(GameCube)

Game Review

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Spencer McIlvaine

To think that once I could not see beyond the veil of our reality to see those who dwell behind

When Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem was released, there was a glut of Mature-rated horror games on the market from which to choose. Between the endless sequels to Resident Evil, Silent Hill and others, it was easy to overlook this newcomer. But developer Silicon Knights had a few secrets up its sleeve that made Eternal Darkness not only worth playing but feature a creative new spin on the genre as well. In fact, the game is so original that it has a patent to prove it.

Opening with a haunting quote from Edgar Allan Poe, Eternal Darkness establishes itself right away as a horror game and makes no bones about it. If you think you don’t like to get scared, Eternal Darkness will teach you the joys of feeling terrified. Perhaps best known for its “sanity meter," Eternal Darkness introduces a mechanic that causes the game to change depending on how strong your grip on reality is. The more insane you become, the more crazy things you will observe. And the more immersed you as a player become in the story, the more startling these events can become. Nintendo calls this a “Sanity System," and it's so unique that it's filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as patent #6935954. As a consequence, no other game has since played quite like Eternal Darkness, nor will one until the patent expires.

Examples of this sanity system in practice include simple nuances, such as the sound of footsteps or whispers alerting the player to nonexistent danger, as well as more seriously deranged incidents, such as having to fight monsters that are not really there or experiencing a cheap and unpreventable death only to discover that it was just a hallucination. You lose sanity as your character becomes frightened by onscreen monsters, so the longer it takes you to kill them, the more insane you become. As you descend further into madness, the game plays tricks on you to the extent of actually torturing you with your most deeply ingrained fears as a gamer. The intended response from the player is panic, which is a very reasonable reaction when the game creates the illusion that it has crashed in the middle of play. At the same time, many of these sanity effects are actually quite funny after you figure out that you have been fooled again.

Although it is a truly unique and an enjoyable aspect of the game, the sanity system is by no means all that Eternal Darkness has to offer. The real reward comes with the gameplay and storytelling. Although the main character is a young woman trying to solve the mystery of her murdered grandfather, the actual narrative is told in the form of chapters of a book that she finds hidden throughout his mansion. You play each chapter she reads as a level in the game, which have an epic feel to them, spanning multiple characters over the centuries. Each chapter is a self-contained section of the larger story, and the survival of your character is not always necessary to the advancement of that story, so you never know how it's going to end. Each segment has consequences that play out later on, even affecting the present-day protagonist’s world.

In this way, players not only get to experience a story with generational consequences, but they get to play as different, unique characters as well. In one chapter you’ll become Roman centurion armed with a short sword. In another, you're a spry teenage girl with a dagger. In another still, you're a fat middle-aged man armed with a pistol. The way that you move and your available equipment change from chapter to chapter, making for a unique experience each time. To keep you interested, in some later chapters you will revisit the same locations you visited in earlier segments, and part of the fun is in seeing how things have changed centuries later in terms of décor, level design and puzzles. Although every stage features essentially the same goal of exploring and solving puzzles while fighting monsters along the way, each feels fresh as the puzzles are unique, the play style of each character is different, and you’ll learn new magic tricks along the way.

One of the rewards for all of your exploration is a robust magic system that builds upon runes that you discover which, when combined, create magic spells. You don’t discover simple spells like "healing," however, but instead locate the appropriate noun and verb runes that match up to create the desired effect. And those same two runes that formed the healing spell may also be components of other spells if they can be joined with other runes that you obtain later. The result is that discovering a new spell instils a feeling of great accomplishment in the player and encourages experimentation. And that accomplishment is not lost at the end of the chapter, as you may continue to use your spells in later segments.

Offering a good length for just one playthrough, Eternal Darkness has excellent replay value. At the beginning, you are offered three choices with no explanation; what you are actually choosing is a path. Each option (red, green, or blue) as well as altering the difficulty level features different monsters, magic and cut scenes. As a result, to experience the entire story, you must actually play through the game three times. Only at the end of the third playthrough will you be treated to the true final scene.

