Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem Review — A Lovecraft Fan’s Dream Game

Why were none of the characters in this thing playable in Smash Brothers again?

Whilst I’m pleased with the amount of horror pop culture I was able to consume for Horror Month, I feel like it could have been better. The elephant in the room regarding that statement is Bloodborne, which I was originally going to review as the conclusion to this saga of my life as well as the blog’s. But after spending two hours trying to take down the second boss only to realize that I could have just cheap-shotted him all along, as well as forgetting to connect to the PSN network so I could download the patch that’d get rid of those unbearable loading times until after I’d done the deed, I realized I’d need an entire week free of anything else to get the game’s worst ending, let alone its best. So instead, I spent the majority of my weekend playing Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. You know, the first M-rated game for the Gamecube, as well as one of the few times Nintendo went out of their comfort zone without Rare’s involvement? The one that got critically acclaimed for its unique horror elements, but failed to appeal to the mainstream audience and whose creators have made nothing good since to the point that they’ve shut down and turned to Kickstarter for help (which failed by the way)? Yeah, that Eternal Darkness.

Eternal Darkness is considered to this day as one of the best things to happen to the Gamecube, if not a fun Nintendo game that still holds up by today’s standards given how many positive retrospective reviews there are of the thing. So naturally I was curious about its existence, but getting a copy of a Gamecube game in this day and age is only slightly easier than trying to find a non-bootlegged DVD set of Paranoia Agent with the dub in it. But even before I managed to find an affordable copy, I knew right away that Eternal Darkness wasn’t going to win any awards in the visual department by today’s standards. Because every review of the thing always used the same picture of our blonde female lead looking dumbfoundedly at the camera, and to put it kindly, she looks like a walking play-doh statue.

The game was originally meant to be on the N64 before plans were changed and boy does it show. Because while realistic graphics on the Gamecube in general have aged quicker than a Foxdie-infected Solid Snake, when you represent mutilated bodies with low-res unrecognizable textures, you know someone is still stuck in the past. It also kind of makes it hard to take the numerous zombies that attack you seriously, because they look blocky by today’s standards and you’ve got seventeen zombie-killing spells along with a grenade launcher in your inventory for good measure. And the less said about the Eldritch Abominations, the better.

Eternal Darkness’s story is centered on Alex Roivas, a young university student whose grandfather died under mysterious circumstances, leaving the police absolutely baffled and Alex frustrated that the one person who took care of her since her parents’ death was taken from her by someone who still walks free. Determined to take matters into her own hands, Alex explores her grandfather’s mansion, only to discover The Tome of Eternal Darkness – a mysterious book that grants magic powers and allows Alex to live the memories of the book’s previous owners, Assassin’s Creed-style, in order to discover what’s really going on as well as granting her the magical skills they harnessed in the process. Alex soon learns that her grandfather was one of the book’s users and that he was involved in a struggle spanning over two millennia regarding some Roman dude’s quest to awaken his evil god and wreak havoc across the world. And thus, Eternal Darkness falls under something I’d like to call “Japanese game syndrome” in which something seems simple at first soon (d)evolves into young people killing Satan.

Or Cthulhu in this game’s case, as Eternal Darkness takes inspiration from many famous horror writers for its scenario, particularly Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, as well as a bit of Stephen King for good measure. I’m not a fan of any of those writers personally, but for what it’s worth, Eternal Darkness does use its inspiration to good effect in terms of story and gameplay. During the game’s intermissions, you make Alex search around the mansion looking for secrets and pages that detail the lives of the previous users whilst collecting weapons on the side so that she can finish what these people started. And during the main story, you control a different character across history from an Indiana Jones-styled archaeologist to a fat religious man who can’t run very fast as they explore one of four different locations in order to discover the truth about what they’ve gotten themselves into and adding more spells to the tome so Alex can use them herself. It’s kind of like Paranoia Agent meets Cloud Atlas, especially when characters from two hundred years ago end up meeting a new playable character as a ghostly apparition or a living zombie.

