Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem is a psychological horror video game originally planned for the Nintendo 64 but later released exclusively for the Nintendo GameCube, and largely inspired by (but not directly adapting) the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Developed by Canadian developer Silicon Knights, it was first released on June 24, 2002 and published by Nintendo.
The setting is centered around a mansion in Rhode Island, the home of the protagonist Alexandra Roivas' grandfather and the mysterious book Alexandra finds there. It was the first video game published by Nintendo to be rated M for mature by ESRB.
Alexandra's part of the game, at the mansion in 2000, forms the hub. The player finds the book, and Pious' story, first. Then Alex finds the first Chapter Page, leading the player on to the next section of the game as a different character. This character's story provides plot exposition, and once complete, the player as Alexandra has knowledge, an object, or an ability which allows her to find the next Chapter Page, highlighting another character, and so on.
The player chooses which of the three essences Pious attempts to claim at the start of the game. This determines which of the three Ancients he is aligned with, and subsequently which enemies dominate. The alignments have a rock, paper, scissors
relationship, which is important in the player's consideration of his or her own magic use.
The Ancients are members of a species that existed before other life emerged from the primordial ooze. The relentless movement of ice and the continental drift and other "inscrutable" reasons bound the Ancients deep beneath the planet's surface, biding their time, waiting until the moment was right to return. The featured Ancients are:
- Ulyaoth, God of magick and the dimensional planes: his creations are tinged blue, and they specialize in magickal damage. Ulyaoth has power over Chattur'gha.
- Xel'lotath, Goddess of the Mind and Madness: her underlings are tinged green, and have an affinity for affecting sanity (see below). Xel'lotath has power over Ulyaoth.
- Chattur'gha, God of physical strength and matter: his troops are tinged red, and focus on physical attacks and toughness. Chattur'gha has power over Xel'lotath.
- Mantorok the Corpse God, God of Order and Chaos: the creator of the Tome of Eternal Darkness. Its minions are tinged black and his magick is bright purple. Although it appears in the game to be in a position of inferiority (his only creatures are weak zombies), it is actually dominant over all. It created the equilibrium among the other three Ancients, making sure that they would be bound to fight against and destroy one another.
There appears to be a fifth alignment, colored yellow, that is not connected to any of the Ancients in the game. It was later confirmed by Denis Dyack to be the alignment of another Ancient that was not included in the game.
Unlike most games in the horror genre, Eternal Darkness
powers for healing, solving puzzles, and experimenting in combat. For example, it is possible for player characters to summon (and, if they wish, directly control) monsters like those they are fighting. This is achieved by a system of runes
for the components of the spell and 3-, 5-, or 7-point "Circles of Power" which allow the runes to be scribed. Though they are called "runes
" by the game (probably due to the term's association with mystery and magic), these symbols do not form an alphabet, but rather a vocabulary. As such, they would be more accurately termed glyphs
or especially sigila
. To cast a spell, an alignment rune (fueling the spell with the power of one of the four Ancients), a "verb" or effect rune (describing the action of the spell) and a "noun" or target rune must be used. For example, the spell for recovering health consists of the alignment rune for Chattur'gha, the rune for "absorb" (Narokath), and the rune for "self" (Santak). As more runes are discovered, more combinations are possible, although not all have an effect. With a larger Circle of Power, "power" (Pargon) runes may be added to spells to increase the intensity of the spell. Runes and Circles gathered during a chapter are stored in the Tome of Eternal Darkness
and available in all subsequent chapters, as well as the present day.
The game's standout concept, patented by Nintendo
, is the "sanity meter", a green bar on screen which is depleted under various conditions, generally when the character is seen by an enemy. It can be restored under various conditions, such as performing a "finishing move" on an enemy. As the bar becomes low, various effects occur, reflecting the character's slackening grip on reality. If the bar remains empty, further damage to sanity decreases the player character's health.
One effect which is consistently used is a skewed camera angle accompanied by whispers, cries, and other noises. The lower the sanity meter, the more skewed the camera angle and the louder the sound effects. Fourth wall breaking effects include simulated displays with messages apparently produced by the TV or the GameCube; this does not affect gameplay unless the player misconstrues them as actual technical malfunctions and turns off or resets his or her system, thereby losing all progress made since his or her last save.
There are many different sanity effects, the amount they last depends on each effect, and not all effects will necessarily be encountered during a given run through the game. A few more commonplace examples include:
- Sounds, such as footsteps, women and children screaming, doors slamming, the rattling of chains and the sound of a blade being sharpened.
- Walls and ceilings bleeding. Attacking them causes more effusion.
- When casting a spell, the player character's body above the waist violently explodes.
