Eternal Darkness is a Lovecraft-inspired survival horror from all the way back in 2002. It was made by Silicon Knights and released for Nintendo Gamecube only. However, thanks to emulators (Dolphin in this case), it’s possible for even me to play it without too much trouble. I did try it out when it was released, though, since I borrowed a friend’s Gamecube to play this game specifically and Resident Evil (the remaster). I don’t remember the reason, but I never got very far – I can only assume my focus was on finishing Resident Evil before I had to return the console. Anyway, here we are, and I have just completed Eternal Darkness, and what can I say? It’s a great addition to the genre, even if a bit linear at times. It did feel good to once again have to use tank controls and experience fixed camera angles. It’s kinda ironic because nowadays developers are hell-bent on cinematic experiences, yet, have totally ignored fixed camera angles, which to me personally feels very movie-like. If embraced, it would make their lives much easier since the game director has full control over what you will see and how.
In the story, you play as Alexandra Roivas, called to your grandfather’s estate because of his gruesome murder. The police are perplexed, having absolutely no leads to who could have done it, why and how. Where the police fail, Alexandra steps in and decides to investigate the case herself. This leads to you searching the estate for clues, and as it is, stuff turns mysterious quickly. It seems your grandfather is part of something much grander steeped in mysticism and plain old Lovecraftian horror. The story hangs on you not knowing too much, so I don’t want to spoil anything. But as mentioned it’s very inspired by the myths of Lovecraft, yet, it doesn’t copy and paste his story into the narrative as so many other games do that are inspired by him. And thank the ancients for that! It’s its own thing, and overall, the story is very enjoyable and never overstays its welcome nor lore dump you at any point. The tale relies on you drawing your own conclusions as well, instead of spelling everything out – which is refreshing.
The gameplay, as in the controls, is classic tank-controls, except that you move your character with the stick and not the d-pad as in some older survival horror titles. Otherwise, the game is separated into two segments. When you play as Alexandra, you search the house for secrets and such, which eventually opens up more of the mystery. This happens through finding chapters for the “not-Necronomicon” book that transports you into the mind of people of history that in some way had contact with this enigma. You get to play everything from a Roman soldier to a firefighter from the 1990s. They are all connected to the main narrative in a way, and a few of these people get to suffer some truly horrific fates that you get to experience first hand.
On these chapter missions, you get to see all kinds of different environments, and while some repeat, they are all set in a later, or earlier state in history. So while you start to recognize places, they are still different, because stuff has been rebuilt, closed off, and well, the time period allows for different weaponry, tech and such. My favorite chapter, both from a story and gameplay perspective, involves the Cathedral and Charlemagne. I thought it was atmospheric, had great combat, and actually felt like it had true urgency, even if you can take it as slow as you want.
Another aspect of Eternal Darkness that works in interesting ways is the magic system. By finding runes, you unlock new spells, and these spells last through the ages (chapter to chapter). With that I mean, everyone that reads the “not-Necronomicon” has access to the same spells. There isn’t too much to miss out on (minor optional stuff), if you don’t discover everything in the so-called chapters, since the game is fairly linear, but it still has a nice sense of progression throughout the game. These spells are also involved in many puzzles during the game, which expect you to understand the magic mechanics – especially how to improve your spells. I got stumped a few times, but when I figured out the problem the solution was always logical and fairly easy. I think I have played too many games that present the solution without any input required from you, and it has unfortunately affected me, and made me a bit lazy.
The spells have many different functions, from buffing to direct damage, and the game allows you to use, and do what you like, as long as you have mana. At times, the magic feels a bit overpowered, since it can basically make you immune to any kind of damage through buffing. However, you don’t have to use it, and just go full barbarian, like how I tried to play. The melee/shooting combat is excellent. It’s not exactly advanced in any way, you either chop from above, or from the side, which corresponds with different kinds of wounds on the enemy. A slash for the head will cut it off, and arm cuts will remove arms, etc. What makes it good, besides these cool details (that also have gameplay implications) is that it just feels heavy and “present”. Swords, axes, pistols, and everything else between have weight behind them. There is no spastic attack spamming here, every hit and cut is very deliberate and the feedback from using these weapons is immediate and very satisfying. What helps is that there isn’t many health point bloated enemies either, most things die in one or two hits.
