Eternal Ring impressions

[03.04.00] » Full coverage of the PlayStation 2's first RPG.

   GIA agent J.T. Kauffman has been playing From Software's Eternal Ring on his shiny new PlayStation 2. Having completed the first few areas of the game, he offers his impressions on the game thus far:

   "There are two kinds of unfinished games that get released. The first is a game that is rushed to the market, but hasn't been fully debugged. A recent, well-known example of this would be Sony's racer Gran Turismo 2, which shipped with only 98.2% of the game completable. The second kind of unfinished game is a game that has potential, but is rushed to the market lacking features that really should have been implemented. From Software's PS2 action RPG Eternal Ring fits the latter description perfectly.

   "There are so many problems with Eternal Ring that it is hard to know where to start. A few hours into the game, play control is probably the biggest downfall so far. Sony's excellent Dual Shock 2 controller is used so very poorly here. The most glaring problem is the lack of analog control. In a first person game, the Dual Shock 2's twin analogue sticks are a perfect solution to the control problem: use one stick to move, the other to look around and strafe. From chose not to use either stick, and instead decided that the digital pad and L & R buttons would work just fine (hint: they don't). All of the human characters, including the main character, Kain, have exactly one speed: slow. In Eternal Ring, lethargy is the name of the game; walking, turning around, swinging a sword, and talking are all done with the speed of a dying tortoise. This poses a problem when doing, well, practically everything. Getting from place to place becomes a huge chore, as the landscapes are quite large, and you're quite slow. Even something that should be simple, like speaking with a townsperson, is made into an incredibly long and drawn out process.

   "Battles can be quite painful as well. Many enemies must be practically centered on the screen to score a successful hit, and trying to do this with the combination of the D-pad and the L/R buttons can be quite challenging on a still object, let alone a moving enemy. To make things even more fun, flying enemies are twice as hard to center, as they enjoy flying over your head, and totally off the screen. This forces you to not only target them, but find them as well, which isn't an easy task. Once the enemy is in your sights, hitting it is another challenge. Kain is apparently going for the lack-of-speed-is-made-up-for-with-power approach, but unfortunately, power barely comes into the equation at all. Again, this could all be fixed with a simple Zelda 64-style Z-targeting system, but From has once again failed to include something like this.

   "Graphics and modeling are occasionally really good, but rarely anything to truly write home about. The big problem here is that textures are often repeated, making for generic-looking, as well as hard-to-navigate, levels (the lack of a map makes getting around even worse). Tiny gaps in the joints are occasionally visible, making for nice white specks onscreen, which is pretty annoying. Also, while capable of insane polygon counts, From has chosen to use a sort of shadowing reminiscent of Turok's infamous fogging that makes much of the dungeons disappear into blackness. This only occurs in some areas of the game, and makes for fairly disorienting playing. Of the levels that I've seen so far, the only one to truly catch my eye was the first town that Kain reaches. It's a quaint little village with mountains in the background that make for decent eye-candy. Unfortunately, you're in this town for very little time, with most of your gameplay hours spent crawling around the repetitive graphics of the dungeons. On the effects side, spell effects seem to be rather good, from what I've seen. Other effects, such as physical hits and water, are very poorly done. Kain's sword slash ends in an explosion-like effect, which doesn't quite seem right. As for the water effects, waves and spashes are non-existant, and in one cinema scene Kain actually appears to be walking on the water, which looks downright bizzare. Also worth mentioning is the menu, which is nicely done is both graphics and animation terms.

   "The music is tolerable, but nothing more. Occasionally, the orchestral background music is quite nice, but it like the graphics, it gets repetative fast. Sound effects fall into the 'passable' department as well. My only real problem with the sound is the lack of spoken dialogue. Being a DVD-ROM, there is plenty of room that From could have utilized to add full dialogue to the game. If the first few hours are typical of the rest of the game, the amount of dialogue should prove to be rather minimal, and thus really should have been voiceover.

   "On the up side, from what the game has shown so far, as well as what was playable at the Playstation Festival 2000, the magic system should be quite a treat. While it remains to be seen whether micro-management will rule the system, it seems to be wide enough of a system that the normal player will be able to use it well, while management fans will find plenty to keep them busy. As mentioned in the PSFestival coverage, Magic takes quite an important role in this game, and is widely used. Magic Points are refilled when an enemy is defeated using Kain's physical weapon, which makes MP easy to refill, and much less of something to save only for bosses.

   "Don't get me wrong - Eternal Ring isn't a bad game, per se. It's just a game that doesn't feel finished. I can say that the game hasn't really progressed that far from what it played like at the Fall 1999 Tokyo Game Show (which took place back in September). While it is nice to have an RPG at launch, the inclusion of running, analogue control, and spoken dialogue seems to be rather easy things to add, as does a Z-targeting system. With any luck, if the game is picked up for a North American release, the publisher will take the time to fix these problems, as Eternal Ring definitely has potential to be a good first English RPG. It's just a shame that its Japanese incarnation is so mediocre."

   Don't miss the new Eternal Ring media, artwork, and packaging that is also available.

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