Eternal Darkness Cover
Image: Nintendo

Picture the setting. You’re walking around a grand mansion, testing out keys on locked doors, investigating every nook and cranny, and simply trying your best to figure out where you need to go and what you need to do. The rooms are well-lit and the furniture neatly positioned together. By all accounts, it’s a reasonably nice-looking environment, and yet something feels off. Of course, it doesn’t help that the ambient soundtrack during this section of the game is rather grim, to say the least.

Sure enough, as you investigate a seemingly unassuming bathtub, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem hits you with one of gaming’s most terrifying, effective jump scares of all time.

Is it a monster? A zombie, perhaps? If franchises like Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark have taught us anything, it’s that we should generally expect any scares to be the result of some dreadful creature stalking the hallways or lurching at us from dark crevices. Not so, in this case. Here, the camera quickly pans into a close-up of the bathtub, our protagonist Alexandra Roivas witnessing a vision of her own dead body partially submerged in a pool of blood, her head slumped back, eyes unseeing. The accompanying scream kicks in at full pelt, causing anyone witnessing the scene for the first time to jump in their seat and quite possibly hit pause while they dig out a clean set of underpants.

If you’re not quite old enough to have been gaming during the GameCube era — or if blood, guts, and Lovecraftian horror weren't age-appropriate at the time — then you'll have missed out on the magnificent one-two punch that was the release of Resident Evil (REmake) and Eternal Darkness just a few months apart. The pair are still considered two of the finest survival horror games of all time and significantly altered public perception of Nintendo's “kid-friendly” GameCube. Indeed, Eternal Darkness stood as the first M-rated published by Nintendo since, well, ever.

Although both are held in similar regard, the ways in which Resident Evil and Eternal Darkness approached horror were significantly different. The former stuck very much to the formula that made the series such a monumental success during the PS1 era (obviously, because it’s a remake), while the latter gave us something completely different: an adventure set across multiple time periods from 26 BC to 2000 AD boasting not only a wide range of weapons including primitive swords and modern-day firearms, but also magic systems. Sorry, magick.

Eternal Darkness gameplay
Image: Nintendo

It’s not the psychological trauma of the bathtub jump scare that truly sets Eternal Darkness apart from its peers, however. That accolade is reserved for the remarkable sanity effects that the game throws at you if you’re not careful. Indicated by a green gauge to the left of the screen, this will slowly deplete as you encounter enemies and other nasty creatures; let it drop a certain amount and you’ll start to notice strange things beginning to occur around you.

I remember seeing the ‘blue screen of death’... I blurted out a curse word and promptly hit the reset button on the GameCube before the effect could conclude. I didn’t have a whole lot of patience those days.

At first, it might be something quite subtle, like the camera tilting just a tad too much, faces from statues following you around the room, or perhaps blood dripping from the ceiling or down a painting. Eventually, however, the game will start to get pretty wild with its trickery. I remember the first time it threw up the ‘blue screen of death’ with a whole bunch of error messages. I didn’t even hesitate; I blurted out a curse word and promptly hit the reset button on the GameCube before the effect could conclude. I didn’t have a whole lot of patience those days.

It was only when I rebooted the game and the sanity effect popped up again that I realised what was going on. By happy coincidence (or perhaps by design?), the exact same thing occurred near enough straight away, with the blue screen filling my vision. Devastated, I thought something had gone seriously wrong with the console, so I just sat there for a few moments, staring at the screen with a blank expression. After a few seconds, of course, the game pops back up accompanied by the anguished wailing of whichever character you happen to be playing as.

OH,” I thought. This was a trick. Of course it was. Not only had I started noticing weird things happening for the character, but now the game itself was actually trying to trick me. I felt quite silly having hit the reset button so quickly, but the feeling quickly changed to reverence; I couldn’t believe a game would be so bold as to make you think that it’s broken, and I absolutely loved it. After that point, I purposefully kept my sanity meter as low as possible purely to see what other kinds of effects might occur.

Eternal Darkness Roivaseseses
Image: Nintendo

Of course, it wasn’t the first time a video game attempted to break the fourth wall; several years prior, Konami’s Metal Gear Solid featured perhaps the most famous example of all with the Psycho Mantis boss. Famously, it reads your save files from other PS1 games before giving you the option to swap controller ports, thereby fooling Psycho Mantis and preventing him from “reading your thoughts”. It was an incredibly clever moment in gaming, but the way that Eternal Darkness takes this concept and runs with it is arguably even more impressive. Is it any wonder that developer Silicon Knights went on to create a GameCube remake of Metal Gear Solid?

Despite how effective Eternal Darkness' formula proved to be back in 2002, it remains 'trapped' on GameCube; Nintendo has done nothing with the IP beyond a few token trademark renewals. It’s a shame, particularly when you consider the fact that the company actually patented the sanity system concept (which has now expired), suggesting variations on the theme might appear in otherNintendo games. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. A spiritual successor to the game known as Shadow of the Eternals was planned by ex-Silicon Knights devs and at one point had veteran Metal Gear voice actor David Hayter attached, but the project became mired in the controversy and legal proceedings between Silicon Knights and Epic Games and nothing ever came of it.

So we arrive here, exactly 20 years on, with no sign of Eternal Darkness being given a new lease of life. The game hasn't been re-released in any fashion and, given that GameCube has yet to receive any kind of Nintendo Switch Online support, it hasn't even been ported anywhere. That being said, I’d urge everyone who has yet to experience the game to seek it out — buy a GameCube, buy a Wii, hit Ebay, do whatever you need to do. Eternal Darkness stands as one of the best survival horror games ever created, and you’d be absolutely insane to let it pass you by.

Just to remind you. Obviously, don't watch this if you're going to play the game!

Still not convinced? It's Phil Spencer's favourite GameCube game. That's right, Uncle Phil!

For those of you already in the know, feel free to share your tales of volume control issues and control mishaps below. Also, feel free to comfort us with the knowledge that all the craziness of the past few years has just been one particularly elaborate insanity effect.