- Appearance of large numbers of monsters that are not really there, and disappear when attacked.
- The player character's head falling off. When picked up, the head begins to recite Shakespeare (specifically, Act III, Scene I of Hamlet).
- Character or monsters shrinking or growing.
- A version of the blue screen of death informing the player that all saved game data on the memory card has been deleted.
- Statues and busts turning to look at the character.
- Paintings that normally show normal landscapes, instead depict gruesome hellscapes.
- Character whimpering and babbling to him or herself.
- A "to-be-continued" message and promising continuation in a sequel game: Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Redemption.
- Character walking into a room from a previous or future chapter that uses the same location.
- When trying to save, instead of the usual "Do you wish to overwrite saved data" screen, there is a "Do you wish to delete all save files" with the options "Yes" and "Continue without saving." No matter what you do, all files appear to be deleted.
- The word "VIDEO" appearing in the top-right corner in green text on an otherwise black screen, mimicking the "video" channel setting on most televisions when the game system is turned off, and sometimes the look of the television being turned off.
- Game suddenly stops responding to player's commands just as the player-character enters a room full of zombies. The screen displays an error message claiming that the controller has been disconnected. Meanwhile, the zombies attack and kill the helpless character.
- Character sinking through the floor as if standing/walking in quicksand.
- A fly appears on the screen, then seconds later more flies start appearing.
Some sanity effects are character-specific and reflect the individual's personal fears or experiences. When the sanity effect is finished, everything goes back to normal and the character often utters a panicked statement, usually something along the lines of "This can't be happening!"
Aside from the "video" effect which is most likely an homage to Metal Gear Solid, a number of these effects, most notably the tilting-floor feature, were reused in the boss fight with Psycho Mantis in The Twin Snakes, a Silicon Knights/Konami remake of the original Metal Gear Solid.
The plot of the game revolves around protagonist Alexandra Roivas, who is investigating the mysterious murder of her grandfather Edward Roivas. While exploring his Rhode Island
mansion, she discovers a secret room
containing, among other odd items, a tome bound with human skin and bone. When she reads this book, The Tome of Eternal Darkness
, she experiences a scene in the life of Pious Augustus, a respected Roman centurion
in 26 BC
. Pious is led by mysterious voices to an underground temple, where he chooses one of three mysterious artifacts. The artifact transforms him into an undead warlock
, the Liche
, and makes him slave to one of three Ancients
, powerful godlike beings whose "Essences" are incarnated as the artifacts. As the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that Pious is attempting to summon his Ancient into this reality, while the powerful fourth "Corpse God" Mantorok is bound on Earth already, helpless to stop it.
As the player discovers more chapters of the Tome, Alex finds herself reliving the experiences of several (player-controlled) individuals who have crossed paths with Pious or other servants of the Ancients over the centuries, and as a result come in contact with the Tome itself. While many of these individuals meet a sinister fate, their cooperation ultimately gathers the Essences of the three remaining Ancients in the mansion. Alexandra's own ancestors discover the long-deserted City of Ehn'gha beneath the family mansion, and powerful magickal machinery inside. Alexandra powers up this mechanism with the Ancients' essences, and summons a rival Ancient to fight Pious'.
While the two Ancients fight, Alexandra engages in combat with Pious with the aid of the spirits of his victims, the souls played in previous chapters, ultimately destroying his Ancient's essence. It loses the fight above as Alexandra kills Pious. Then, realizing that the Roivases and their allies have just brought another powerful ancient into the world, Edward's spirit quickly sends the other Ancient back where it came from. He expresses pride in his granddaughter before he disappears.
After completing the game under all three alignments, it is revealed that all three ancients have been destroyed — "All at once, separate and simultaneous, for the universe is made of many timestreams, many possibilities, all in harmonious synchronicity." Because he was bound, and not powerful enough to stop Pious Augustus himself, Mantorok manipulated the Roivas family into completing the work for him. He orchestrates the deaths of all three ancients, in separate timestreams, and then connects them all, resulting in the annihilation of all three alignments. In the end, only the corpse god Mantorok is still alive, "festering in its tomb...plotting".
The player controls the following characters in the years noted next to their names.
- Pious Augustus (26 BC) - A Roman Centurion in his late 20s, at war in the Middle East. He becomes the game's chief antagonist after being corrupted by one of the Ancients' essences while examining a ruins he stumbles upon. Alexandra Roivas defeats him in 2000 and destroys him forever.
- Karim (565) - A Persian swordsman, sent into the desert to find a treasure (one of the Ancients' essences) for his love, Chandra. Chandra, however, is not faithful. She is killed for her indiscretion, and her ghost warns him about the artifact's true nature. Although initially reluctant to believe her, he sacrifices himself so that he can watch over the artifact.
