Published on October 10th, 2013 | by Matt Haberfeld1
ESRB Rating: Teen
Genre: Strategy Role Playing Game
Release Date: 11/11/2008
What is Eternal Poison?
Eternal Poison is a strategy RPG which is played in “tales”. Each tale follows the story of a single group of people as they travel into the depths of a mysterious domain called Besek. Some characters are searching for the Eternal Poison because it is rumored to grant wishes, power, etc. Others have their own reasons which you learn about over the course of the tale. The tales occasionally intersect, and all of the character’s stories are intertwined. At the end of the game each party’s main character meets the others and learns the truth about Besek.
There are 5 main characters, and each tale consists of a single main character plus 2 or 3 companions. Additionally, you can hire from a pool of mercenaries that are available across all tales. You also have the ability to summon enemy monsters in the game called majin, but your maximum party size for any given battle cannot exceed 7.
What does this game do well?
If games were judged purely on presentation, Eternal Poison would be one of the best games ever made. It’s not that the graphics are cutting edge; the game is on the Playstation 2 after all. But the art design is consistent and attractive, and everything about it oozes charm. The characters perfectly straddle the gap between anime and realism, and their clothing is stylish and appropriate for the most part. The voice acting is almost universally excellent, and the game gives you the impression of real people with motives, desires, dreams, and ambitions.
The majin in the game are also very well designed and greatly assist in creating a game that feels both charming and a little dangerous. For instance, the magiquarius is a cross between a dog with Dumbo-like ears and a shark’s face. It sounds ridiculous, but that is one freaky looking monster! The Aranea/Scytodida majin is one of the coolest monster designs I have ever seen in a game. Additionally the game’s bosses are visually very imposing and help create the feeling that your party is descending deeper and deeper into a hostile, alien realm.
The game’s locations are also interesting and well designed. You begin each tale in an area called the Labyrinth in which Besek reads the main character’s thoughts and creates the landscape based on his or her memories. This is a great concept and the game pulls it off very well. In some tales the Labyrinth consists of ancient battlefields which evoke the feeling of hardship and loss, while others are more nostalgic than tragic. After the Labyrinth, you descend to another “stratum” and Besek proper becomes available to the player split into three separate paths. You can choose between Forest, Desert, and Aether, which is an “almost” paradise except for the majin trying to kill you at every turn. All three paths eventually join up when you descend to the third stratum, which consists of Sanctuary and Purgatory, kind of a choice between heaven and hell. But either way you go, there are elements of the other side. While sanctuary is bright and almost cheery with a delicate feel, at times lava bubbles up to the surface marring the pristine landscape. And while purgatory is a dark and foreboding place, there are moments of beauty and light interspersed with the gothic architecture.
The visual style is accompanied by equally marvelous music. The game features some amazing piano and violin compositions, some inspiring battle themes, and even a little techno/electronica. Personally I didn’t like every track in the game, but I absolutely adored some of them and the game’s soundtrack has quickly become one of my favorites. Most of the music has a laconic elegance in which just a few notes come together beautifully to make a track that could loop for hours without getting old.
All of this comes together to create an incredible atmosphere. The coolest moment in the game for me was when I captured my first majin and traveled to the Traviata House, which houses an ancient artifact called the demon cauldron. The music track for this scene is just so powerful and listening to the majin howl (males) or scream (female) while you grind them into a glowing pink soup is gross and alluring all at the same time. I will remember it as one of the best moments in gaming I’ve had in the past 5 years.
What new and innovative ideas are implemented in this game?
Eternal Poison features a combat concept that is not necessarily new, but is fairly innovative. Each majin has a certain number of hit points before it dies, but it also has an overkill threshold. If you exceed the overkill threshold then you capture the majin instead of killing it. So a monster with 300 hit points and an overkill threshold of 50 could be captured by whittling its hit points down to 50/300 and then hitting it for 100 or more. Capturing majin allows you to summon them in battle, or grind them up in the demon cauldron for skills or items. This is a cool gothic twist on Pokemon’s “gotta catch ’em all” concept and for the most part it works out well.
The game also has an interesting leadership mechanic. The main character is the “party leader” and if one of your companions does not move or attack during their turn, when the party leader goes he or she can make that character act. So if Reyna moves but doesn’t attack anything, but a majin moves into range later, on Ashley’s turn I can tell Reyna to attack the majin. In fact if I want I can issue a combo attack where Ashley commands Reyna to attack at the same time as Ashley herself attacks. Combo attacks make it much easier to overkill majin, and learning how to use them makes the game much easier. In general the leadership mechanic is interesting, but by itself is not innovative enough to justify a game based around it.
