Telling me that a game has elements of dating sim in it is one of the fastest ways to pique my interest. While I’m socially awkward and people suck, I think romance is one of the most commonly used and easily explained grounding elements in games. I love grounding elements and think that developers don’t leverage them enough. Give your protagonist relatable hobbies alongside their wondrous powers. For bonus points, let me get to partake in them.
Eternights puts this upfront in its descriptions: action-RPG and dating sim at the end of the world. That’s all I knew about it going in. And that’s basically all it is.
If you want to be pedantic and stick to the very specific and literal definition of “dating sim,” then Eternights still fits. Days tick by on a calendar, and wooing your victim requires you to meet certain social stat requirements. Evidence suggests that this is lifted more from the Persona games than it was directly influenced by pioneers like Tokimeki Memorial, but it still passes scrutiny.
You play as the actual blandest dude in the world. He wears a plain white shirt like it’s laundry day. His age is undetermined; somewhere between high school and post-college. During an attempt to get his boring life in motion, the world abruptly ends. During the effort to survive, he’s separated from his life partner. By that, I mean his right arm is cut off — his ‘bating arm.
Thankfully, a god is swift to replace his loss with opportunity. He’s granted a glowing, transparent facsimile. It can also grow a sword out of nothing. However, Eternights never answers the important question of how useful it is on lonely nights. I guess it doesn’t matter. Even in a worst-case scenario, with time, our cardboard protagonist can learn to adapt to life with his left hand.
Before the whole ordeal of partner separation, you’re also joined by… uh… Yuna? She’s an idol. That is to say, a victim of Japanese pop-star culture. That’s essentially her whole personality.
Later, you’re joined by… Hrm… Mae? No, Min. She’s a shy runner. Her being shy is her whole personality.
Then there’s the lady I chose to win over. She’s pretty great. Her name is, uh… Erm… Crap. No! I mean, Sia. Her name is Sia. She’s a scientist. She likes science. That’s basically her whole personality.
Then, eventually, you meet Yohan. He’s immortal. Likes dudes. Enjoys making coffee the old-fashioned way but hates the taste. Wears a bulky sweater in the midst of summer that doesn’t fit him right. He’s all right.
You’re also joined on this adventure by tortured, perpetual wingman Chani. He’s there to support you, and that’s it. His character arc revolves entirely around the fact that he’s just as boring as everyone else but doesn’t get any super-powers to help make up for a dearth of personality.
It’s the end of the world, and you’re the last hope of saving it. You have to break through a pair of imposing, spectral walls, and stop a god from re-awakening. Obviously, the stakes are so high, and the pressure is so heavy that it’s impossible to avoid getting distracted by certain urges. Thankfully, said urges lead to greater power through the strengthening of social connections. There are more than just the obvious reasons to find a pair of couch cushions to slide your TV remote between. Usher your friends into the bone zone and master your meat tenderizer!
In the arms of another
Eternights is separated into three sections; the two walls, and the end. Each one gives you an allotted amount of time to screw around and gently probe for ways into the pants of your companions. However, before the time runs out, you need to hit the dungeon and bring down the wall. Generally, you only need a single attempt to do so since Eternights doesn’t exactly nail the risk-and-reward concept. On the other hand, it does light a fire under your flirting skills.
The combat is weak. Buffing your character is generally the only highlight of the actual action portion of Eternights, because everything boils down to mashing a button to try and reach a stronger attack while dodging whenever necessary. Your friends come equipped with an arsenal of magic attacks that provide the only real strategy that comes into play, but you can easily just get by with Yuna’s healing. This is except for the frequent moments where the game takes Yuna away.
The story doesn’t really make up for the underwhelming gameplay. It’s really hard to get a feel for the stakes. It’s hard to tell where the hell you are since it seems like a mash-up of various countries in Southeast Asia. Everyone seems either dead or turned into monsters already. If you save the world, does everyone transform back into normal humans? If so, is it really a good idea to eviscerate them with your sticky fingers?
The characters are similarly weak. Each one of them has this intense smell of familiarity about them. There’s a single gay character, and it’s sort of funny to think that was risky back in 2012 when Mass Effect 3 did it. The rest are all so archetypal and as mundane as the protagonist’s shirt.
Not only that, but they’re also weirdly inconsistent. Toward the climax of our relationship, Sia kept on talking about how she had suppressed all her passions as a matter of protecting the people around her. Bitch, no you didn’t. Sia’s the most boisterous person in the group, and her whole shtick is weird science. If that is her being self-restrained, I assume that her normal behavior involves dissecting hamsters and stitching them together to make super-hamsters.
Eternights is largely saved by its moment-to-moment dialogue. What it lacks in intimacy, it makes up for in surprising wit. There are times when it dwells too long on certain themes that it seems to consider spicy. It will elbow you in the ribs and be like, “This is almost like that one kink porn. You know the one.” Then later, out of left field, it will pull out something that’s actually able to elicit a chuckle. That’s sort of what kept me going through all the eye rolls.
At arm’s length
Unlike the Persona series, which Eternights so eagerly seeks to imitate, it won’t take you 100 hours to see the credits roll. It’s more likely only going to take you about a dozen for a full playthrough. And it’s not too much of a slog, mostly helped by the ways it finds to be surprising through general bits of dialogue.
It’s also important to note that Eternights was created by a small team. The blurbs on it like to slip in that there was only one “full-time” dev on the project. With that in mind, it’s an impressive effort. While it’s derivative and lacking in a lot of areas, it seems to do so with the production values of a more mainstream game.
For that reason, however, it kind of bothers me. Part of my interest in independent titles involves viewing the art form without the overwhelming gloss. Eternights has that gloss, which is an accomplishment in its own right, but when you peel that away, you just find something that seems a bit bland and lifeless. Certainly, not a night you’ll remember. You’d probably be better off just keeping your hand.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]