- Anthony (814) - A Frankish messenger for Charlemagne, ordered to deliver a message to his liege, a message that consumes Anthony in some corrosive magick which alludes to treachery in store for the Frankish emperor. He learns that the monks are plotting against the emperor, but is too late to save him. When Paul finds him, centuries later, he rises as a zombie-like creature, under the control of the Darkness. Paul defeats him, prays for him, and takes his sword and a gem needed to proceed.
- Ellia (1150) - A Cambodian slave girl and court dancer for Suryavarman II. She yearns for adventure after reading passages from the Tome. She is chosen to bear Mantorok's essence. Pious kills her, but she remains half-alive because it is inside her. Eight hundred years later, she surrenders it to Lindsey.
- Roberto Bianchi (1460) - A traveling Venetian artist and architect, taken as a prisoner of war while roaming abroad. He is forced to work for a warlord (revealed as Pious Augustus in a pre-level cinematic), helping with the construction of the Pillar of Flesh by surveying the foundations. He acquires the artifact from Karim while surveying the monster-infested site, and when his work is complete, he is thrown into the pillar and buried alive.
- Paul Luther (1485) - A Franciscan monk on a pilgrimage to see the holy relic, the Hand of Jude. He is detained in Amiens by the Inquisition on a pretense of suspicion in the murder of Brother Andrew. A custodian frees him, and helps him to find Brother Andrew's journals, which reveals that Andrew was killed to protect a secret: the dominant Ancient's Relic is hidden in the Cathedral. The Hand of Jude was a fake to lure victims to sacrifice. Paul ventures deeper into the Cathedral, finding a metal statue of the custodian near a door. Paul must "kill" the statue with a magical dagger to open the door, but as he does so he hears a wail from nearby, and finds the custodian has been killed with a similar dagger. Later, Paul finds the Black Guardian, and it kills him instantly.
- Dr. Maximillian Roivas (1760) - A rich doctor in colonial Rhode Island, ancestor of both Edward and Alex. Something is amiss in the mansion he recently inherited from his father, Aaron, and Max is displaying symptoms of hysteria. Max eventually finds the city of Ehn'gha under the mansion, and after realizing how powerful the denizens are after barely defeating a Lesser Guardian in single combat, he attempts to warn the world, but fails. It is implied that he was committed to an insane asylum for that, but later revealed that he killed four of his servants, suspecting they were possessed by Bonethieves. Alex, surveying the room where the servants' remains lie sealed, notes that one of the corpses was missing its head, and there are only three sets of bones.
- Peter Jacob (1916) - A field reporter during World War I, staying at Oublie Cathedral, which has been converted into a field hospital. He notices that people are mysteriously disappearing, and investigates the lower levels when monsters attack. He defeats the Black Guardian, and keeps the artifact for many years until he delivers it to Edward. Besides sleepless nights, he is one of the few characters who does not suffer a tragic end as a result of the Tome.
- Edward Roivas (1952) - A clinical psychologist, Alex's grandfather, led to the Tome by Max's ghost. His servants are attacked by a dreadful presence, the Vampire. Edward eventually defeats it, and wipes out the garrisoned forces of Ehn'gha with a massive Dispel Magick spell from the city's nine-point spell circle (formed by the towers of the city). Years later, he is killed by a Lesser Guardian. Edward is the game's primary narrator, introducing each Tome chapter and narrating the epilogue.
- Dr. Edwin Lindsey (1983) - An archaeologist exploring in Cambodia under the auspices of a mysterious benefactor named Paul Augustine. Paul Augustine, revealing himself to be Pious in disguise, tries to kill Lindsey, but he escapes and finds Mantorok's essence, delivering it to Edward.
- Michael Edwards (1991) - A Canadian firefighter sent to extinguish the oil fires ignited by Iraqi troops in the Middle East after the Gulf War. An explosion at one well leaves him trapped in the Forbidden City as the only survivor. He receives the Essence of the ancient from Roberto and destroys the City with an enchanted plastic explosive at the bridge. A few years after his return, he meets up with Edward in the city at night. Mike gives Dr. Roivas a package, believing that he himself will soon be killed by the Guardians (however, he is alive when the player last sees him). The package's contents are unknown; the Essence and the Weapon of the Guardian of Light were later sent to Alex in a hastily wrapped and unmarked package dropped inside the mansion's front door, hinting at Micheal's possible survival.
- Alexandra Roivas (2000) - A student at a university in Washington. The game's main protagonist, she is investigating her grandfather's gruesome death. Finding the Tome, she reads about the past struggles against The Darkness, and of the plan to prevent Pious from summoning the Ancient. She narrates the conclusion.