Another crucial gameplay element of Eternal Darkness is “sanity”, which the title of the game implies. You got your usual red health bar, but you also got a green sanity meter. When it’s full, everything is hunky dory, however seeing creatures, and other kinds of horrors lowers the sanity meter. The crazier you get, the crazier the game gets, and reaching zero will drain your health. The game will also play tricks on you when you have low sanity, like showing you things that aren’t there, giving some really weird feedback, such as lowering the sound of the game, flashing strange images, and stuff like that. It’s cool and at times a bit distressing. To not go completely insane, in-game that is, you can finish off wounded enemies which will restore some sanity. Some spells can be used to comfort you as well. It’s not too hard to manage, but what would a game inspired by Lovecraft be without some kind of sanity mechanic?
Visually, I think the game looks great. Now, I played it on an emulator, which means, I played with higher resolution (and anti-aliasing) than the game was meant for. So, some of the low textures do stand out a bit. Even so, it has to be pointed out that Eternal Darkness does support widescreen – activated in the options menu. Beyond texture work, the lighting is great, especially how everything that emits light reflects in the environment, like for example spell-casting. It’s not exactly ray-tracing quality here, yet, it looks excellent and adds a lot to the ambiance. The art style throughout is fairly realistic, and at times, it does manage to look photo-realistic when it comes to the background shots. This has a pretty cool general effect on the atmosphere, especially in contrast to the monsters, magic, and such. The game also has good scale, rooms, and places that feel real, and I think this has a big subconscious effect on the graphics, which extends to the realism and the believability of the setting.
Sound and music are also top-notch. There is a ton of minor sound effects in the game, and I would assume it was recorded and placed in the game just to provide unease. Like creaking floorboards, and stuff like that. And while the sound is good, everything from monsters, to weapon effects, the voice acting and music surely stand out. Everyone voiced is great, and I found no faults in any of them, however, grandpa Roivas, who does the narration felt like he was born to do this role. Pious also sound fantastic, and hearing these two talk is like mana for the ears, at least when it comes to this story and setting. These two elevate the experience with at least a couple of notches, and so does the music. Every location got its own tunes that fit the era, with musical horror elements sprinkled on top. It all adds up to a spooky and highly atmospheric experience.
It should also be mentioned that the writing is good as well, everything from the actual reading in-game, to the general narrative, from dialogues to cut-scenes. I would say it’s written and performed in the typical tone of Lovecraft/Poe. It does feel a bit older in style, which I think is a perfect fit for the backdrop.
I can’t say I was too surprised that I would like it this much, since the setting is something I adore, and the game genre is another thing I like (and miss). The game don’t overstays its welcome, and while I found the game a joy to play, at times it does feel a bit linear. I was hoping for a more free-form exploration of the estate, but unfortunately, it gets a little too restricted, or maybe not restricted, more like limited. This area could have been expanded by a lot I think. It could have had more secrets and stuff like that, more stuff to miss out on for people that don’t look and check every nook and cranny. It is what it is, though. I should also mention, that by the end, the final levels do repeat a bit. I’m not sure if this was made for padding, or if it was planned this way. Yet, it’s not something that drags down the overall feel of the game, since if this would have been an RPG, it would be the final big dungeon that requires you to use everything you have learned during the game, and these things usually last for a while by tradition.
I highly recommend giving this game a go. Just plug in your controller and download Dolphin. It doesn’t take too long to configure, either. Finding the rom for the game isn’t much work if you know how to use Google. My long-lasting wish is for this style of gaming making a true come-back!
Thanks for reading.
2 thoughts on “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem”
In a lot of ways, this game feels to me like the next step from LoK Blood Omen to 3D with the emphasis on fighting enemies and targeting their bodyparts and I find it more of a hack and slash akin to Blood Omen than true resource scarcity like RE1. If you come in expecting something just like RE, you might be disappointed but I had a blast playing it.
I agree. And I got to play Blood Omen some day. Heard good things about it.