Eternal Ring

    When From Software finds a formula they they like, they stick with it. Over the course of three King's Field games on the PlayStation, two of which arrived in the US, the mix of first person dungeon-crawling and light RPG elements has changed very little. With the launch of the PlayStation 2, this unique style of action-RPG returns to the states with Eternal Ring, a game so similar to King's Field that one has to wonder why it wasn't made a part of the series.

 This inspires something, but I don't think it's awe.
But this fog has emotion!

    Eternal Ring is the story of Cain Morgan, a member of the Heingarian Security Force and servant to the king. Heingaria, though a major military force, is a country divided. The peaceful king is a puppet dictator, and a powerful council of Elders orchestrates the country's vicious expansionism from the shadows. When the Elders dispatch an investigative team to the Island of No Return to search to the legendary Eternal Ring, the King sends Cain to follow and discover just what the Elders are up to. Cain himself was an orphan found twenty years ago on the battlefield where the two warring nations of Aldine and Solcia wiped each other out. It is said that the remaining Solcians fled to the island, so Cain sails off with his own agenda -- to discover his past.

    The story may be a familiar tale of lost artifacts and ancient races, but it is interesting enough and offers a few twists to players who see it through. But the bulk of Eternal Ring is spent fighting though the many dungeons, and it is in combat where the game first begins to stumble. Just as in the King's Field series, the entire game (battles included) takes place from a first person perspective. Players can navigate in three dimensions, looking up and down, while exchanging sword blows and spells with the game's monsters. In theory, the battles should provide a visceral counterpoint to the game's focus on lengthy exploration. In practice, combat in Eternal Ring never gets much beyond a shallow and repetitive pattern of sidesteps and attacks.

    Players will likely spend as much time fighting the controls as they do anything found in the dungeons. Despite the progress seen in console first person games in the last few years, From Software has refused to change a control scheme which was unwieldy in the first King's Field. Though never meant to be as action-oriented as a first person shooter, there's no justifiable reason why they couldn't have offered the much more versatile and natural control scheme employed in games from Goldeneye to Medal of Honor. L2 and R2 are inexpicably used to slowly look up and down, and when faced with multiple enemies on the ground and in the air, players will end up gazing at the ground or at empty sky as they wait for the controls to catch up with their commands.

So *that's* where the production budget went!
Oooh, pretty! *poing*

    Compounding the problems is a shocking lack of support for the analog sticks, which are designed mainly for looking and moving in three dimensions. To add insult to injury, the game does support the analog function of the D-Pad and buttons, allowing you to move quickly should you wish to spend the entire game jamming on the buttons with finger-busting force. The last straw is the fact that, due to a fairly obvious bug, enemies can shoot straight through walls, doors, and occasionally ceilings. The cumbersome controls are difficult enough, but when you are attacked by monsters who aren't even in the same room, it descends into sheer frustration.

    Those hoping to be rescued by some Emotion Engine-fuelled eye candy will be sorely disappointed. The caves, forests, shrines and towers of Eternal Ring, while pleasantly high-resolutions and sharp, demonstrate an almost unforgivable lack of creativity. Most dungeons adhere closely to the "large boxy room connected by small boxy corridor" school of design and quickly grow stale. Even settings that give the designers a chance to flex their muscles are often implemented in the least interesting way possible; a forest encampment is represented by a tall tube shaped room plastered with a generic wood texture; the forest itself is a foggy green plain peppered with the occasional tree. The characters and the creatures are modeled well, especially the game's dragons, but they hardly compensate for their surroundings. The overall lack of detail and style in Eternal Ring's environments would be disheartening in a PlayStation game, but it's downright depressing on what is supposed to be the most powerful console on the planet.

 I'm almost as ugly as the game!
Me like read map!

    Eternal Ring isn't a complete loss, though, as the magic system is original and enjoyable. Over 120 different spells can be found by forging magic rings from elemental gems acquired from monsters, and players could potentially spend hours trying to construct a complete arsenal. In addition, Agetec has added a few important improvements over the Japanese version, including speeding up the movement slightly and recording full speech for all the game's characters. Though the voice acting itself rarely rises above adequate, and is often downright horrible, it is nice see an effort at full voice acting in an RPG.

    Unfortunately, voice acting is perhaps the game's only concession to advancing times. Eternal Ring basically occupies the exact same niche that King's Field did when it first came to the US: a simple, awkward game that will be enjoyed only by those desperate for an RPG for their new system. Since the first King's Field, the RPG market in America has exploded. and players' expectations have done so as well. Meanwhile, launch title or not, From Software seems like they're stuck in 1996. Perhaps a strict adherence to the style and control of the King's Field games was done in a effort to keep old fans happy, but the end result will certainly precluded them from earning any new ones.

Review by Zak McClendon, GIA.
Eternal Ring
Developer From Software
Publisher Agetec
Genre Action RPG
Medium DVD (1)
Platform PlayStation 2
Release Date  03.04.00
Eternal Ring announced
12 screenshots
One scene / 4 ring renders
North American packaging