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Surprises Hidden in the Eternal Darkness


It was long ago, feels like a dream, when Occams Electric Toothbrush did me a service only a true father can: he lent me his very own physical copy of Eternal Darkness. This happened, oh, almost two years ago, when he came over for PAX, I think? Ugh, I suck at being a friend.

This singular act of giving is a big deal, as I would find out later, because this is unironically a really good game. I just finished my playthrough a couple days ago--streamed on Twitch and then uploaded to YouTube for posterity--and, hot on the heels of the heels of the announcement of a spiritual successor, I wanted to catalogue some of my thoughts before this shriveled mind of mine ejects them for on good reason.

There will probably be SPOILERS throughout the rest of this post. The game is like a million years old and has a sequelish thing announced, so I think the statute of limitations has run out on this one, guys.

I went into Eternal Darkness not quite knowing what to expect. My friends had hyped the heck out of it on the podcast, but they also made it somehow sound kind of campy. So I kind of started it expecting something like Deadly Premonition, but came away with much, much more.

Unlike Deadly Premonition, Eternal Darkness's tongue is lying flat in its mouth, certainly not in its cheek. It doesn't have any weird gags or bizzar moments during which you can hear the game snickering off to side. If you look past the game's age to see the fairly solid story they crafted, this is all totally okay.

By halycon450

In broad strokes, for thousands of years or something, a dude has been trying to summon a malevolent elder god into this world (the eponymous darkness). Not too sure why he'd want to do that, but whatever. And of course, there were always sane and rational people who got wind of this and tried to do something to stop it. In present day, things are coming to a head, and it's up to you to save everything by learning as much about these ill-fated pawns of old as you can.

The majority of the game consists of playing chapters as those pawns, pretty much all of whom meet with some untimely demise. Oops. However, your first chapter is actually as the antagonist himself--the guy who is trying to summon the darkness. In it, you're presented with a seemingly insignificant choice that actually ends up flavoring the rest of the game: you pick which elder god he summons.

Each elder god is aligned with a color and effect: red (health), green (sanity), and blue (magick), and each color "beats" the subsequent color in rock-paper-scissors fashion. I chose blue at the beginning because I like blue and it looked like a Metroid. Since the blue god Ulya'oth was being summoned, about 2/3 of the enemies from there on out were blue, many of which had mana drain abilities. In this way, you could have three slightly different New Game+ runs of the game with different spins on the enemy encounters.

By Sodano

Eternal Darkness really commits to the colors and alignments, injecting them into almost every facet of the game. You cast spells with a particular color alignment, allowing you to make such blunders as casting a red spell against a blue enemy. But no worry! you recharge mana from a couple different ways, so you only feel mana pressure in the middle of a tough battle.

I love runes, and I love collecting runes... which you totally do in this game. Moreover, you get to play Cooking Mama with them and discover new spells before you've officially "found" them. It's great that they opened up a bit and let you experiment without holding your hand.

It also incorporates magick into a few neat puzzles. In one section, I had to cast a spell with a long charge time while standing in a damage field. The solution? Cast shield on myself first, to keep from being knocked back for the cast duration. In another part, I buffed myself with the special purple version of "Reveal Invisible", which turned me invisible and let me escape from a crumbling ruin or something without getting inconvenienced by monsters.

By halycon450

Whereas the magick system was fun, melee and ranged combat was as plain as chicken broth. You can target various parts of enemies, but due to fixed camera angles and somewhat janky controls, it was always a little bit awkward, maybe like trying to solve a Rubik's cube covered in lard.

Might as well get all my complaining out right now, here in the half-time show, huh? The game is downright prolific with backtracking, seriously. There were a few levels where I had to go back and forth across the whole stupid thing two or three times for no particularly good reason. And did I complain about the fixed camera angles already? I'm glad that trapping of old games has become less popular. Sheesh.

Oh yeah, I also could have done with about half the amount of "trapper" enemies. They whisk you away like some punk into a mini level you have to escape out of, except it's insultingly simple and repetitious.

You play as about ten characters throughout the game, and, aside from their individual stories, they were also differentiated by the equipment they can get and their fixed stats. The hunky fireman in one of the later sections had massive health, but low mana. One of the monks had tons of mana but very little health. The frail, elderly grandpa couldn't run long enough to save his life. It made it so I couldn't quite power through every chapter with massive magick and lent a little more variety to the gameplay.

