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Eternal Ring - Retroview

The Magic of the Ring, but not the Spirit of the Fellowship

By: Noj Airk


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 4
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 5
   Originality 5
   Plot 6
   Localization 8
   Replay Value 4
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Average
   Time to Complete

25-40 hours

 
Overall
5
Criteria

Eternal Ring
 

   "Who said fantasies had to be final?" That was printed on the back of a DVD case labeled Eternal Ring. After purchasing it and playing it to the end, it's my guess that it's a cover-up, meaning: "Who says all RPG's have to masterpieces?" While not especially bad, Eternal Ring is a prime example of what happens when you sacrifice time and effort to make a lot of cash quickly. With a game of such a rare genre, it's really a tragedy to see.

   If you've ever played any old school first persons hooter, such as Wolfenstein or Doom, you know the basic design of the game. You can't jump or crawl, and enemies are...well, enemies are sometimes closer than they appear. Sometimes, you're pretty sure that they're closer than they really are as well. This is problematic because unless you attack with a magical ring discharge, you cannot attack unless at point blank range. Frankly, while I had some fun playing this game, the limited control scheme and combat system were really driving me crazy. It's easy to manipulate, and you miss way too often.

   The battle system is like piloting a harrier or boat, and adding a giant sword to the front to attack. Like in real life, you can simply move ever so slightly to avoid being bit by attacks that are aimed at you being still, but the trouble is that all enemy attacks, except for the last boss, depend on you staying still or at least somewhere in front of them. Knowing that the AI limitations of the programming makes the game often too easy, thee programmers decided to make each attack produce large amounts of damage upon you. This means that if your thumb gets tired of maneuvering, you're an easy target for bosses and tough enemies, and sometimes save points are too far for the fun to be retained when trying again. Some of the bosses are decently crafted, but they don't make up for the sloppiness of having to defeat them.


These save points have Dr. Who written all over them.
These save points have Dr. Who written all over them.  

   It's a tragedy, I know people who would rather play this game over Front Mission 3, because "it's medieval!" I say this because they don't realize that while nicely convincing as a medieval world, this game simply doesn't have the qualities of that mech-master. I bring that up here because the one thing that was undeniable about Front Mission 3 as being great was the vastness of its interface. True, I am now being unfair to Eternal Ring, because the actual interface is actually quite decent. However, this game moves like a tank with slow treads, or a train with too much weight.

   Rather than learning spells, you find gems of different elemental qualities and magical concentration levels. With these, you can either buy items or equipment (from amazingly rare stores), or take them to a wizard where you can forge rings of power. The menus also work nice, although they are very button mashing in nature, meaning that you have to go through a few menus to simply use a healing item, and then it asks you if you're sure you want to use it; and repeat all of those mashes if you need to use it several times. Also frustrating is that the first person view seems rather thin, like you're looking at the front 40-degree angle in front of you, rather than a 75 or 90 degree one. This makes the common pitfall and hidden enemies far to easy for the player to fall victim to.

   The music in the game is rather nice, and the synth levels are quite high, albeit still obviously synthetic orchestra. However, with areas being huge, some of the tracks get very, and I mean very, repetitive. However, the sound effects are clunky and almost obnoxious. They sound like they had a good Foley artist who turned the recording volume too low, and to compensate, he plays them on the game way too loud and distorted. While the Foley comes off bad, the monster sounds are actually rather cool sounding sometimes. However, the real killer for the sound is that this game has literally the worst voice acting in any game ever; forget what you heard about the first Resident Evil. It redefines emotionless and un-energetic. It was like listening to Simpletext (an old talking computer program), with a different voice for each character.

   The writing that is (or is not) acted out is actually quite good. While struggling with the game at some parts, I looked up an FAQ online, where the writer of the FAQ had a Japanese copy of the game, and translated it himself. His translations were rather close to what the game's dialogue was, yet the game's dialogue had a more real sounding nature to it. The only trouble with it is that it's unconvincing, and you have to work a lot to get it. Even worse is that a character named Lyla is mentioned many times, building up suspense as to who she really is; I was expecting one of the greatest characters ever. She was bland, as bland as the rest of the game. Not to mention, the main hero simply doesn't talk at all. A cool outfit, I guess he was just cool until he opened up his mouth. It's sad really.


Poor guy.  It seems like after he finished playing King Edgar in Final Fantasy VI, the actor just couldn't get any good gigs.
Poor guy. It seems like after he finished playing King Edgar in Final Fantasy VI, the actor just couldn't get any good gigs.  

   The plot is good enough to keep one slightly interested, unless they die or get lost too often. The story is about an ancient magical race that created the perfect being, with powers unimaginable, but no emotions, meaning that it could destroy cities without seeing any reason to object. To counter it, they created a field called "The Eternal Ring"; but the name is the only thing to have left the island, and so group after group have been sent, under royal command, to the island in search of the "great artifact." It's a nice twist to the plot, but unfortunately, the plot itself moves rather slow, and is only told in monologues of those you find on your quest, usually just a few minutes or missions before you find them dead somewhere else. The plot had potential, but like the design, it was cut short to make this game a working launch title for the PS2 in America.

The graphics in the game are clear, smooth and pretty, not to mention, the areas are nice and big. There isn't any popup of sprites or polygons, which is a rare treat for an early PS2 game. It's very nice and appealing, but there are some flaws that I just can't let go, being the reviewer. To start off, the motion of the quadrupeds is very stiff, like two men in a horse costume performed them. They bite forward as clumsily as a nice guy would charge at a monster with a chainsaw. Secondly, there are many long hallways inside the caves and temples and such. These long hallways are made up of 3-D bricks that have holes that you walk through, repeated over and over. Basically, what I'm saying is: each hallway is in itself very repetitive. While Orphen: Scion of Sorcery's visuals were repetitive, they were at least artistic, polished, and small enough for it to not be much of a hassle. And thirdly, the effects are really just bland; fireballs are just polygons of flame colors, but in a ball, for example.

True, maybe for a launch title I'm being a tad unfair, as since I've been subject to games like Final Fantasy X, Silent Hill 2 and multiple Xbox games, I have seen much better material…that was made at least a whole year later. However, another launch title for the PS2: Koei's Dynasty Warriors 2, has better character design and movement, is much more colorful, and each singly loaded up area is about four square miles in size, while in Eternal Ring, I'd say the bigger are only about one square mile in area.


Stay thinking like that long enough and they'll build you a statue, contemplating whatever you're contemplating, forever.
Stay thinking like that long enough and they'll build you a statue, contemplating whatever you're contemplating, forever.  

Actually, the whole game is rather repetitive. There are a few secret locations, some of which the programmers originally thought was impossible to skip, that I ended up skipping by accident. These secret areas, not to mention just the sheer joy of playing medieval hero, is good enough for me to replay this game...in the somewhat distant gaming future. With design flaws and a bad ending, with only moderate at best satisfaction, only a constant re-player like me would ever want to play through this again. Maybe that's why it was the cheapest of the four launch RPGs when I got it used.

For anyone like me, who is attracted to obscure RPGs that were classified as having merit, but something prevented it from becoming great, then this is a good item to look into, for a rental or two. I like to buy used games in clumps. I remember beating Shadow Madness, and it taking a good 35 hours, and feeling like the only gamer in the world to have actually beaten it, or even gotten anywhere near that far. This is one of those games, but tragically, there's really nobody to care about in this game, and as such, is less satisfying. Even for just your $15, you can get a better used game, maybe for the PSX or Dreamcast. But, for anyone willing to forgive flaws and have another RPG under their "defeated" category, you just might want to give this one a try.





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