The Bitereon Collection is a series on Default Prime that seeks to catalog the most important, interesting, and entertaining video games out there. These are the games you should be playing, whether you know it or not. These are the games that define the people who make them. These are the games that define the people who play them. These are the games that define video games as an art form. Once a week, a new game will be inducted into the collection.
With Halloween approaching, gamers are turning to some of the scariest games they have in their libraries. While shocking action titles like the Resident Evil series and Dead Space will no doubt be go-to choices for many this Fall, there’s not much these games do in the scare department that a well-edited movie couldn’t do. So how about a game that delivers scares in a way that no other medium can? Not by making the scariest parts of the game happen to your avatar, but actually to you, the player. Well, that’s exactly what Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem set out to achieve and succeeded at with flying colors.
Eternal Darkness is a pretty standard action-adventure title when it comes to the core gameplay. Anyone who’s played games such as Resident Evil or Grim Fandango will know exactly what to expect from this game. Forced perspectives make you maneuver around carefully constructed levels solving puzzles and fighting of eldritch spirits. But the true value of this game comes from its patented Sanity Meter. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves—let’s start from the beginning.
You play as Alexandra Rovias, a spunky young female go-getter who’s just been informed that her grandfather has died a mysterious and horrible death. As you explore his expansive mansion in search of clues that may shed some light on just what exactly may have happened here, you learn that your loveable grandfather might just have some really twisted skeletons in his closets. It turns out he was into something seriously Lovecraftian, featuring horrendous zombies and ancient incantations. But the biggest clue comes in the form of the Tome of Eternal Darkness, an ancient and evil manual that is quite literally bound in human skin and teeth (the start menu shows you a page from the book, where its ghastly eye will stare around the screen at you). The weirdest part is that whenever Alexandra reads an excerpt from the book, she is whisked backwards through time to experience the tales of its previous owners firsthand. Through the book, we learn about an array of characters ranging from an overzealous Roman warrior, to a colonial doctor, to a steadfast follower of Charlemagne, and even to a Canadian firefighter. The book takes us to many different countries at different points in time, each with a connecting story telling the dark history of the book itself and unraveling the mystery of what really happened to Alexandra’s grandfather… and what exactly he was up to.
Within the first hour of the game, you are guaranteed to see skeletons. Oooh, spooky.
Whenever the Tome of Eternal Darkness is around, however, it seems to attract all sorts of horrendous creatures. Whenever the player sees one of these beasts, which come in all shapes and sizes, the in-game Sanity Meter begins to deplete. As it does, the game begins to play with your own sanity and does whatever it can to freak you out. At its lightest, the camera goes askew and sounds of chains scraping and women shrieking come out of nowhere. But as the meter reaches the near bottom, that’s when the strangest stuff starts happening. While playing the game, I had my limbs and head fall off, I walked through a doorway into a horrifying new dimension, and shrank into nothingness. The thing to remember is that these Sanity Effects are all illusions; they can never really harm you, but it sure feels believable when it happens. Especially when the game infamously tells you that your memory card has corrupted. Half the fun of the game comes in seeing what tricks it can play on you, most of which you won’t see in a single playthrough. I’d love to go on about them, but I dare not spoil the experience for those who have yet to play the game.
So, while the game is held together with a genuinely interesting story and solid gameplay, the true attractions are the mind-bending Sanity Effects. Only in a game could you break the fourth wall without actually doing so explicitly. Since the Effects have no influence on the character, they are never really dangerous, but when they happen it’s not uncommon to start freaking out a little, even when you know to expect them. The developer, Silicon Knights, definitely finds ways to subtly mess with you just to catch you off guard. Something will be off just enough for you to take notice, but once you do, things start to get crazy. It’s like the video game version of The Tinglerfilm of the late 50’s, except more expertly and tastefully done. It is the pinnacle for what video game horror can achieve, and I’m surprised more games haven’t done it. The concept was a bit touched on in the last few dregs of Metal Gear Solid 2 and the Scarecrow portions of Batman: Arkham Asylum, but Eternal Darkness still stands as the only game to ask the question, “How can we get the player to not only fear for the character, but also themselves?”
The longer the game goes on, the creepier it gets. The locals and monsters just get more and more unsettling as it goes on.
Eternal Darkness is one of the cult gems of the ill-fated GameCube, and actually holds the honorary spot for being the only Nintendo published game to receive an M-rating. If you want to get your hands on it these days, you might have to do a little bit of shopping at your local game shops. In my area, I’ve seen it go from impossible to find to a seeing a few sporadic copies around GameStops. The internet is still probably your best bet for easily finding a copy, however. Whichever way you go about it, the game runs around the $20 mark, so it’s not too expensive for a fan-favorite GameCube game, considering many others usually go for a lot more. Since the game is Nintendo published, don’t hold your breath for an HD remake anytime soon. The game also ends on a suspenseful cliffhanger too, so fans of the game have been waiting for Nintendo to announce that a sequel would be on its way. But so far, no luck. In the meantime, you can just summon yourself up a copy to play, turn off the lights, and let the Tome of Eternal Darkness work its magic. It’s the kind of experience that sticks with you for years to come.
John-Charles is an avid video game enthusiast who loves games with strong story, smart design, and a lick of fun. He's very hopeful for the future where others are doubtful and looks back on retro games with fond memories. With a long history with games, both old and new, he tends to Defaullt Prime's veritable museum of games, The Bitereon Collection, with a new entry every week. He's also a studying engineer turned communications with an eye for design. He also thinks cartoons are neat.
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