Boxed Away: An Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem Retrospective
For a company with such an impeccably rich back catalogue, Nintendo is often surprisingly hesitant to delve into it. Sure, the classic titles from the NES and SNES library have received 347 ports to every system imaginable, and the N64 has seen a respectable rehash of its most renowned hits, but one system seems to be regularly left to the annals of history – the Nintendo GameCube.
Enter – Boxed Away, a GameCube retrospective series.
To pay respect to the purple lunchbox, I am periodically going to be taking a look back at a different GameCube game, focusing on titles that have never received a port or remaster to more recent consoles. The GameCube library has countless forgotten masterpieces, as well as plenty of oddities and hidden gems, and unless it featured Zelda it’s probably still stuck there. Heck, even Mario’s only outing still took almost two decades to get another look.
It’s unclear when or if we will ever see GameCube games released via Nintendo Switch online, some type of Virtual Console or maybe even a Mini-Classic release, so in the meantime, we’re going to talk about them until Nintendo remembers they exist.
Another Nintendo Direct is done and with it, another opportunity for Nintendo to shower some love, any love, upon my favourite console with a handle dissipates into the night with nary a whimper. I mean I wasn’t exactly expecting it, but am I insane for hoping that just maybe we’ll one day see some Virtual Console-esque love for the little cube?
SPEAKING OF INSANITY…(smooth segue Andrew well done).
It’s been a little while since the last edition of Boxed Away, and what better place to pick it back up than with Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. Beginning its life as a Nintendo 64 title, here is a game that is such an anomaly in Nintendo’s catalogue, garnering (I believe) the first-ever MA15+ rating for a Nintendo-published title. It’s one of those games that everyone seems to have at least heard of but finding people that actually played it back in the day can be a bit of a challenge.
Developed by Silicon Knights, famous for titles such as Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, Too Human and..uh…X-Men: Destiny, and published by the big N, it was an unusual collaboration that remains truly unique to this day. Inspired by Lovecraft-ien horror works before it, the game sees you take control of a young woman named Alex (voiced by the superior of Mass Effect’s Shepard’s – Femshep voice actor Jeniffer Hale), who is summoned to her grandfather’s mansion by police to identify his body after he was brutally murdered.
Determined to figure out what exactly happened to her deceased grandaddy, she sets about searching the eery mansion before stumbling upon a mysterious ancient book – the Tome of Eternal Darkness. In it, she learns of a plot devised by a corrupted Roman military commander Pious Augustus from 2 millennia ago to summon an evil deity and plunge the world into the titular Eternal Darkness.
You’ll will discover how what turns out to be the big whoops of the millenium came about in the first main chapter of the game in which you’ll take command of the aforementioned Commander Augustus. At this point, he remains very much not evil and holds the respect of his troops. On a mission to locate an important relic, he is lured away from the rest of his group by some mysterious voices, leading him to an underground temple containing three artifacts. After committing the painfully obvious mistake of attempting to touch one of the artifacts, he is immediately corrupted by the power within, turned into a hideous undead sorcerer who succumbs to the whim of the ancient relics and puts the plan to plunge the world into chaos into motion.
This is just one story that Alex uncovers as she explores the mansion. As she continues to delve deeper into the manor, she discovers more chapters recounting stories spanning from 26BC to the year 2000. Each chapter you find takes you back in time to play as the character who wrote that particular chapter, unveiling their part in the sprawling story, how they obtained possession of the Tome, and how they ultimately met their fatal end. Before doing so though, each character imparted their knowledge into the Tome, allowing Alex to learn new information and abilities that will enable her to progress further into the mansion back in the modern-day and unearth all the mysteries about what her grandfather was up to.
You will play as 12 characters in total, ranging from Persian swordsman Karim in 565, archaeologist Wynn in 1983, Franciscan monk Paula in 1485, and even Alex’s grandfather himself, Edward Roivas, in the 1950s. Each character has some slight control differences, but the appeal of the varying viewpoints lies in seeing how the narrative weaves the intertwining non-chronological stories of a dozen people over such a long period comes together to create a satisfying narrative.
The actual game itself is a linear action-horror affair, with relatively small, self-contained areas in each chapter, some of which you will re-tread through at a different point in time as another character. Utilising a mix of melee and ranged weaponry, combat sees you locking onto an enemy and then targeting a specific body part with your attacks. It is a little clunky, and enemies never pose enough of a threat to push the game into survival horror territory, but there’s a bit of strategy in how you approach combat. Aiming for enemy limbs means they can’t attack you with them, but aiming for the head means they can’t use their piercing green eyes to inflict their sanity-impairing charms on you.
Ok, let’s talk about exactly why this game is remembered so fondly.
The Insanity Meter.
Represented by a green bar in the corner of your screen, your character’s tenuous grip on reality takes a knock every time they encounter a monster. Let it get too low, and you’ll start to notice all manner of strange occurrences. They can start simple enough. Slanted camera angles. Creepy noises. Distant banging on a door. Blood dripping from the ceiling. Let things get too severe though, and your character will start to truly lose their mind with some full-blown hallucinations.
Sometimes literally. Alex’s head might just…fall off as you’re walking. Maybe a corpse appears in front of you, hanging above a piano. Perhaps you walk through a door and end up back at the start of the room you just walked through. There is a satisfying range of effects that you’ll want to experience, to the extent that you’ll probably be tempted to just let your characters go a bit loopy to see what happens.
The ones that stick in everyone’s mind though are those that break the fourth wall. Your TV showing that it’s been muted, bugs crawling across the screen, or your items just disappearing from your inventory were all designed to make you question your own sanity, not just your character’s. More panic-inducing effects include walking into a room and being swarmed by enemies just as the game kindly informs you your controller is disconnected, or that your save file has been corrupted. There’s even a dreaded blue screen of death implying the death of your console, which no doubt scared the crap out of many players back in 2002 more than any polygonal monster ever could.
With that said, the one jump scare in the game still managed to frighten the hell out of 13-year-old me. Those who’ve played the game will remember a certain bathtub, and I probably don’t need to say any more than that.
Whilst some effects may not work as well today if they were utilised without a modern update, at the time it was a truly ground-breaking gameplay mechanic. It appears that Nintendo still holds the patent for the sanity meter and subsequent effects. They continue to renew the trademark for the series, but it’s difficult to imagine them returning to it any time soon. Silicon Knights became a laughingstock of the industry, falling a long way from their prestigious reputation held in the early 2000s before filing for bankruptcy in 2014. Attempts to revive the franchise with a spiritual successor spearheaded by former Silicon Knights head Dennis Dyack failed rather spectacularly (multiple times).
As it stands, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem remains a fascinating piece of Nintendo history. An original, mature title from an industry titan that had never delved into that territory and hasn’t since. Though it may look a touch rough around the edges today, and some of the insanity effects are mitigated by the natural evolution of technology making them look out of place today, it remains an entertaining romp horror adventure that I would love to see get another chance. Even if holding onto hope for that return is maybe just a tad insane.
Do you have a suggestion of a GameCube game you’d like to see us look back at next? Drop a comment and let us know!