Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is a game for the Nintendo GameCube. It spent an extremely long time in development, and was originally planned for the Nintendo 64, but was pushed back repeatedly until its final release on another platform. It’s a good thing that it was, too: much of what makes the game truly involving simply would not have worked on more limited hardware. The game was developed by Silicon Knights, a proudly Canadian company.
The game features a reasonably involved plot in true Lovecraftian style. You play as Alexandra Roivas, a graduate student studying abstract mathematics and number theory, who is called by the police to her grandfather’s Rhode Island home to identify his body. Her help is needed because, unfortunately, dental records cannot be checked: he was beheaded. As you explore his home after weeks of frustration with the police department’s inability to make headway, you find your grandfather’s hidden study and claim the Tome of Eternal Darkness: a book sewn together from human flesh which contains all of your grandfather’s notes on previous owners of the tome and their discoveries, and which grants the holders certain magickal powers.
Finding "chapter pages" from around the mansion takes you out of 2000 AD and into a variety of times, places, and protagonists, ranging from Roman centurions to Persian noblemen to medieval French clergymen to modern firefighters. Nearly all of these chapters conclude as Lovecraft would have liked it, with horrible monsters dragging the hapless protagonists away as they frantically attempt to finish writing. As you play as different characters, you find new “runewords,” each of which has a meaning and is used to cast spells. Once a character locates one of these, anybody possessing the Tome of Eternal Darkness from that point on in the game will have access to it.
There are a large variety of items available to you as you play as different characters, including puzzle items and a dazzling array of period weapons, ranging from gladii to chakrams to (eventually) sawed-off shotguns. Usually each Chapter will give you at least one ranged weapon (blowdarts, crossbows, revolvers) and at least one blade (scimitars, scramasaxes, machetes), and sometimes magickal items allowing you to recover life or sanity. Additionally, some characters have special abilities, such as Dr. Maximillian Roivas, who can perform autopsies on dead enemies to learn more about them, or Dr. Edwin Lindsey, who can use the power of Archaeology to clear dust and cobwebs from important objects.
As mentioned before, sanity plays a role in the game. A large one. Sanity can be lost in a number of ways, including being seen by monsters, killing innocents, or, in Alexandra’s case, reading Chapters from the Tome. Most of these can be avoided (sneak up on enemies and behead them, don’t murder the help), but it really takes away from the game to do so. As you go insane, the game starts to change subtly. You’ll hear things that aren’t really happening, the camera will start to play tricks with focal length and the angle at which it’s tilted, walls will bleed, statues will turn to watch you, and more. At really low sanity levels, you move differently, hear imaginary people screaming and banging on doors, and the game will try to convince you that horrible, game-ending things have happened to you (even to the point of pretending that a system error has erased your memory card), only to cut back to your character screaming that “THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING!” Were this done poorly, it would have been annoying. However, it is done impeccably. The level of attention paid to the sanity effects is constantly apparent. It’s almost sad when you get to the point in the game where you can cast Recover Sanity and never see the effects again.
As for spells, you will in the course of the game find the equipment necessary to make spells at three different power levels (three runewords, five runewords, seven runewords), with three (four if you’re clever) different alignments. These are constructed out of an alignment runeword, a target runeword, an effect runeword, and (if necessary) the Power runeword to fill in empty spaces. Until you find the appropriate codices and scrolls detailing the names of runewords and spells, you’ll be whistling in the dark, but even then spells will still have their intended effect. The runes are as follows:
By using these in the right order, you get a variety of spells, such Chattur’gha-Santak-Narokath (recover a small amount of life), Xel’lotath-Pargon-Aretak-Pargon-Tier (summon a Xel’lotath zombie), or Mantorok-Pargon-Pargon-Santak-Pargon-Pargon-Bankorok (protect yourself from the next seven attacks or sightings of any alignment). A common complaint is that there are only twelve spells, and several of these are just the same spell at different power levels, when a number of other reasonable spells present themselves, such as Dispel Creature, Protect Item, Project Self, and others. However, I have no problem with this: the game gives you all of the tools that you need to kick ass and take names. More spell combinations would mean (a) a second disc, probably and (b) a much harder game in order to compensate for your increased power.
Enemies can also take advantage of these spells. Several of the monsters that you will run into will know how to cast an area protection, summon monsters, and heal themselves. However, they will all have alignments with one of three colors. By using the opposite alignment, or using the Mantorok alignment if you’ve located it, you can ensure that your kung-fu is strong and theirs is weak. This is not to say that the game gets easier. It gets harder. Much, much harder. The developers made sure to introduce you to progressively stickier situations and puzzles as the game goes on. The single-zombie, putting-jugs-on-buttons challenges of the first few chapters turn into fighting two Horrors and a Reaper while trying to survey a crumbling underground temple.
As the game progresses, you will uncover a plot straight out of a Cthulhu story. To give away only that which one could guess from the introductory cutscene, ancient tentacled gods are trying to wipe humanity out of existence and ensure the coming of the Eternal Darkness. There’s quite a bit more to it, but it deserves not to be given away.
Early in the game, one of the characters you play as will choose an Alignment: you will spend the rest of the game fighting against that alignment. Playing through the game unlocks new features and the ability to replay sections of the game; finishing the game against all three alignments unlocks the full ending. If you have the commitment, this game has quite a lot of replay value.
Should you play this game? Yes, you should. You should play it in a dark room, at night, with the volume turned up. And you will most likely have difficulty playing it for very long, unless you’re into that sort of thing. The game is involving, difficult, fun, and moreover scary. It’s hard not to get attached to a game that so desperately wants you to enjoy and moreover finish it, especially one as well-executed as this (even the tiniest details are attended to — the Roman centurions speak Latin with accurate sentence structure). Go on and play it. You won’t be able to stop.