:

C'mon, I've seen tons of instances on this site where people respond to people's reviews with commentary on the game rather than the review. Why did this particular instance cause consternation?
board icon
bloomer posted January 20, 2010:

> C'mon, I've seen tons of instances on this site where people respond to people's reviews with
>commentary on the game rather than the review.

I don't think I have.

At times, comments on a game will coincide with comments made in the review, which seems to indicate the person read the review and is saying 'Yeah, I agree with a,b,c'. In such cases, a specific comment may looked indistinguishable to you from a general comment, but will not look indistinguishable to anyone who has read the review, or its author.

What seemed obvious to me from your comment was you hadn't read the review. You clicked the link specifically attached to this review, designated for leaving feedback on the review, and you hadn't even read it, and didn't leave feedback on the review. My response as the writer is to roll my eyes in annoyance. If HG changes the link to say 'leave general comments on this game', it'd be a different ballgame. The link is attached just to this one review for a reason.

> Why did this particular instance cause consternation?

It would annoy me in any instance, but this was the first time anyone ever did it to me, so I can say at least in the sample space of my own reviews and my history of writing on this site, nobody had done it before.
board icon
Suskie posted January 20, 2010:

Hey Zipp. Shadow of the Colossus is a shit game.

There. If you think that was uncalled for, now you know how Bloomer feels.
board icon
zippdementia posted January 21, 2010:

Alright, I was wrong.

But now I've posted a review of this review and I hope those comments are taken to heart and thought about for Bloomer's next review.
board icon
bloomer posted January 21, 2010:

> But now I've posted a review of this review and I hope those comments are taken to heart and
> thought about for Bloomer's next review.

For sure, and thanks. I can tell you my initial response to some of them here.

> You have a tendency in this review to say a lot of the same things twice (especially
> about the story and characters) which led me to have trouble finishing the review
> because it felt, later on, that I wasn't seeing anything new.

I sometimes wonder about this (having a feel I repeat myself) in long reviews, and try to get it right. That you felt it here shows I should continue to think about it. I tend to use a very traditional 'summarise what you will say, say it, reiterate what you have said' essay structure in my reviews. And sometimes I wonder at the overlap of the parts while I am doing this.

> It also leads me to wonder why you didn't cut your review in half.

Ironically, I did already ;) I started this review in 2004, and the draft material is 20kb long. The review in the end is 10kb, so we can all be thankful for this.

> I do think you get a little over-zealous in your claims (ED is Gone with the Wind...
> the story is the most breathtaking I've ever encountered... etc. etc.).

Careful. I said it was 'something like the Gone With The Wind of survival horror games.' First, the genre smallens things down a lot. And the comparison is to me a bit wacky. But in your tagline, I think you can talk more emphatically, because that isn't the place for qualifications and vacillations.

Gone with the Wind is an old film that is famous for many things, though is not actually that great. Many people remember that the 2nd half is barely worth watching. But what it is is long, has big production values, huge cast of characters, is spectacular, a grand story, has a war in it and covers a lot of time. Now this to me is a good summation of ED's overall sense, so, apart from the fact I'm using as an example a film so old the young people will no longer recognise it, it's the a valid example of my feel about this game.

The genesis of this quote is that one time I watched 'Interview with the Vampire' with my dad, and he said after that although he wasn't mad about it, he conceded it was the 'Gone With The Wind of vampire movies.' And I thought that was funny, and hung onto it, and finally, a decade+ later, found what I thought was a good use for this phrase.

> after writing my FF7 review was that people are turned off by these grand claims.
> Much better is to just give specific examples from the game and let them speak for
> themselves.

I only make them if I believe them, and also believe I can argue them. If you don't do it right, obviously people won't believe you, and some people won't listen to these things at any time depending on their interest in that degree of reportage. If you do it for a game that could patently never stand up to that treatment (MySims Kingdom), you're wasting your time. Horror games are my favourites so I feel confident about talking them up when I feel strongly about them. I may check out your FF7 review, but the problem will be I haven't played it or any other FF's.

I don't think 'Show but don't tell' applies to reviews, which is kinda what you're recommending re:examples. I believe you have to talk about the emotion of the thing, otherwise too many examples of gameplay from different games can be similar to each other. It's not a catalogue, but how I feel about it illustrated by example. You probably won't like the next time I big review another survival horror game either, but on the plus side, I can promise you I will make no grand claims if I review MySims Kingdom, nor did I when I reviewed plain ol MySims.
board icon
sashanan posted January 21, 2010:

> C'mon, I've seen tons of instances on this site where people respond to people's reviews with
>commentary on the game rather than the review.

I don't think I have.


Guilty as charged. If I comment on the review then I've read it in full, but I do sometimes chime in on the game without having read it.
board icon
bloomer posted January 21, 2010:

> Guilty as charged. If I comment on the review then I've read it in full,
> but I do sometimes chime in on the game without having read it.

If you're commenting on a comment, I'm unconcerned. But if you started the thread, I am shocked and appalled :P
board icon
sashanan posted January 22, 2010:

I know, I know, bad habit. I'll be good this year.

You must be signed into an HonestGamers user account to leave feedback on this review.

Info | Help | Privacy Policy | Contact | Advertise | Links

eXTReMe Tracker
© 1998-2014 HonestGamers
None of the material contained within this site may be reproduced in any conceivable fashion without permission from the author(s) of said material. This site is not sponsored or endorsed by Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Microsoft, or any other such party. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem is a registered trademark of its copyright holder. This site makes no claim to Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, its characters, screenshots, artwork, music, or any intellectual property contained within. Opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily represent the opinion of site staff or sponsors.