Title  : Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
Platforms  : Nintendo GameCube
Publisher  : Nintendo
ESRB Rating  : Mature
Game Rating  : 9.0
Review by  : Ken Gagne

The survival horror genre is often jaded to find new ways to frighten gamers. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Eternal Darkness, a GameCube game, is its arrival from Nintendo, a traditionally family-friendly publisher. This title is further unlike other survival horror titles, using several innovative storytelling and gameplay techniques to envelop players in gloom. 

The main character is Alexandra Roivas, who, through her persual of the Tome of Eternal Darkness, vicariously experiences historical characters' encounters with an ancient evil. Gamers will play as a dozen different figures through history, from a Roman centurion to a Persian nobleman and a Rhode Island mortician. The brief time spent with each person prevents strong characterization from emerging. Each diverse storyline on its own bears little semblance to a plot, but as each plot thread weaves with the others, a fascinating overall story develops. 

This quality could be appropriately classified as "schizophrenic," as insanity is an essential theme to Eternal Darkness' gameplay. With each improbable monstrosity Alexandra and her predecessors confront, their "sanity meter" decreases. An insane person is likely to hallucinate in any number of ways, from visual apparitions (such as bugs crawling across the screen) to gameplay abnormalities (one's head falling off, or one's inventory disappearing). 

These frights are the kind Eternal Darkness thrives on. There are few sudden surprises as in Resident Evil, or the constant atmosphere of general wrongness that pervaded Silent Hill. Monsters are generally unvaried in build, leaving gamers to execute the same attacks regularly. 

Our heroes have an array of tools at their disposal. Magickal runes and codices can be assembled to cast spells that restore attributes or imbue weapons with special qualities. Even regular attacks can be performed in different fashions, as Eternal Darkness includes a targeting system that allows players to easily aim for a zombie's head, chest, or limbs. The controls for these maneuvers are easily performed, especially with the option to assign "Quick Spells" to custom buttons. 

Spells are only one solution to the game's puzzles. The riddles are fairly straightforward, with items being collected as needed and locked pathways unabashedly requiring the use of these keys. With the number of threats players will encounter, from both enemies and environments, this game is as much about action as it is puzzles. 

The character and monster models are graphically impressive, as is the environment. The camera pans and scans to predetermined perspectives, following player movements. Various lighting effects help shed the darkness as necessary. 

The various sound effects are even more atmospheric. The insane will hear screams, cries, and things going "bump" where there are none. The quality and diversity of the voice acting is fantastic, but is generally reserved for cinematic interludes (which are frequent). Dialects and foreign languages preserve the foreign settings of the various characters, while foreboding music contributes to the ominous context. 

The presentation isn't the only means the game uses to create these realistic vistas. Be it in the description of a historically-appropriate weapon or the flowery text found in a manuscript, Eternal Darkness values atmosphere. Calling a sword a "ram dao" borders on the educational, but it shows how much research Nintendo invested in creating an authentic experience. 

It is often obvious when Eternal Darkness is playing with your mind, but the variety and innovation of methods by which it does so makes these attempts as much fun as they are disturbing. It takes awhile for the story to develop into a coherent whole, but patient gamers will enjoy the trip through insanity and into the light.


This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 01-Jul-02