These features make for a spectacular game, but what seal the deal are the little technical touches like good, responsive controls and haunting sound effects and music. The graphics are colourful and detailed, featuring some creepy sanity effects such as eyes in paintings that follow your movement. And, lastly, the talented voice acting must be acknowledged as this is all too often a substandard feature in games. Here, all of the actors assigned to each part do an excellent job of making their respective characters believable.

Conclusion

Eternal Darkness can safely be called one of the GameCube's best titles, with beautiful visuals, deeply rewarding gameplay that encourages one to return, and a superb story that puts most horror movies (or, for that matter, most video games) to shame. Play it with a friend to show off how good the GameCube can be. Play it by yourself to appreciate this classic one more time. But, whatever you do, don’t play it in the dark.

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User Comments (59)

Zach

#2

Zach said:

Thanks for the great review, Spencer! This was a wonderful game, I'll have to go back and complete my third playthrough.

grenworthshero

#3

grenworthshero said:

I agree with calpurnio. While I'd give it an 8, the controls were pretty bad. Spellcasting was especially annoying, and the action got really repetitive.
On the other hand I thought the story in this game was really good, and I liked how unique many of the elements in this game were. That said, it still got old after a while. It didn't take long for me to get annoyed by constantly losing my sanity in the game.

Link-Hero

#4

Link-Hero said:

Wait, what's so wrong and annoying about the controls? I thought they were great and easy to use, especially the spell casting.

Anyway, I thought that this was a great game and it deserves a solid 9/10. A really spooky game with a great story along with it.

Cia

#5

Cia said:

There should have been more different types of enemies and levels in this game, other than that it's pretty perfect. 9/10

jangonov

#7

jangonov said:

ok, I'll be the first to say it. I think this would be GREAT as a re-make (or a sequel?) for the 3DS. Just imagine the possibilities with the 3D displays.

WaveWarlock

#8

WaveWarlock said:

Now this is a nice example of an overrated title I forgot about. I owned it back on the GCN, and while the game had a solid presentation, good graphics and some eerie atmosphere, especially when the game screws with your mind and starts to create trippy haunting visuals, i found it be pretty barebones and repetitive....The gameplay which is the most important thing started to bore once I switched characters after playing as the lead female. It's an interesting game, but I just didn't have that much fun with it...It was irritating and frusturating if anything, overall I'd say it's quite the Snorlax.

cr00mz

#9

cr00mz said:

controls in this game are fantastic when compared to resident evil

Sabrewing

#10

Sabrewing said:

Silicon Knights could do complete, utter garbage from now on (I'll leave their current, "Too Human"-pursuing state up to individual opinion), and I would still totally respect them just for releasing this one title.

Few games have captured my imagination as well as Eternal Darkness did. It probably suffered for not optimizing the GameCube as well as it could have, having been a Nintendo 64 game in early development, but you know what? That NEVER once bothered me. At all. I grew so immersed with the characters and the world they occupied that I just wanted to keep playing.

Grievences? Yeah, I have them. It ends, for one, and the rock/paper/scissors aspect of the magick and enemy system arguably holds it back from its potential, but that's what sequels are for.

And I STILL say Alex should've been in Smash Bros. Brawl. :)

SKTTR

#12

SKTTR said:

This game really deserves a 9/10 no less.

It's not the enemies that are meant to be creepy (although there are many ugly ones), it's the storyline and the insanity effects.

Graphics - 8/10 - First-gen GC graphics but very atmospheric and detailed.

Sound - 10/10 - Fitting background music, perfect voice acting and lip-sync, outstanding sound effects.

Story - 10/10 - You will be amazed! If you want a mature deliberate story, don't miss this game.

Controls - 10/10 - Fighting in narrow passages affects combat, running makes you exhausted and precise attack lock-on are just a few of the many little details of smooth and detailed controls.

