Castlevania
By: Tristan Jones on December 7, 2005  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
 
Credits
Platform: Nintendo Gamecube
Publisher: Nintendo
Players: 1
Year: 2001
OFLC Rating: MA15+
The Gamecube, as it was with all of Nintendo's systems, is not widely known for it's more adult titles, which is a terrible shame really, because while the more mature gamer may grow tired of the same-old-same-old of first person shooters and gorefests that appear on other systems, retreading boringly unoriginal territories with little new enticements, the Gamecube really does shine in this department. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem is a shining example of everything most people don't seem to expect on Nintendo, a vast, twisting and original storyline, excellent atmosphere, both subtle and intense moments of horror, and liberal doses of unnerving violence.

The terror begins with Alex Roivas having a (playable) nightmare about being locked in a strange room full of corpses. The corpses begin reanimating and Alex finds herself besieged, only to be awoken by a phone call. Her only living relative has been brutally murdered in his home. As time goes by, the murder remains unsolved, and Alex decides to look into it herself, while also clearing out her newly inherited mansion. Initially, the house holds few clues, but Alex eventually stumbles upon a room hidden behind the shelves in the library. Inside this room is the Tome of Eternal Darkness.

Essentially, this is where the main crux of the game begins. Alex opens the Necronomicon-inspired book and begins reading each chapter, and as she starts doing so, we are taken from the chapter's illustrations into cut-scenes, and from there we start playing as the character the chapter centres on. When I first sat down and played this I was genuinely surprised and excited by the sheer number of levels this game held, and the variety of characters you play as is equally surprising. A Roman Centurion in 26 B.C., a Cambodian dancing girl, a Franciscan monk in the times of the Inquisition, a war correspondent in the Great War, and a Canadian Firefighter in the Gulf War are just a few and the remaining characters are equally as diverse. Each character is linked by their discovery of the Tome of Eternal Darkness under differing circumstances, or buy the way they played as pawns by the game's central antagonist. Players will find themselves playing the same levels a couple of times as different characters, but fear not! Repetition is very clearly avoided as the levels change so much from era to era that it becomes more interesting and often surprising to see what has changed as you investigate with your new character.

Eternal Darkness has a large number of innovative little nuances that create a deeper gaming experience than any would expect when they first sit down. Once a character has found the Tome, they discover the ability to use magic spells within the book. Spells require runes to be cast correctly, and by combining the runes you find, you create new spells to perform a variety of different tasks, from regaining health, to powering up weapons and then to shattering force fields or even summoning monsters. Each time you create a spell there is also the opportunity to apply a power rune, which, obviously, increases the spell's power (but also casting time). The great thing about this is that it's not a case of 'simply cast the most powerful now that you can'; many of the puzzles will require different power levels, even if you have obtained the final power rune.

Also, when physically attacking a creature or person, you have the option to choose where to strike, be it arms, legs, body or head, and depending on what sort of creature you fight, you'll need to find where best to strike. It's also kinda fun to lop the arms and legs off zombies Monty Python style…

So you have magic, you have the standard health, but what really sets this one apart from the rest is the Sanity level. Yep, you read right. Not only must you keep an eye on your health, and your magic, but you must keep a constant eye on your sanity. Your characters will all react differently to the creatures they come up against, and some will have far less a tolerance than others, so insanity will come quicker to particular characters but when it does it's always interesting. As your sanity drops, the camera will tilt slightly, and strange things will start happening. At first it's often whispering voices, screaming or crying follows, then it starts getting a little more disturbing. The walls will bleed, your character will start shrinking or growing, your limbs may start falling off, you may walk into a room and find yourself walking on the ceiling, or suddenly besieged by zombies, but when your sanity is completely gone, the game starts playing games with you as the player. Flies will start appearing on screen, the TV itself may appear to die, you may be lead to believe that in a moment of desperation, your AV Cables have slipped out. Some of the more humourous ones will suddenly have the game stop as and say "To Be Continued in Eternal Darkness 2!" or "Congratulations!" and then have the credits start rolling. A lot of thought has gone into this particular section of the game, and as fun as it may be to watch your character slip into insanity and watch them trip out, once your sanity is gone, your health begins to wane if you are exposed to more horrors. There are a number of surprisingly gruesome moments in Eternal Darkness, a particularly well handled one involves one of the characters murdering all his servants in their sleep and sealing the room. A great moment involving a bathtub still manages to scare the shit out of me each time I play.

The sound design is phenomenal, especially during the Great War level, and comes complete with really top-notch voice acting. Earl Boen (the psychiatrist from the Terminator films), Cam "I'm in just about everything" Clarke (probably best known as Leonardo from the 80's Ninja Turtles toons), Rino Romano (currently voicing Batman in "The Batman") and David Hayter (Writer of the X-men films and the voice of Metal Gear's Solid Snake) are just a few of the massive cast list, all of which I guarantee have done voices for something you've either seen or played. The entire Metal Gear Solid cast is in this game too, so you know it's good voice work. The sound scape is incredibly creepy once the insanity starts kicking in, with doors slamming suddenly in the distance and floorboards creaking under every step.

Some may point out the graphics though. Eternal Darkness was originally slated to be the N64's swan song, but when the GameCube was announced, developers Silicon Knights decided to hold off and deepen the game for the Cube. Everything was upgraded, but the graphics still show signs of being something else in a former life. It's certainly nowhere near as impressive visually as Resident Evil, but it's still a very nice game visually, and the amount of in game detail is incredible (look for the statues or busts that move). Really, there's so much in this game that it's very easy to overlook the minor graphical flaws, as they really are only minor and never impact the game itself (unless you're insanely uptight).

The game also offers you three distinctive choices in which direction you take it, so there is a decent incentive to go back and play it again. You are essentially forced to choose which forgotten god you are to go up against over the course of the game, and should you beat all the forgotten gods, you'll be privy to the ultimate ending to the game, which really is completely satisfying to watch. It's not as laborious as it sounds, and the game is that vast that you tend to forget particular areas and then remember how awesome they are when you get to them again.

Fans of Lovecraft should get a real kick out of this, as this is so far the best translation of Lovecraftian elements to a game to date, and any horror fan with a Cube no doubt already has it. But for those who poo-poo Nintendo because of it's games, you really need to sit down and play this and those who don't have it, do yourself a real favour.
Movie Score
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