Experiencing the Horror- Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting (…)” -Edgar Allen Poe

You know a game better have something good up its sleeve when the first thing it flashes up on the screen is a quote from one of history’s greatest horror authors. Thankfully, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem delivers.

The environments are creepy- and beautifully rendered.

The environments are creepy- and beautifully rendered.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem purports to be the story of Alex Roivas, a college student who has returned to the ancestral Roivas mansion to investigate the death of her grandfather, an eccentric antiquarian who possessed an interest in the occult. In actuality, Eternal Darkness spans the stories of various protagonists at various points throughout the last two millennia, all of whom fall into contact with the titular cursed tome and find themselves pursued by the horrific creatures that serve the alien gods the book describes, titanic vile beings who seek to exert their control over humanity and establish a reign of madness over the earth.

Even the game's opening sequence looks like it could be the cover image for a Lovecraft novel.

Even the game’s opening sequence looks like it could be the cover image for a Lovecraft novel.

If this sounds familiar, it should; the premise was essentially copied whole-cloth from the work of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, specifically his Cthulhu Mythos stories. Rather than coming across as a crass copy of Lovecraft’s work, though, the game seems more like a homage to one of the masters of the horror genre. Given that Lovecraft himself had no issues with others creating stories set in his Cthulhu Mythos setting, it’s easy to imagine the alien gods of Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem as fellow residents of the Cthulhu Mythos universe alongside the familiar creations of Lovecraft like Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, and Cthulhu.

"Come on, give us a hug now..."

“Come on, give us a hug now…”

The game itself is split into chapters, each lasting around 60 to 90 minutes, and this is part of its charm; you’ll find that playing the game becomes much like reading a collected edition of the short fiction of Lovecraft or Poe- you can play one chapter a night, each time experiencing a somewhat self-contained story, and once you complete the entire package you realize the connections between the narrative of each section and the general arc of the wider story of the machinations of the alien gods. The multiple protagonist system keeps things interesting through the process of having to return to previously-completed areas, which could easily have turned into drudgery. It helps that each time you return to an area you’ll be seeing it through the eyes of a different protagonist at a different point in history, and the environment will have changed with time and activity since you last wandered through. The environments are beautifully structured, with an absolutely awe-inspiring sense of scope. One particular sequence that takes place in an abandoned city features environments rendered with such an incredibly cyclopean scale but with such careful attention to detail that it’s clear these were not simply throwaway environments created to meet an arbitrary deadline, but rather worlds carefully crafted to fit the tone and subject matter of the narrative.

Stare too long at these things and you'd probably go batshit crazy too.

Stare too long at these things and you’d probably go batshit crazy too.

Each protagonist in the game has three power meters- health, magic, and sanity. The former two are fairly self explanatory, but the latter is more interesting- sanity measures your character’s mental stability. Each time your player character encounters a monster, he or she will suffer a loss to the sanity meter, and when the meter is empty, your character is considered insane, and the game will begin to introduce a variety of ‘sanity effects’ to reflect the character’s damaged mental state. These effects are the most outstanding part of the game, and they range from the subtle to the screechingly overt. The camera angle you view your character from might pan at macabre angles. The walls of the mansion may begin to bleed. Beetles might crawl across the screen, obstructing your view of the action. The volume on your TV might turn down. These are among the most minor of the insanity effects the game might throw at you while you play, and there are a huge variety of them, some of which might well have you jumping and yelling at the TV. They can easily be seen in gameplay footage on Youtube, but I would urge going into the game blind- the sanity effects are much more fun when you have no idea they’re coming. The soundtrack is really unobtrusive, most of the time even difficult to notice, but when your character’s sanity meter is empty you’ll quickly find the soundtrack shifts, consisting largely of feminine voices screaming and crying. As quietly as it plays in the background, it works extremely well at making the player feel distressed on a subconscious level- at least until you pay close attention and realize how the soundtrack is trying to get to you. Even after, it’s difficult to shake the feeling of distress. The entire scheme is subtle and yet effective, to say the least. Though there are means in the game to restore your character’s sanity, it’s much more fun to forgo them and wander the game’s environments insane, never sure what waits around the next corner.

This guy is actually pretty normal looking compared to most of the things in this game.

This guy is actually pretty normal looking compared to most of the things in this game.

The monsters in Eternal Darkness, unlike the weird postmodern creatures of Silent Hill or the shambling zombies of Resident Evil, are alien creatures whose general design reflects their extraterrestrial nature. Though zombies do make an appearance in Eternal Darkness, even they seem more outré than those of other survival horror games, coming in odd sizes and colors and possessing the unusual ability to regenerate lost limbs. The larger enemies, called ‘Horrors’ and ‘Guardians’, are more difficult to deal with, and more frightening. Likewise, puzzles in Eternal Darkness are markedly different from the normal “find a pair of items in the environment and combine them to progress” sort of puzzles common to survival horror games. Most puzzles in Eternal Darkness emerge organically from the environment themselves and in most cases require the clever application of a spell or gameplay mechanic to solve. The game features a variety of weapons for the protagonists to wield, and though the packaging claims that the firearms in the game are historically accurate to their real-world counterparts, I found most of them unwieldy at best and downright useless at worst. If anything, this probably lends veracity to the game’s claim about the accuracy of their portrayal, as one imagines killing zombies with a flintlock weapon would be a difficult feat. As a result, I found myself avoiding the use of the firearms and sticking to the melee weapons that the game offers to provide protection. Often, though, the best strategy in Eternal Darkness is to avoid confrontations- many enemies can be dodged or sidestepped entirely. Also, enemies of different alignments do not appreciate one another’s company, and an intelligent player will discover situations in the game where this can be turned to his or her advantage.

"Just some light reading before bedtime..."

“Just some light reading before bedtime…”

While playing through the game, I found myself searching for negative elements of the game and was hard-pressed to find any. Though I’ve often listed Silent Hill 2 as my choice for the best horror game ever made, after playing through Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, I’m now not so sure- I think it may just be a tie. That said, I can’t think of what higher praise I might offer.

 

 

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Eternal Darkness:Sanity’s Requiem and all associated IP are copyright their respective owners. All images used in this article are low-res versions of images from promotional material for Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, specifically the Japanese trailer, and are intended to be compliant with Fair Use for the purposes of review. 

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~ by Redgoateerob on August 21, 2013.

4 Responses to “Experiencing the Horror- Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem”

  1. This remains one of the best horror games that I have played to date. In particular I liked the spell formation and use. The voice overs for the spell casting never fail to entertain.

    • Absolutely agree on the magic system, something I meant to cover in this article but didn’t get to in time. The voiceover work was great as well. Thank you for your comment!

  2. I completely missed this thanks to my current disconnected state with the absence of my smart phone right now. I’m so glad I stumbled upon it, though! I have been wanting to play this game for a very long time now, but still haven’t got around to it. This makes me so much more excited to play it though! Excellent review, like usual 🙂

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