A strategy role-playing game is a strategy role-playing game, right? You start out as an unlikely hero, pull together a small force that grows larger as the game progresses, and you work together to save the kingdom. The king dies, the princess fights alongside you. Archers go first. Protect the leader. Blah blah. Lather, rinse, and repeat.
Eternal Poison (PlayStation 2)
Developed by Flight-Plan
Published by Atlus
Released on November 11, 2008
Eternal Poison starts with a beautiful, high-quality cinematic opening. In fact, the whole title is very stylized, and this opening movie sets the tone early on. There's pretty girls and talking wolves and weird long-armed monsters. Perfect.
Unfortunately, the story line doesn't seem as high-quality when you watch this cinematic. It seems like it's going to be a "save the princess" type game from first appearances, and I believe they actually use that phrase in the dialogue. Thankfully, there's quite a bit of depth in this story, and the way it unfolds is unconventional and interesting.
The Kingdom of Valdia was surprised to see that a strange place called Besek popped out of the ground one day. Besek is filled with baddies called Majin, who are coming out and messing life up for the people of Valdia. They've also taken the kingdom's princess, naturally. You might think that the game is going to send you after the princess in this evil realm, but it's not as simple as it first sounds.
After finishing a mandatory training battle, you're given the choice between three story paths. Different cast members provide a totally different viewpoint on the story and game world. In each, you'll control a starting party of three, and your choice will determine how you spend your time in Besek. Naturally, I picked the one with the lace-wearing witch. She has a talking wolf buddy named Ranunculus (which sort of sounds like "ridiculous" when pronounced aloud) and a little human boy-slave named Retica that she drags around. Even if they are your stereotypical tank, healer, and distance attacker, they sure don't look like it.
Eternal Poison throws in a twist to the standard SRPG game play with Majin manipulation. The monsters (Majin) you battle can be captured. Each Majin has an "overkill" number. This number is a hit point goal that goes past its normal hit points. For example, if a Maijin has 80 hit points and an overkill number of 20, you'll have to hit hit for 100 damage. If done correctly, this Majin will be bound, where it later be harvested. After being harvested, it's up to you what you do with the Majin. It can be summoned as an ally in a later battle, or you can take it and cash it in. Back in the game's central town, you can opt to throw the Majin in what looks to be a massive monster juicer. There, you can extract skills or attack points for it. The whole process seems evil, and it all looks very cool. There's even a hilarious breathy-voiced "overkill" voice that calls out when you successfully bind a Majin. You'll be mocking this voice after hearing it a few times.
Despite this Majin system, the battles in Eternal Poison are pretty standard, if not a little more difficult than normal. You'll move your spaces, execute your attacks, and heal your allies. There is a neat team dynamic that lets the main character "lead" her followers in battle, scoring extra attacks with the correct strategy, but this type of chain attack has been done in other SRPGs before. I will say that the battles become pretty difficult, with completion objectives not being readily apparent. Sometimes you'll have to do a little digging in the stats screen (triangle button) to see why you're not getting anywhere in battle. Attacks or buffs will sometimes be inexplicably ineffective, and those instances of confusion always seemed to come up at the worst time, forcing you to die and replay the battle. In the end, aside from the lovely art, you've played this battle system before in other strategy games.
But the art and design are pretty fantastic in Eternal Poison. Even the menu screens are pretty in this title. You can tell that a lot of thought was put into the character designs and overall look. The quality of art carries over into the dialogue scenes and even the backdrops for each battle. The actual characters don't look as nice on the battlefield as they do in the dialogue screens, and they look downright silly in motion while walking through the central town, but those instances are minor compared to the rest of the game, which is packed with eye candy.
Actually, there's a fair bit of ear candy here, too. Eternal Poison is full to the brim with quality tracks that are great at setting the mood, with their dark and orchestral sound. Thankfully, the game includes a free soundtrack CD.
A few final gripes: The loading times range from bad to horrible. For the most part, they're just a tad long. But there were some instances where I actually thought my system froze up, only to find that I wasn't waiting long enough for the next screen to load. Also, in battle, you'll see your attacks played out. These animations look great for the first few times, but the load times make them aggravating. I recommend shutting them off after the first couple of levels; the game really flies after you shut them off.
I don't think Eternal Poison is trying to be a ground-breaking strategy role-playing game. I think the developers were aiming for stylistic and different, and they've definitely succeeded at that. The game looks lovely, and the story is engaging. If you're not expecting a world-changing experience, you'll surely enjoy Eternal Poison.
Overall Score: 8 (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
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