Gameplay - 9/10 - Selecting items Zelda-like from a menu and putting spells on free buttons interrupts the flow a little. You can save your game in any location (when there are no enemies) is a big plus. No frustration factor in any way.

moosa

#14

moosa said:

I didn't even read the review. I just came in to make sure you gave the game a 9/10. Good work. ;)
This game is a party favorite. I remember late nights playing this at friends' houses with a bunch of people I may or may not have known very well crowded around because everyone wanted to watch it. I also remember the first time I experienced a hallucination. I had a buddy of mine over and we both freaked out. THAT'S a memorable gaming experience.

Shiryu

#18

Shiryu said:

A true gem among Gamecube games, it's a shame nowadays Silicon Knighs seems to have lost their way. I would love a sequel for this.

Link79

#19

Link79 said:

This game is just too Awesome! I can't even find the right words to describe how much I enjoyed this. It was really cool the way it messed with your head with all those Sanity effects. How many games go so far as to pretend to be erasing your memory card?! Why so many people didn't buy this just boggles my mind. Furthermore where the hell is my sequel? This game needed one really bad.

Spoony_Tech

#20

Spoony_Tech said:

Great game and didn't know about the three different variations of the story for the true ending. Might have to pick this up again just to see cus the story is just that good!

Sabrewing

#21

Sabrewing said:

Tech101: You also unlock Eternal Mode by beating all three storylines. Infinite health, magick, and ammo. Sadly, infinite sanity, too.

Spoony_Tech

#23

Spoony_Tech said:

@21 thanks! Infinite sanity sounds freaky!
Also pop quiz: who has seen this game or remember what movie it was in?

MayhemStaff

#24

Mayhem said:

It was good enough for me to play through three times to get the extra ending...

TKOWL

#25

TKOWL said:

I've often heard it's one of the scariest games ever made... makes me fearful of wanting to play it.

zionich

#26

zionich said:

Normally I hate that a games selling point is play it multiple times to unlock stuff. I had no problem going through this game 3 times.

RonF

#27

RonF said:

Great game! The graphics are technically weak but the art direction compensate that. The sound editing is fantastic and the voice acting is very strong. The magic system is the best I've ever found in a videogame, the idea of finding and combining rules to create spell is great and well executed. However, the story is were this game really shines, especially compared to the mediocrity in the horror genre.

I've never had a problem with the controls. They are reminiscent of Resident Evil. They might not be fantastic but they are perfectly functional.

PatrickElliotStaff

#32

PatrickElliot said:

This is one of the few game to take place in Rhode Island! My home state! JIGGA!

Seriously though, we got some haunted-ass shiz. H.P. Lovecraft is from Providence, and he's buried in Swan Point Cemetary.

MeloMan

#34

MeloMan said:

9 out of 10 is well deserved. This is a "must play" Gamecube game, defintely top 10 games of the system.

Stuffgamer1

#35

Stuffgamer1 said:

This game wins the "only horror game I actually like" award. Great review!:D

@Tech101: Infinite Sanity means you never LOSE sanity, meaning zero insanity effects. That would be the opposite of freaky.

bro2dragons

#36

bro2dragons said:

this has been one of my least favorite gamecube games ever since i bought it, and i own over 60 GC titles right now. the controls, as people have said are clunky and seemed to me outdated by N64 standards, the action was slow and repetitive, the environments fairly bland and the gameplay both straightforward and confusing at the same time. but, i never did pick the thing up again after playing through the first chapter?

if i found it up to that point completely horrible and an absolute waste of $20, would it get any better if i kept going? i would i still hate the thing the whole way through?

JebbyDeringer

#37

JebbyDeringer said:

I didn't make it past the first level because I didn't like the controls. I'd be fighting the monsters/demons/ghosts or whatever they were and it was hard to avoid getting hit. I could attack them and they would take off my life at the same time. I got to one point where I saved with not enough life to make it anywhere.

