Nintendo is most known for its family friendly franchises, like Mario and Pokemon, and to a lesser extent its more mature franchises like Metroid and Zelda, but even those are still family friendly. Eternal Darkness is a stark contrast to most Nintendo games. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's the only M rated Nintendo property. The game starts with the an echoing quote from a Poe poem, and it just gets darker, and creepier from there.
Long ago, in the year 26 B.C. to be exact, a Roman Centurian named Pious Augustus was leading his men during the Persian war. He found himself sidetracked to an odd temple, and though he likely wanted to just leave, something as calling him to delve deeper. Past the corpses limping after him, and down the poorly lit hallways, deeper into this underground labyrinth. eventually he finds a room with 3 relics, and it is your choice which he picks. These are the artifacts of the 3 Ancients, which are god-like homages to the work of H.P. Lovecraft. These beings exist in another dimension, but are constantly fighting over ours, only kept in check by Mantorok, the corpse god who remains in our realm. Pious is transformed by whichever god you chose into his or her undead servant, and will serve as the game's primary antagonist from this point.
The more recent plot of the story takes place in 2000 A.D. on Rhode Island. Alexander Roivas is awoken by a phone call that her Grandfather has been found dead, and as she is the only living relative, she has to identify his body. This old man didn't die of a simple heart attack, either. The only way Alex recognizes him is the family ring on his finger, the detective even stating they couldn't check dental records due to the lack of a head. Alex sets out, exploring her grandfather's mansion in search of the reason behind his death, and in his study she finds the Tome of Eternal Darkness - a Grimoire composed of human skin and bone, but there are pages missing. As Alex finds pages throughout the mansion, you play as the various characters throughout history who have held the Tome. In turn, the things you learn in these segments help you progress in the present.
Eternal Darkness is quite dark and spooky, but it is not a traditional horror game. While it uses a similar classic control scheme, and emphasis on puzzles, it isn't afraid to innovate. It's not as suspenseful as Resident Evil or as unsettling as Silent Hill. Instead, this game trolls you like a 15 year old behind a keyboard on GameFAQs. Along with your health and magic bar, you also get a sanity bar. Every time something freaky happens, or a monster sees you, you lose sanity. The lower your sanity, the more obscure the camera angle becomes and the more the game messes with you. From tricking you into thinking you deleted your data, to your character exploding into a bloody pool when you try to heal, only to reset you as if you just entered the room. There are a lot of sanity effects, and many are creepier than others. Sadly, some of them have lost relevancy on modern televisions, such as the volume effect and the "video 1" screen. Play this one on an old TV if you have access to one. If you are out of sanity, things that normally effect the sanity meter will instead effect your health. In other words, this is a game where you can literally get scared to death!
Throughout the game you will fine runes and codexes which translate those runes. You will slowly build up your vocabulary of the ancient's language, and use them to craft spells which will be vital. For example, using a 3 point spell consisting of heal, self, Chatturg'ha will replenish your health bar, as Chatturg'ha is the Ancient of strength. Meanwhile, heal, self, Xel'otath will replenish your sanity meter, because Xel'otath is the Ancient of sanity. There are many other sells, such as enchanting items to fix or enhance them as well, and you can eventually use more words at once to create more powerful spells. Physical combat is handled interesting, and while you will rarely use firearms, they do appear now and again. By holding the right shoulder button, you can aim at any particular part of an enemy. This allows you to strategically chop off heads or specific limbs.What with the young blond chick kicking undead ass, and casting spells, I'm starting to wonder if someone at Nintendo is a Buffy fan.
sound plays an important role in any horror game, and Eternal Darkness has a very fitting ambient soundtrack filled with quiet whispers and knocks, to period pieces that perfectly suit their environment. Sound effects are also very fitting, but the voice acting is where things to start to fall apart. Some characters, such as Alex and Pious sound great, but other such as many of the other playable characters sound...well, they leave something to be desired.
eternal Darkness began development near the end of the Nintendo 64's life span, and was moved to the Gamecube later on. While many areas and characters, such as Alex and the Mansion look great, some chapters look worse than others. I could be assumed that these chapters were completed early in development, and to save time the developers simply re-skinned some things. It's a bit disappointing, but it doesn't totally drag the game down.
Eternal Darkness is a very interesting title, and one that did something different from most other horror games of its time. Nintendo recently renewed the rights to the Eternal Darkness name and the Sanity meter concept, but it doesn't seem likely that they're going to do anything with it, and that is unfortunate. Despite some questionable graphics in certain areas, and some poor voice acting here and there, Eternal Darkness stands as not only one of Nintendo's most unique titles, but also a must play for the Gamecube. There is plenty of replay value, as which Ancient you align Pious with changes the way certain enemies behave, their appearance, and of course, which Ancient you fight in the game. The true ending can only be viewed by beating all 3 of these paths. Eternal Darkness will cost you around $40-$60 online, but it's well worth it's original retail price, and if you're willing to hunt down and buy a copy, you're in for treat. Much like Earthbound, this one of Nintendo's most ignored masterpieces.
This is an excellent game. One of the best of its kind that nintendo has ever made. Like you said, they are few and far between anyway. I loved this game from start to finish and found your review to be very well done. Solid work.
^ I think nintendo is lost at the moment. They were very late to figure out just who they intend to be. Its left fans alienated and frustrated. It is a shame, i agree. It may the kind of title that could be expanded on.