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Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
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There are far scarier survival horror games.  Think Fatal Frame.  There are far more popular survival horror games.  Check out Resident Evil.  There are more graphically proficient and flat out sick and twisted horror games.  Think Silent Hill.  However, for me, when I pick the cream of the crop for horror games, the answer is clear.  Eternal Darkness beats them all.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem isn't a game that tosses out waves of monsters at you or that tries to terrify you with jarring scenes.  Its magic is a little more subtle than that.  Being based upon the works of Lovecraft, Eternal Darkness is steeped in lore and seems more like a novel than the big three mentioned above, which seem more inspired by various movies.  In this game, you play a young woman who comes to a mansion to investigate the death of her uncle.  Little does she realize that the mansion proves to be the doorway to a universe of nightmares.  Every now and again, she finds torn out chapters and reads them, with each chapter detailing the events of one poor soul from history as he or she comes into contact with an ancient book called The Eternal Darkness.  It's when you pick up your first chapter that the fun and horror begins.
Part of the brilliance of Eternal Darkness lies in the fact that you are playing out these different chapters in between the happenings of the present day, which gives the game a very refreshing episodic feel, sort of like playing self-contained games within a game.  Each episode feels like its own separate world, with its own time period, its own hero, and its own authentic weapons and combat styles.  But the fact that you're controlling this wide cast of characters one at a time feels more natural in this game than in Siren, which utterly blew it in the horror department.  One of the things that the authors of classic literature realized was that true horror wasn't just cheap jumps but something more sinister and more internal.  The makers of Eternal Darkness beautifully tapped into that theory.  The characters that you play in each chapter feel more like ordinary characters who often are just looking for a way to survive with their bodies and minds intact.  Most of them fail.  Some of the characters are naturally warriors who are proficient in fighting, but even in this context they feel natural, not like the stereotypical heroes of many games.  The way that each of these flawed characters succumb to the nightmare as they one by one come into contact with the book is very gripping by also subtle.
Many people remember Eternal Darkness for its insanity effects, but this game element is only a small part of this beautiful tapestry.  Nevertheless, watching all the different hallucinations is interesting and funny, and some even trick the player, not just the character.  After a while the effects get cheesy, but it still neatly ties into the theme of the characters' minds slowly falling apart.
But the best part of Eternal Darkness is its magic system, and the game really makes you believe that magic is another player in the grand scheme of things, like magic is infused into the very air, not just something you cast for the heck of it.  The first thing you need to realize is that Eternal Darkness ties the magic back to ancient evil gods, of which there are four.  Each evil ancient is assigned a different color, and from that the game derives an innovative rock-paper-scissors system in which the magic pulled from one god is superior to enemy minions of another god and inferior to a third.  The fourth god is situated in the middle and is thus superior to the other three.  And the magic system isn't there just to be another crutch.  Spells are actually used to solve the game's various puzzles and provide different ways of immobilizing the enemy.  In order to cast a spell, you need three ingredients--the parchment proving the spell's existence and detailing the runes of the spells, the runes themselves, and a magic circle.  The runes you find scattered here and there, often embedded within the bodies of enemies.  Since Eternal Darkness is more or less a linear game, there's minimal risk of missing an important rune.  The magic circles determine the size of the spell, as there are three point spells, five point spells, and seven point spells.  Size determines casting speed, as when you discover a spell and decide to cast it, assuming you have enough mana you must stand still in one spot as the runes manifest themselves one by one.  Some players may gripe about this, but seeing as how this isn't a fantasy RPG, I felt that this treatment of magic was only natural.  It only further adds to the atmosphere of this game, especially when you first hear the creepy voice of the spell's master god utter out the name of each rune as it gets cast.
What's the price of this combination of atmosphere, gripping characters, and quality puzzles?  Well in the case of this game, it's the battle system.  Some characters have firearms, but many do not.  But whether it's guns or swords, battle is always the same.  Target, press attack button, repeat.  In most cases, it's often fastest to kill an enemy by getting rid of the head.  There's no variety in the animation of the attacks.  Combat is the most boring side of this otherwise stellar game.  Thankfully, Eternal Darkness isn't a battle-oriented game, as combat comes with a price, usually insanity, and the wide variety of nightmarish creatures keeps things interesting.  This is just one minor quibble that in no way diminishes the appeal of this brilliantly crafted game.
Grade: Superb

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