Eternights Review

Swiping Right

From the initial flirting, first dates, and more, dating is all about timing and rhythm. One wrong move at the onset can cause trouble down the line – or worse. Which is why first impressions are so important, especially when someone is deciding whether they want to spend more time with you. Eternights, the debut from erstwhile one-man shop Studio Sai, does an admirable job of putting its best feet forward with an interesting story, sharp characterization and mix of gameplay styles, but underwhelming combat and presentation dulls the experience just enough to keep some gamers wondering if there will be a second date. 

The game bills itself as a “dating sim action RPG,” and takes place during the end of the world. It opens with the player character fiddling on his phone, establishing a profile on a dating app with his friend, Chani. When going to meet up for a date with someone he met on the app, a mysterious event occurs and transforms the bulk of the citizens into mindless, faceless zombies. From there, the character quickly encounters Yuna, a pop star, before being whisked away on a train where they are told they must navigate through a series of labyrinths in order to quell the carnage. 

Most boss enemies are interestingly designed.

This is when the game’s myriad systems begin to reveal themselves, drawing inspiration from popular JRPG series and tropes. Players must navigate each dungeon, battling monsters and solving puzzles while being mindful of the calendar’s deadlines. Outside of combat, there is a “Bond” system which tracks each character’s relationship with the main character. This is, in part, determined by how the characters interact as well as the frequency with which they train with the player character, an activity that only occurs at night. This aspect of the game’s time management mechanic requires gamers to budget their time, spending days (or nights) bonding with other party members if not in a dungeon or progressing the story.  It’s a familiar gameplay loop, and one that Eternights is eager to imitate.

One of the game’s best surprises is the characterization and script. Yuna and Chani in particular are at times amusing and engaging, perhaps because they are there for the bulk of the game. Chani is juvenile and crass from the onset, preoccupied with women and dating in a cartoonish way. It is irritating but quickly dissipates as his fear at the situation grows and his more contemplative nature is revealed. Similarly, Yuna quickly lets her guard down around the player, displaying her emotional depth, fragility, and guilt that her actions may have unintentionally hurt others.  While the script isn’t perfect, displaying plenty of fanservice and more than a few bad jokes, the character development and journey make it worthwhile. 

Players can influence the relationships between characters.

Rather than strive to be a copy of the games that inspired it, combat is not turn-based. Instead, Eternights presents a hack-and-slash action RPG battle system. Players control the main character in combat but can call on party members for assist in combat, either with elemental-based attacks or support. Enemies drop essence which can be funneled towards party development, learning skills for the main character and support characters alike.  Stronger bonds between characters yield richer benefits in combat, including learning more powerful abilities which in itself is a great incentive to deepen your bond with characters. Not only that but reaching certain bond levels with most characters will result in romance. 

Despite that, combat feels sluggish and repetitive. Most encounters focus on dodging telegraphed enemy attacks at the right moment before racking up combos or exploiting a weakness. Enemy movement can be difficult to anticipate, and a wonky camera can obfuscate the action. Most boss enemies have barriers that are susceptible to particular elements. The end result is a lot of button mashing with ordinary enemies, and plenty of QTEs during boss fights in order to destroy their damage barrier. It feels very rinse-and-repeat, including but not limited to the stagger mechanic which must be repeatedly exploited during longer encounters.

Characters live and die by the calendar – quite literally.

Outside of combat, exploration of the apocalyptic scenery is rather limited to generally linear corridors filled with little more than enemies and debris. Even the training sequences, which suggest that players might get an opportunity to explore this ravaged world, are little more than short detours or mini-games. While these detours help provide character development and a window into the perspective of the other party members, and are all but required in order to reach a desired bond rank prior to the game’s end, it is still a missed opportunity. There’s a sense that the world is in truly bad shape – it’s just a shame most of it is left to players to imagine. 

Likewise, even with the intriguing premise and solid characterization, the presentation leaves much to be desired. While the party characters themselves are rather well-designed and animated, nothing else is. The environments are drab, outdated, and frankly ugly. While some boss enemies feature inspired design elements, the run-of-the-mill enemy is usually a faceless NPC with an outfit you’ll see repeatedly. Just how many zombie schoolgirls or businessman can one tolerate? The UI is incredibly basic, verging on amateur, and could have used some additional effort. The music is understated but generally effective, with a sense of foreboding permeating much of the score. 

The characters are charming and engaging.

Eternights deserves some credit as it brings a lot of ideas to the table – perhaps too many. Players are tasked to manage party members, social relationships, a calendar, dungeon crawling, and more during the game’s short run time of less than a dozen hours. There’s a lot going on, most of it competently designed, but lacking that touch of finesse or technical flourish that oozes from the few series that serve as inspiration. The game wants to be a hot date, with some beautifully designed characters who are full of personality. Unfortunately, like those characters stuck on a train during the end of the world, Eternights is all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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'Above Average' -- 2.5/5

Interesting, thoughtful characters

Romance options are inclusive

Combat is uninspired

Presentation is lacking


Paul Shkreli

Paul has been playing video games since his Nana bought him a Nintendo in 1991. He joined RPGamer in 2020.

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