Eternal Poison has a majin encyclopedia called the Lexicon. Whenever you encounter a majin, an entry is created in the lexicon. You can “complete” the entry with additional data by grinding majin up for skills and items and revealing more information about them. If you complete the entry by unlocking all the additional data, the majin can be purchased at any time at the Traviata House.
The game also has an heirloom system that lets you pass items from one tale to another. To accomplish this you attach a skill to an item and then sell it to the shopkeeper, who will remember the last 50 items you sold to him. Another adventuring party can then purchase that item.
All these features give you the feeling of an intertwined story and have an important gameplay significance as well. For instance, if you find a really powerful axe but none of your characters can use it, you can sell it to the shop for another character in a different tale. If you get stuck on one tale, you can actually start another tale and unlock whatever you need, then go back to the first tale and it will be available to you. It is a very innovative concept that I really like, unfortunately the game does not explain it too well and most players would probably not be aware of the game’s capabilities until having played for quite awhile.
What could this game have done better?
Like I said, if games were judged purely on presentation, Eternal Poison would be one of the best games ever made. Unfortunately Eternal Poison has some gameplay hiccups that keep it from being a true gem. First of all are interface issues. It’s not easy to switch weapons, the leadership controls are a little clunky, and its very hard to manage your items and skills.
If the gameplay was spectacular, you could live with the interface issues. However, there is a big problem with the game’s pacing and length. Every time you attack, a separate screen has to load in which your character runs up to the enemy and attacks them. It can be neat to see all the attacks and how as you get better and better weapons they look cooler and more deadly, but it really wreaks havoc with the game’s flow. It’s best to turn this feature off as soon as possible. Even without the animations the game is just too long. Each tale takes about 20 hours to complete and there are 4 full length tales plus one and a half bonus tales. So you’re looking at 80+ hours to complete the game, but the gameplay itself is only interesting for 20-30 hours. To complete the game, you need to be in love with the story or the art or the music or the atmosphere and then choose to “suffer” through the gameplay. The developers would have been much better off if the game was 40 hours long and there were 40+ hours of bonus content for players who really loved the game.
The 80 hour estimate does not include reloading and playing tales over again, which is going to happen on a regular basis because the game’s objectives are not always clearly laid out. Each tale has a “good” and “bad” ending in which the bad ending isn’t really an ending at all, it just means you missed something during your trip with Besek and have to start over. These secondary objectives include taking a certain path in Besek to meet a specific majin, and/or capturing certain majin to lure out their master.
The first problem is knowing where to go, which is sometimes told to you by the game through the character’s dialogue, but not always. For instance, in Thage’s Tale there is no indication as to how to get the good ending other than trial and error or reading a walkthrough. The second problem is that some boss majin have a demon aura which makes them immune to damage until you attack them with the right “type” of damage, which breaks it, such as slashing damage or fire damage, etc.
This is a cool feature in theory because they are powerful majin and you shouldn’t be able to just sweep them aside. But the problem comes when your party doesn’t have that type of damage available. The worst boss in the game is Ignis, who not only requires you to overkill 4 majin in a single stage just to get him to appear, but then you have to hit him with 3 different damage types to break his demon aura. A lot of planning has to go into taking him down and it’s not reasonable to expect the player to magically know what to do beforehand. When I fought Ignis I didn’t have one of the damage types and had to reload back over an hour to get it.
Situations like this are far too common and if you added up all the time I wasted reloading the game, I can easily say I’ve put 100+ hours into Eternal Poison. Essentially 20% of my time with the game was wasted because I had to reload to a previous save.
Should I buy this game?
I’m going to have to say that unless you have a great degree of discipline and patience, this is not the game for you. On the one hand, I absolutely loved this game’s concept, atmopshere, and presentation. Sometimes this was one of the best games I’ve ever played. But on the other hand, I did get stuck several times, and frankly I got bored of the constant reloading after about 25 hours. For me, the game’s presentation was enough to force me to finish, but just barely. I don’t think most players would have the fortitude to get all the way through the game.
It’s really too bad, because this could have been a timeless classic like a Final Fantasy title. But in the end it would make a better movie than a game because the actual gameplay was a little weak and it was just too long.