Ivan_Winchester

#38

Ivan_Winchester said:

aaa eternal darkness how long i have been waiting for a sequel... i still have hope, this game could be the perfect choice to lauch with wii vitality sensor. also i missed pios augustus in brawl.
i relly want to replay the game, i finish it with the 3 gods but i dont recall of a true final, just the cutscene of the god you chose at the beggining

Amauriel

#40

Amauriel said:

I love this game, and I don't usually go for horror games. When my husband and I were dating, and he found out I had this game, he was very surprised, as it's much darker than I usually like. It's held a special place for us since, as a game that we can enjoy together, passing the controller back and forth, usually chanting the "Pargon"s along with the 7-point spells. We play through it every year in October, and have seen all of the endings multiple times. Those of you wondering about whether or not you've seen the final ending, it shows the ending with the god of your choice, then another quick scene AFTER that.

Bakajin

#41

Bakajin said:

I never did go through my second and third playthroughs, I should do something about that.

WhiteTrashGuy

#42

WhiteTrashGuy said:

I am dissapointed with all of the people who didn't like the controls. This was a Generation 1 title for the GCN and it still holds up today. For the past few years I've gone back every October and played it through Halloween. Easily a must-own on the GCN and one of the most innovative titles of the last generation.

KeeperBvK

#44

KeeperBvK said:

I can't really understand how anybody can criticize the controls, especially in a world of Resident Evil games. The controls were simply perfect as the game itself nearly is. A true masterpiece in every single regard. Only replaying it 3 times got a bit tedious.

The_Fox

#45

The_Fox said:

@bro2dragons
It does start a little slow, but picks up later in the game. I can't guarantee the later chapters would turn you around but it's worth a shot to try it again.

CanisWolfred

#48

CanisWolfred said:

I think we can all agree that this is a great game. One of the best on the Gamecube, and I wish the developer hadn't lost their senses so we could get a respectable sequel.

@Dragoon

It's not scary, it's just creepy and moody and mind-f***ingly weird.

PSICOffee

#49

PSICOffee said:

Guess I'll give it a try if I see it at the store sometime and when I have monnies again.

Deviant_Mugen

#51

Deviant_Mugen said:

One of the games on my long list of GameCube games I want to buy...

Great review, by the way, Spencer...

Sabrewing

#52

Sabrewing said:

Obviously, they have the right to complain, but I have to wonder how so many people had issues with the controls. It's not "tank-style" like RE, which is a plus, and targetting individual limbs on the zombies is a breeze.

I could see maybe getting frustrated with firearms (especially since Bonethieves dodge bullets),but since everyone gets a melee weapon, it's a simple matter of hacking off the arms and then whacking at the head/torso to kill the things. Seriously, the only real challenge is if you're confronted with several Bonethieves -- or worse, Horrors -- while unprepared.

Everyone has a different experience, I guess. :)

nice_shirt

#53

nice_shirt said:

To anyone who has not played this game I strongly urge you to give it a try. It's one of a kind.

CanisWolfred

#55

CanisWolfred said:

Yeah, I didn't mind the controls once I got used to them. They aren't intuitive, but they aren't bad. They just take some getting used to.

Omega

#56

Omega said:

The biggest pro and the biggest con of this game is the background story. It's pretty complicated. If you manage to understand it, you'll be rewarded with a great gameplay experience. If not, it just appears to be senseless, boring and meaningless stuff.

Jashin

#57

Jashin said:

For every Lovecraftian Nerd this is the wet dream becoming reality!
This game ist 10 out of 10!!!

DaemonSword

#58

DaemonSword said:

10 out of 10. Just imagine what they could do with HD graphics and on 2 screens, for either the Wii U or the 3DS. Remake this game now, Nintendo!!

MussakkuLaden

#59

MussakkuLaden said:

In some aspects it's one of my favorite games ever, but then again it has some considerable flaws, i.e. the last chapter in particular. Could have been perfect, but as it is it's a 9/10, I completely agree.

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