To finish up my praise about the cohesion in the story, I want to highlight two parts in the game that stood out. In one, you receive a note that your grandfather has left an item for you. When you go to it, it's protected by a spell, and you have to dispel the magick field to get it. In my blueish game, true to form, the item was protected by a green aligned magick barrier, which the grandfather surely would have chosen as a ward against blue in his time. It's the little things, yanno?

Well, it's also the big things. Spoiler alert, but when you get to the end of the game, you're just a wimpy dude against an elder friggen god. In space. An elder god in space. So what's the thing to do in that situation? If your answer isn't "die", it might be to summon your own elder god to fight as your champion. Woo! With elder god in in our pocket, now we can tip the balance in our favor!

WRONG. Turns out you can't fit god in your pocket. Once your god is done whooping the other one, he goes on to destroy the world, anyway. Oops. Nah, you end up saving the day, but the game at least acknowledges that any elder god is a problem you have to deal with. That could have very easily turned into a huge plot hole.

By halycon450

Not only did I like the story, I liked the way it was written. Eternal Darkness exudes a vivid style in its writing that I just have to quote with some excerpts; seldom have I seen such peculiar and interesting writing in a game.

A description of a weird fountain in a temple, and your act of filling it:
"A disturbing rendition of a monstrous devil! It is contorted into what appears to be a fountain. What sickly liquid is this draining into the pool, trickling from a scum-encrusted spout? Dunking the urn into the foul smelling fountain, it becomes filled to the brim with rank fluid. It is a lot heavier now, and rife with foetor."

From Forgeries of the Reliquaries, a book you find lying around:
"While it could be said that false hope is still hope, relics such as Cuthbert's Jawbone, the Hand of Jude, and the infamous Thighbone Flute of Connaught, while being forgeries, deceive the righteous unjustly. Their existence as "true" relics is the utmost heresy."

From Maximilian Roivas' journal:
"Days ago, I watched one of them stretch his neck. I could have sworn I saw it twist in a most peculiar direction, and a bulge of muscle tissue collect and grew in the most incorrect of manners, as if a bone was being displaced from its proper location and something else moving in its place. I stumbled away knowing that I was surrounded by unholy creatures that wore the skins of mortal men and women!"

Such descriptive and weird writing. I love it!

Insanity effects... ahh, what a wonderful way to close up. There's nothing quite like seeing your dude spontaneously get cut in half, grow extra large and stomp everything, get tiny (and stomped), walk on the ceiling, get suddenly mobbed by a ton of monsters, have an arm just fall off, randomly swing your weapon, watch the walls start bleeding, hear random screaming, or seeing your volume turn down from an unseen hand, or seeing your TV turn off, or panicking at a falsely corrupted save.

I don't know of another game that did these things so well. My only complaint is that these were all so unique and cool that there's very little incentive to play with a lot of sanity. That seems like heading in the wrong direction!

What a great time I had with this, and a real stellar demonstration that, despite a few missteps, these older games really can stand the test of time and be fun even in today's gaming landscape. Finally, I will close by saying that above all else, Eternal Darkness put the fear of bathtubs in me.

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About knutafone of us since 6:45 PM on 03.01.2010

I'm a dad in my thirties.
I work for MS on the Xbox, making features and fixing bugs.
I have a cat and two dogs.
I sometimes make Twitter bots: 1, 2, 3

Groundhog Day: Wave After Wave, This Is My Ocean
Obscurity: Nobody has ever heard of Lemmings

Currently playing
Stephen's Sausage Roll

Dark Souls
Geometry Wars 2
Burnout Paradise
Rayman (original, Origins, Legends)
Tetris Attack
Metroid Prime series
Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3
Descent 1-3
English Country Tune
The Witness

Other places you might find me:
Twitch.tv livestream (PC indie games and Dark Souls)
knutaf on YouTube
@_knutaf on Twitter
Occasionally, I am part of a podcast
I watch a fair bit of anime.
I sometimes listen to music.
Xbox LIVE:knutaf
PSN ID:knutaf
Steam ID:knutaf


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