Ambitious, but underwhelming
I came into Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem with some high expectations. I had been hearing a lot of good things about the game. It ranks highly on multiple "best of the GameCube" lists, so I was ready for an experience. That's one thing that Eternal Darkness delivers. An "experience." I just didn't find it as positive as others, and I attribute many of my issues with the game to dated controls and mechanics.
Eternal Darkness' story was heralded almost across the board. There's just one problem with the story--it's all across the board. It starts in one place and then jumps to the next with very little flow, and I wasn't even entirely sure what I was doing and why until about two thirds of the way through the game. It just isn't clear about the motivation behind characters' actions. I didn't understand the events at the beginning of the game until the end of the game. That's just how convoluted it is.
One problem I had was that Eternal Darkness expects players to have knowledge before making important decisions. The very first dungeon in the game contains a choice between three artifacts that is a crucial plot point, yet the weight of this point isn't clear until much further down the road. The game gives players no indication of what these artifacts mean, just that one must be chosen for (at the beginning) a seemingly arbitrary reason.
Unfortunately, the plot is filled with moments like these. Small decisions that players could make completely uninformed will influence the rest of the game's plot, difficulty, and available items. That's not to say the Eternal Darkness doesn't have a good story, it's just presented very poorly. The presentation is stilted and jumpy, meaning I wasn't invested in the characters or the story at all. Eternal Darkness simply lacks an underlying flow that could have drastically improved a mediocre game.
One thing that I will say about Eternal Darkness is that this is certainly a game with a definite atmosphere. Straightaway the game is clear about its creepy intentions. Sanity effects are great fun and sometimes caused me to legitimately jump or my heart to race (my saves are being deleted?!), it's just unfortunate that in order to see the best sanity effects, one would have to play the game poorly. I was constantly equipped with almost full sanity, so I never got to see some of the crazier effects. These could have been utilized a bit better in that department, but otherwise they are the most unique part about Eternal Darkness.
In terms of gameplay, Eternal Darkness is pretty dated. Across the game's twelve chapters, players take control of one character per chapter, spanning thousands of years. Each character has independent statistics determining their Sanity meter, Health meter, and Magick meter. As the game progresses, players can collect runes that form into spells that do a wide variety of effects including shielding, invisibility, instant death for on-screen enemies, healing, restoring sanity and magick, and summoning creatures. The spell system is fantastic, and combining runes is another very unique part of Eternal Darkness, and is one part that actually doesn't lack clarity.
Combat is slow and definitely the most dated part of Eternal Darkness. Locking onto enemies can be confusing and often the incorrect enemy or incorrect body part is targeted, only increasing frustration. By the midway point of the game, however, I was overpowered enough with my collection of spells that this was no longer a problem. At that point, I could just unleash a blast that instantly killed everything in the room, which was a comforting respite from the frustration, even if it started to get old.
As a whole, Eternal Darkness is a severely dated game with numerous issues. I do hope that this mythos is revisited someday, because it certainly has potential. It's just that the potential was not realized in this particular game. Several issues with pacing and frustrating gameplay aspects keep down the game's fantastic atmosphere, detailed story, and interesting concepts. A story spanning several centuries is fascinating. If only it had been executed better.
+ Some unique aspects
+ Detailed story
- Confusing pacing
- Expects impossible knowledge of the player, rarely explains its intricacies
- Dated gameplay makes early parts frustrating and later parts mind-numbingly easy
- The coolest parts of the game only show up if you play badly