I’m not so keen on the game’s horror elements, and not just because I don’t find Lovecraftian horror and monsters scary. Much has been made of what happens when your sanity depletes, causing your head to randomly fall off or for the game to tell you it’s erasing your save file or for giving you the blue screen of death. But I never experienced the fourth-wall breaking effects personally because after I gained the ability to recover my sanity, I always used it whenever I lost about a third of the thing because once you lose all your sanity, your health is next. The gameplay is shot entirely in fixed camera angles and the fighting is pathetic even when you’re locked onto an enemy, but in the annoying Resident Evil way rather than the creepy Silent Hill way. I once lost a fight against two basic enemies whilst at max health because they kept jumping on me whilst my guy swung his sword an inch away from where he needed to stand. And you’d better think twice about swinging that big sword around in narrow corridors where the walls have a bad tendency to get in your way.

And whilst I never exploited it because I always kept forgetting I had the option to, once you acquire a certain (and to be fair, easily missable) element for your spells, they turn into huge game breakers. You could be invisible to everyone but bosses and little chameleons that warp you anywhere. Or you could enchant your weapons so that one hit kills the most powerful of horrors. This cheapness is somewhat litigated by the requirement that you must stand perfectly still whilst casting it and the larger spells require more time and magic to cast. So if you move even a centimeter due to getting hit by an enemy or because your hand slipped on the control stick, the spell cancels out and goodbye magic meter. You can replenish the thing by running around, but if you’re controlling a fat guy, prepare for the dude to gasp for breath after ten seconds.

I guess the puzzling is where the game really shines through and it is fair for the most part, although you might want to keep a strategy guide around because some of the solutions can be kinda obtuse. For example, there are only two bosses in the whole game and the first one in particular is a nightmare to figure out how to damage, which I won’t spoil, but let’s just say you have to stand still even after the spell is cast to get the full effect. But whilst I died once against each boss, they were at my mercy the second go-around once I had learned all their attack patterns and weaknesses and realized I was more OP than Gandalf the Grey, so I guess all those hours I clocked into Bloodborne are really starting to show in more games than one, huh? The game also sort of gives up on itself in the end, with the final level being nothing more than a retread of a previous one with all the enemies replaced by easy-to-solve puzzles. And after coming off of the most action-packed chapter in the game due to playing as a well-built firefighter with a knack for explosives, that’s pretty weak.

Having not grown up with Eternal Darkness, I can pretty much say that its reputation has been over exaggerated by the community a fair amount. But if there’s anything I can’t deny still holds up regarding the game to this date, it’s the thing’s storytelling chops. I may not find these almighty abominations all that frightening, but I do have an interest in battles that span across many different generations, especially when they’re all driven by coherent character arcs centered on flawed human beings who just wanted certain things in life and paid the ultimate price for it in more ways than one. It got to the point where I had huge smiles on my face whenever a character survived his encounter with the darkness (and it is always his, as there’s only one other playable female in this game besides Alex and all I can say regarding her ultimate fate is “damn”), and when Alex finally confronts the evil that has been tormenting these characters for so long with sheer determination to end it once for all, I couldn’t help but go “hell freaking yeah!”

So overall, I liked Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. It’s not a very long or challenging game with a tendency to show its age in frustrating ways, but I’m willing to replay it two more times in order to get the true final ending and that game-breaking “God mode” once enough time has passed and I’m not in the mood to try out the latest thing. But I gotta say, I looked at the ending on Youtube, and it’s not a really satisfying reveal. Without spoiling anything, multiple dimensions are always going to be hard to deal with, but I don’t care much for it because it takes the story away from the characters, and their personal struggles are the reason why I enjoy the thing. Without them, all you’ve got a functional horror product whose most unique/scariest elements are very easily avoided if you run around enough and hit the Y-button in an empty room.

PS: On the bright side, maybe I’ll actually find time to play those Silent Hill games now.

2 responses to “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem Review — A Lovecraft Fan’s Dream Game

  1. I’m surprised at the price inflation for those Gamecube exclusives. Most of the good ones are $25-50+ used on Amazon. The cheapest Gamecube smash bros. is $60, and Fire Emblem is even crazier.

    ED’s original Resident Evil-style gameplay was frustrating at times, but I still like the limited inventory and stiff gameplay of these types of games. The story was satisfying, and the twists and turns were fun to follow. Another good game with many similar elements is Indigo Prophecy. That game also switches characters and has psychological elements like the sanity meter, but Indigo Prophecy is in a modern setting. I really liked that game, as well.