Thursday, September 3, 2009

PS2 Look: Eternal Ring

Here we have another launch-era PS2 title. Eternal Ring is from what I can gather a sort of experiment. What I'm basically saying is that the purpose of the game is to test a bunch of new ideas and maybe in a future game it'll all be worked out. It's sort of expected out of launch titles and tends to frequently happen with new genres or ones the developer hasn't attempted before. An experiment can still be a great game but Eternal Ring isn't even a good one.

The story involves a young man with a mysterious past. His goal is to find a powerful ring and well none of that actually matters. The game is a first-person action-RPG though it actually plays out more like a first-person shooter. Upon arriving the player must flip switches, fall into holes, explore different environments, and kill monsters. It's standard fare and Eternal Ring does little to differentiate itself from similar games. 

At first the hero is limited to a sword that he can hardly wield. All he does is poke monsters to death and this can be very annoying since monsters come in all sizes and shapes. Time actually has to be spent arranging the hero so that he's properly facing the monster he wishes to poke. This gets old very quickly as despite the discovery of new swords the Hero never learns how to wield them with any sort of effectiveness.

After a short time at least the hero finds his first magic ring and the magic system comes into play. The player is able to equip up to five rings at any time and switch between them when needed. There are a lot of rings to collect and build and they cover practically everything you could imagine. Whether you need to throw a fireball or a tornado, casting a healing spell or cure poison, the ring system has you covered...

...That is provided of course that you know how to make them. Monsters in the world of Eternal Ring commonly drop gems. These gems can be taken to a wise old man to be crafted to make new rings. How this is accomplished is by using some combination of six gems the player can make a ring. All of the gems have various elemental affinities and varying levels of strength. It's a very deep system and can be rewarding for those willing to work with it. 

The level design in this game is hopelessly bland. I understand the appeal of labyrinths, mazes, and getting lost but all the same everything in this game looks like the developers took the basic templates and stretched them out as far as they could. There are several empty hallways and rooms, long corridors for no reason, and generally just a whole lot of nothing. 

I guess when the level design isn't any good that's because the developers focused on the combat. Unfortunately the combat simply isn't any good. I've already mentioned the impotent way the hero handles his sword and this makes every melee fight an ordeal. Since a frontal attack is suicide your best option is circle-strafing. If that doesn't work you can perform a flower-patterned circle-strafe(move backwards and forwards while circling). Doing all this for every single monster quickly becomes tiring. Many enemies can take several hits to defeat and if a second foe joins the battle somehow you're usually better off retreating. Thankfully magic can be very useful unless you go through half of your MP pool to kill a single monster. While using spells is more effective it still doesn't make the combat anything compelling.

What really pushes me over the edge is this game's flagrant abuse of mechanics. To put it simply all I have to say is enemies can attack you through walls. No I do not buy the idea that a goblin can throw a stone through several feet of solid rock to bean me over the head. How exactly does one miss something like this? I can't very well toss a fireball through walls so why should the enemy get to? Even if the other aspects of this game held up I'd still knock the heck out of it for screwy mechanics because this is just plain idiotic.

All in all this game is a complete waste of time and you're better off with something like the old PC game Heretic or maybe one(or both) of the Hexen titles. These are readily available on Steam for a low price and they resemble Eternal Ring in concept but are just all around better games. While you lose the ring-crafting system you could just oh I don't know buy a junior scientist kit or do some math homework. As a fan of the King's Field series I expected something similar in Eternal Ring and all I got was a disappointing mess.

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