The action is divided between four principal locations. Though the game skips back and forth through time, chapters concerning each individual site are in respective chronological order.
Though the Cthulhu Mythos
are not named in the game, the concept of the "Ancients" is a clear homage to Lovecraft's innumerable cast of monstrous, malign, godlike entities who manipulate humanity in a scheme to eventually enslave the world. Many of the deities and spells have similar sounding names, while Inspector LeGrasse was the name of a character in Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu
. The short story also focused on Rhode Island and an insane city. At the end of his chapter, Dr. Maximillian Roivas is institutionalized in Jefferson Coombs Asylum, a possible tip of the hat to actor Jeffrey Combs
who has starred in several film adaptations of H. P. Lovecraft stories. One of the game's chapters is entitled The Lurking Horror
, a possible reference to the Infocom
game of the same name, also a Lovecraft pastiche
. At one point, Pious Augustus refers to Mantorok as a "crawling chaos," an epithet previously used to describe Lovecraft's creation Nyarlathotep
. H. P. Lovecraft himself is actually mentioned when Alex examines some books in a corner of Edward's library. Lovecraft was also from Rhode Island
Some parts of the game also take considerable inspiration from the Indiana Jones films, such as the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where a staff catches the sunlight and focuses a beam of light into a clay model of a city. Furthermore, the character of Dr. Lindsey bears a great resemblance to Indiana Jones, and his level is riddled with similar traps.
- Karim was not in the early builds of the game. Nintendo had originally placed a Templar Knight fighting against Muslims in the scenario, but later changed this in 2001. The only remnants of this character in the finished game is a cutscene before Roberto's story showing him being taken by Pious in disguise as the "foundation" for the Pillar of Flesh, since he is able to see Pious in his true form.
- The game originally included a United States Special Ops commando who falls into the pit near the pillar of flesh. Presumably this was Michael, whose finalized intro scenes and character model show him as a Canadian firefighter who was fighting an oil well fire in Iraq. His original equipment, such as the rifle and uniform, was placed a small ways off in the same chamber, on the body of a Marine.
- Silicon Knights stated in an interview with Nintendo Power (volume 164): "At one point, the story even included one of the other, stronger characters (note: presumably Michael) taking his own life in Edward's presence rather than face the Ancients. This scene was eventually removed because it was considered far too grim."
, designer of Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
and Too Human
, said "absolutely yes" in July 2006 regarding the question of a possible sequel in his Too Human IGN blog. He stated that Silicon Knights intended for Eternal Darkness to be a stand-alone game, but the company has always intended to make more games set in the Eternal Darkness
universe involving the Ancients.
At 2008 Microsoft's Spring Showcase in San Francisco, Denis Dyack confirmed to TVG that a return to the Eternal Darkness brand could be on the cards: "There is a chance; we love all the games we work on. We don't want to be pigeon-holed [into a genre], we want to be known for strong content...There's a strong chance we'll return to it, but there's no announcements yet."
Reception and legacy
Critically, the game was largely successful. As of July 2007, Eternal Darkness
had a ranking of 92% on the Metacritic
The game did not experience commercial success. As stated by Adam Sessler from X-Play during an interview with Denis Dyack, President of Silicon Knights, at E3 2006, "Truly one of the most underrated games of the last generation." X-play said it was "the 7th best game for the GameCube.
In the May issue of Game Informer, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem made #10 in the top ten list of most outrageous game experiences.
Also, both Game Informer and X-Play rated it as the fifth scariest game of all time.
Eternal Darkness Films
In 2002, Nintendo
and Hypnotic, a film entertainment company, established a filmmaking contest in which contestants submitted ideas that would be later funded into short films if selected. The contest looked for ideas that evoke the same kind of psychological horror that the game intends to evoke, but the films were not directly based on the Eternal Darkness
characters or storyline. Ten finalists were selected and were granted $2000 each to produce their respective short films. The grand prize for the contest was $20,000, and was selected by a panel of industrial experts. The finalists were unveiled between May 23
and July 4
. A second prize, the "Viewer's Choice Award", was awarded on the basis of its popularity among the online audience.
The grand prize winner of the contest was Patrick Daughter, for the film Unloved. The viewer's choice award went to the film Cutting Room Floor, by Tyler Spangler and Michael Cioni. Other videos featured on the official website included:
- Article Number One by Julian Cautherley
- Dinner with Kip by Chris Schwartz
- Del by Chris Milnes
- Suburban Nightmare by Michael Sean Heflin and Christopher Reves
- Darkness Visible by David McMillan
- Corner of the Eye by Peter Hunziker
- Carnal Noise by Francisco Aliwalas
- << (pronounced "rewind") by Rich Gallup