Developer: Studio Sai
Release Date: September 12, 2023
Reviewed On: PS5
Publisher: Studio Sai
Genre: Action RPG
Ambitious projects can often lead to a game feeling incomplete or lacking as it attempts to do too many things at once. It’s a hole that I see many small team developers fall into as each member wants to champion a specific aspect of the game, but lack of skill or execution hurts the experience. Now, when you have a single-person-led project, time is ultimately the only thing needed to complete the game, but that could also be its downfall. I feared for developer Studio Sai’s action RPG project Eternights, as it trailers incredibly well, but as for what the full package delivers, well, I had to wait to play to figure that out.
Eternights opens with the premise that you are a normal college student hanging out with your best and only friend, Chani. The two of you have big dreams of dating a hot girl, so you spend a day setting up your dating profiles. A late-night match leads you to accept a date, but sadly, that date is put on hold when giant walls appear that imprison the city and transform the inhabitants into deadly creatures. As you and Chani find your bearings, you run into an idol named Yuna and discover that some people have been gifted with powers.
The writing sort of clears up any lingering plot holes, such as mentioning how the monsters only attack the player character and how to destroy the barriers. This pops up several times throughout the narrative, where an issue is easily explained by a member of the group when the issue emerges. It’s a simple technique that progresses the narrative and limits any slow pacing because you’re constantly moving on to the next event. It definitely shows the writer’s minimal skills in this area, but they did a great job setting up plot devices for each character, and I especially enjoyed how seemingly small choices were brought up in later interactions, which made the game feel like the experience was unique to me.
The writing as a whole can come off as cringy, especially Chani’s perverted jokes, but it does get exceptionally emotional in the build-up to the conclusion. The feelings pushed onto the player in these moments are made up of the many scenarios where the characters are distracted from the suffering in the world to act like kids for brief moments. Through skits and spending time with characters, you get to know more about them and their goals. They all make steps forward to survive, but I did feel like Sia had the weakest introduction, although she does become a valued member of the group.
Through dialog, you can make choices that do provide some benefits to your Social Stats. Depending on your choice, you can increase your Expression, Confidence, Acceptance, and Courage. You aren’t explicitly told what Social Stats your choice will affect, but each stat seemed to naturally Level Up, so I didn’t have to pay too much attention to it. I will say that the juvenile jokes and constant obsession with d**k jokes did overstay their welcome, but if I’m being honest, the writing does a great job at portraying certain friend groups of my own.
This narrative will easily be what makes or breaks your experience with Eternights. Honestly, if you don’t find yourself connecting with the characters or their cause, the rest of the game falls apart. This is mostly because they make up most of the 10-hour campaign, which is a little short, but with the option of New Game+, secrets, and missed interactions adds to the replayability. What I’m trying to get at is that there are some really strong moments of the narrative that occur during late-game Acts, but getting there requires you to really feel like you are a member of this gang who will not mesh with everyone who plays.
The quest of the game becomes much larger than simply breaking the barriers, but to do that, you’ll have to explore maze-like dungeons and fight many enemies. The combat in the game is fairly basic, but it is so responsive and fast that, similar to the straightforward narrative, you’re consistently moving forward through the game. During gameplay, there are several deadlines that require you to progress through the dungeon. This system will likely remind you of Persona, and while I do feel like this game shares elements of Persona, it reminded me more of Akiba’s Beat, only better, but I digress.
I felt like the dungeon designs were very impressive. While some did appear to be way too maze-like and almost annoying to navigate, there were plenty of gimmicks and themes to make each dungeon a unique experience. Further, exploration is also rewarded with Black Essense, which is used to improve ability strength.
Combat relies heavily on dodging and parrying enemy attacks, so get good at it. There are light and strong attacks and a follow-up attack that fills a gauge to execute a special attack. These special attacks are needed to take certain enemies and bosses. Depending on who is in your party, you can utilize elemental specials that are required to break specific shields. Once you break the shield, the gloves are off, and you are free to beat the living crap out of the boss. I’m not even kidding. The bosses become glorified punching bags if you are capable of dodging their attacks and stringing together your combos to stagger-lock them for an easy defeat.
As you increase your relationship with your friends, you’ll gain access to new attacks and abilities that only really make you get through fights faster. However, I wouldn’t call the game easy, and you can easily get taken out by a group of enemies if you aren’t reading their attacks. Luckily, there’s a decent Auto Save and checkpoint system as well as a Fast Travel option if you need to get back to the train to heal. Healing requires the skill of Yuna, who isn’t always in your party. I never actually figured out if there’s a way to heal yourself other than that so that only added to the dungeon’s challenge.
Spending time with the other characters comes in several options. You can Scavenge, which is a time mini-game where you have to look for an item; Spend Time With, which allows you to simply talk with the character; or play a mini-game, which is actually a lot harder than they have any right being. Whatever you choose, you’ll improve your relationship with the character and gain Essenense, which is used to gain new abilities that are unlocked as you raise your rank with a particular character. There’s also the option to date a character, and cheat, if that’s your thing, which opens up additional systems, but I’ll leave that for you to enjoy.
The entire experience is one that I enjoyed playing through. It’s an amazing release from such a small studio that I was almost anticipating something to feel off, but every system and feature was well executed. I did find the UI to be a bit on the basic side, but you don’t spend too much time in menus, so it’s not a big deal. The voice-over production is decent, and the character animations pair well with the scenes. It definitely adds to the quality of the adventure and shows that a lot of time was put into the skits between characters.
Eternights is a true labor of love from a small team of developers that set out to create something for themselves. It just so happens that it’s also one of my favorite games of 2023. If you can look past the juvenile character moments and flimsy early plot devices, you’re in for an awesome experience that delivers quality action combat, hilarious character skits, and a very strong final Act. It’s an experience I won’t soon forget and one that doesn’t demand too much from players to play till the credits. The wait for this release was genuinely worth it, and I’m happy to see this ambitious project come together so brilliantly.
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