Another year, another Halloween done! With the scariest day out of the other 324 back for more, it’s time to dedicate Remembering the Classics to another horror focused title. To commemorate the holiday last year, I looked back at the history of one of the most popular horror franchises on the market: Silent Hill. Those games are remembered by aficionados as being some of the scariest out there and the franchise really is still going strong today despite some pretty subpar entries. As if you needed any proof as to how popular Silent Hill is, Silent Hills is in the works involving Guillermo Del Toro, Hideo Kojima, and Norman Reedus. Clearly the hype level for that game is off the charts and we don’t even know when it’s coming out.
For Halloween 2014, I’ve decided to take a different approach. It’s easy to focus on the major horror franchises like Resident Evil and Silent Hill because they are everywhere. Those games have such immense longevity that it’s difficult to imagine either of them not existing. Has their quality dropped in recent years? Absolutely. Too many developers as of late are focused on making action games with horror elements than vice versa. That’s why whenever a game comes out that focuses more on fear than fighting, it’s a pretty big deal. Unfortunately some of those don’t actually sell well, and they tend to become “one hit wonders” as opposed to the next great franchise. A prevailing example of this is Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.
Released in 2002 for the Nintendo GameCube, Eternal Darkness was an entirely different take on survival horror. Anchored in the year 2000, you play as a woman named Alexandra Roivas who comes to a Rhode Island mansion to investigate her Grandfather’s horrific death. What follows is a traumatic journey for Alex as she combats demons and relives the experiences of a wide array of people who are all connected to powerful godlike creatures known as Ancients. You play as a World War I field medic named Peter Jacob, a Franciscan monk named Paul Luther, and Alex’s grandfather Edward as a young man, who are but three individuals in a long list of characters spanning centuries. Early in the game as you’re playing as antagonist Pious Augustus, you have to choose between three different Essences of the Ancients which dictate how your game unfolds. The only way to get the true ending is to play through three times and pick a different Essence.
The defining aspect of Eternal Darkness was the inclusion of its “sanity meter.” As you can see by the game’s subtitle Sanity’s Requiem, an integral part of the game is keeping your characters sane. Everything from demon attacks to otherworldly experiences decrease your sanity. When your character begins losing touch with reality, the entire game changes. Enemies appear that aren’t real, walls start bleeding, people who don’t exist begin screaming, etc. The game even “messes” with your television or GameCube by pretending its turned off. Basically, Eternal Darkness specialized in absolutely screwing with you.
Unsurprisingly, the sanity meter is what set Eternal Darkness apart from every other game on the market. It’s common for a horror game to create situations that psychologically damage your character but none actually made it a predominant focus. In a way, this made the characters you control far more human than anyone else. The characters you play as aren’t machine gun toting badasses or special agents like in Resident Evil. You’re more an everyman like in Silent Hill, except the story traverses centuries and you can use magic to fight the demonic hordes. But even with magic available, the fights are not easy by any means. Simply getting overpowered with no where to go was a common occurrence for players.
Despite how innovative the game was for the genre, Eternal Darkness did not sell well. Admittedly, the story of Alex finding chapters to an ancient tome and experiencing old history is a bit complicated. The fact that you have to play three times through a game that willingly punishes you is a bit of a turn off too. But while some might turn away because of this, plenty hopped on board and Eternal Darkness became a cult hit. Considering how the story transcends time and leaves the ancient Mantorok the Corpse God still alive, the opportunity for a much bigger franchise still exists. Unfortunately for the fans, this has yet to happen. A sequel was planned but was scrapped when developer Silicon Knights went bankrupt. A company called Precursor Games attempted in 2013 to make a “spiritual sequel” through Kickstarter called Shadow of the Eternals and even that fell through. The good news though is that, as of October 31st, Shadow of the Eternals is actually back in production, so we might get that successor after all.
I never beat Eternal Darkness, but it is a game that I did enjoy. The first time I played it was when I was in middle school and it was definitely way too much for me at the time. All the blood and demons was really extreme. I don’t know what I expected from a game rated M called Eternal Darkness, but I quickly ran away from it. Not actually understanding what to do didn’t help either. That all changed my junior year of college when I found out that my roommate had the game with him. I ended up getting really into it and got fairly close to actually finishing the game. I don’t exactly remember why I stopped playing, but it’s likely that I got distracted by something else and never returned. Perhaps someday I will to finally complete Alex’s journey to fight the Ancients.
It’s highly unlikely that there will ever be anything quite like Eternal Darkness. It was a truly, all encompassing horrific experience that openly toys with your mental state. If the game were to ever get a full-on sequel, or at least a spiritual successor, it would absolutely be warranted. There is more story to tell and I have no doubt that Eternal Darkness fans would jump right in. However, seeing as we have yet to get an actual new game, only ideas, Eternal Darkness can sit comfortably as a cult hit that sought to change up the horror formula and actually succeeded in leaving an indelible mark. And if you’re ever looking for a terrifying game to play late at night in October, or any month really, you can’t go wrong with this nightmare inducing tale.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.