The Definitive 50 GameCube Games: #6 Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
The series so far: The Definitive 50 GameCube Games.
As I mentioned in my video for The Twin Snakes, Silicon Knights went Nintendo exclusive in 2000. The company is responsible for the first ever Mature rated game to be published by Nintendo: one of my personal favourites, the brilliantly written and endlessly compelling Eternal Darkness.
Eternal Darkness tells one of the single smartest stories in all of video games, taking inspiration from literature and history to weave a plot that spans millenia.
The game begins with Alexandra Roivas exploring her family mansion after the shocking murder of her grandfather. She soon discovers a mysterious and ancient book bound in human skin and decorated with human bone, known as the Tome of Eternal Darkness.
The first story she reads from the tome is that of Pious Augustus, a Roman centurion who stumbled upon three artifacts, each the representative of a great godlike being known as an Ancient. Upon selecting one of the artifacts, Pious was transformed into an undead slave for his master, and employed to bring it to his reality. The Ancients’ return would be humanity’s extinction.
From there, Alex slowly unlocks more of the mansion’s secrets, and turns up additional pages from the tome. Each story that she reads causes her to relive another character’s encounter with the book. She learns the stories of Cambodian slave girl Ellia, Frankish messenger Anthony, World War I reporter Peter Jacob, her own ancester Dr. Maximillian Roivas, and many others.
Each character has his or her own role in contributing to Alex’s understanding of the greater universe and ability to maintain its balance.
Although often lumped in with the survival horror games of its time, Eternal Darkness is more action based and includes snappier puzzles. It’s also broken up into a number of fairly quick levels that keep players advancing at a brisk pace. Characters are controlled from the third person, with the player locking on to zombies and other opponents, then tilting the control stick to aim with sword or gun at specific points. Runes are collected throughout the game and arranged to build spells that the player can use to cast healing and combative effects, and even field his or her own monsters.
Eternal Darkness is yet another early GameCube game to begin life on the N64, and that fact shows a little in the blocky-ness of its character designs. Still, presentation is much more than graphics, and actually might be the title’s greatest strength. Cut-scenes and voice-overs set an eerie tone, while careful attention to historical detail keeps just a handful of environments feeling fresh throughout the centuries. Most famously, the game’s Sanity meter layers everything with an unsettling coat of unreality.
As characters encounter enemies, they are drained of sanity, and must finish off the horrors to regain it. If the player skips too much combat, he or she will find Eternal Darkness becoming gradually more nightmarish. At first, the camera will hang at an odd angle, and frightening sound effects will creep into the background. As sanity is further diminished, more alarming tricks are played. The character may suddenly walk on the ceiling, or the walls may bleed. Eventually, the player him or herself will become the victim, being thrown false errors and even the blue screen of death.
The artifact the player chooses at the beginning with Pious Augustus affects the rest of the play-through, giving a great excuse for replays. Taking the green artifact will lead to more green enemies appearing in the game, and more sanity being drained. Blue and red will do similar, with more magick and health drained, respectively. Completing the game with all three alignments also reveals a secret ending.