Eternal Poison Review
If you’re a fan of the old-school grid-based strategy/RPG, which means you immensely enjoyed the likes of games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Front Mission in years past, than you’ve probably given this niche genre up for lost. But as you may already know, Atlus isn’t so interested in abandoning the PS2 just yet, and they’ve been pumping out the titles on a very consistent basis over the past year or two. Their latest is Eternal Poison, which is the epitome of a strat/RPG from yesteryear, even though it won’t appeal to many new gamers in this generation. It also doesn’t help that this presentation feels a little dark, slow and uninteresting, so Eternal Poison really only caters to the hardcore aficionado. The good news is that it’s basically the exact same type of game you’ll remember from the PS1 days with greatly enhanced cut-scenes and a few semi-interesting additions to the gameplay. So if you want to relive the good ol’ days with a “new” game that feels kinda old, than this one is for you. Get it?
If you remember, there was a time when the cut-scenes developers could produce were a hundred times better than the actual gameplay visuals. This happened a lot with RPGs on the PS2, as fans will distinctly recall, and that’s very much on display in Eternal Poison, which presents you with one of the prettiest CGI displays you’ll ever see on the PS2, but basically downgrades to gameplay graphics that may only be a half-step above the strat/RPGs we had on the PS1. Really, the Disgaea games looked much better (cleaner and more polished), as this holds all the graininess and jagginess we came to accept several years back. But then again, as graphics are never a focal point in any strategy/RPG title, we’re not going to harp on this category’s lacking too much. In reality, it serves the game’s purpose and although we would’ve liked something more technically accomplished, we can live with this color palette that oddly reminds us of the Deception series. Most of it is very dark and forbidding; medieval in artistic style and even quite harsh and barren in terms of design. It fits, but it’s not exactly pleasant.
The sound is worse, primarily because the soundtrack is both repetitive and generic and the voice acting is barely mediocre. Thankfully, you have the option of turning off those voices, but you will miss out on a big part of the game and some characters aren’t too bad. The sound effects aren’t all that special, either, but provided your expectations aren’t too high heading in, you probably won’t be too disappointed. For the most part, these games have never excelled in the technical categories, so most of you probably won’t be surprised when you hear this information, and in turn, you likely won’t care. And the bottom line is that Eternal Poison will only be sold to gamers who know exactly what they’re going to get, so again, we can’t really belabor the point. We just wish Atlus didn’t continually use voice actors who can become seriously grating after only a few hours of play, and it seems as if they’re using the same music over and over again from title to title. It worked at first but now it’s just tiresome, and we really don’t believe it would take that much more effort to implement a fresh soundtrack and a few sharp new sound effects.
If you’re not familiar with this gameplay style, than you really don’t want this game; it’s that simple. If you’re a fan of Disgaea and FFT and the like, then this one might be right up your alley, provided you can deal with what we found to be an unappealing and terribly slow-paced adventure. It almost felt stilted in some places and the fluidity suffered due to certain inane storyline progressions and a bizarre way of moving through the stages. But the basics are straightforward and traditional: battles play out on the familiar grid format, where it’s strictly turn-based and only inherent speed factors into the turn assignments. You can move and execute one command per turn, and this can include regular attack, special skills, magic, Item, or a “Lead/Combo” maneuver (discussed below). When you initiate an encounter, the screen will change to a separate display, where the attacker and defender are pictured in a one-on-one setting. It’s slow, and although you can skip it by pressing the X button, it’s entirely unnecessary and doesn’t add any flash to the game at all. This is easily the most annoying aspect of Eternal Poison, and the biggest reason why we lost interest after a while.
There are plenty of other factors to consider, but none of them are anything new. Certain characters and enemies have certain strengths and weaknesses; you can’t easily travel across big height differences in the terrain, spells, skills and weapons have different ranges (as do the characters themselves), and you can check out any fighter’s status at any given time. The two original features are as follows: 1. some enemies have a “Dark Aura” of some kind that protects them from most any attack except the one they’re most susceptible to, and 2. the “Lead/Combo” option allows characters who are Waiting to act on an ally’s turn, and two characters can team up for a devastating combination attack. This is a little difficult to pull off, though, as it requires that both characters need to be adjacent to the target (you can’t perform a physical/magic combo, unfortunately), and one needs to Wait for the other to get into position. It’s not a bad system, per se, but much like the rest of this production, it just feels a little old-fashioned and uninspired. Normally, we don’t mind “old-fashioned” (in fact, we often pine for it), but this is a little bare-bones even for the avid strat/RPG fans.
However, you can always count on Atlus to inject a substantial amount of depth into any game they do, and this one is no exception. If you can manage to “Overkill” an enemy, it will give you the option to Capture it. See, the foes you face are called Majin, a magical race of beings that speak a strange language similar to Latin, and each one has an Overkill limit. If you can break through that limit, they become Bound and ready for Capture. You need an extra turn and must be directly next to the Bound enemy to Capture it, but it’s typically worth the effort. In between battles, those Captured Majin become huge bonuses. You can either keep them for use in battle (not usually preferred by strat/RPG aficionados who would rather use their characters who are always more diverse) or sacrifice them in this giant cauldron. Depending on the type of Majin sacrificed, you can gain PP or a Skill, or you can simply sell them off for cash. This is by far the most intriguing aspect of Eternal Poison and it will remind players of Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei franchise that usually includes unique systems like demon training and breeding.
It’s the added diversity that makes this Capturing mechanic good. We found it a little annoying to use up an extra turn to make the Capture – if we Overkilled it and it’s Bound, why can’t we Capture it right then? – but the micromanagement lover that resides deep in our FFT-loving soul really got into capturing and sacrificing Majin. Furthermore, the game is set up much like Disgaea, as there’s usually a central hub that will let you perform any number of off-the-field actions, ranging from Majin sacrifice, purchasing and selling equipment, and even recruitment. You can recruit different characters throughout the adventure, but just remember: once you’ve recruited that character, he or she is there to stay, and there’s a limit to how many you can recruit. This brings us to another unique aspect, and it reminds us of Suikoden III where there were three branching storylines focusing on one main character. You will choose to see one of three storylines at the start of a New Game, and if you want to see all the plots (that do interconnect), than you’ll have to keep playing. This adds more intrigue to the game and serves to increase our interest in the storyline, which is decent.
But in the end, if you’ve ever played a strat/RPG, you won’t be surprised by what you find in Eternal Poison. The character design is a little better than expected, those CGI cut-scenes are mighty impressive, the addition of a few interesting gameplay elements enhances the depth, and the branching storylines spruces up a story that’s a little slow to develop. But with virtually no exploration allowed (it’s entirely linear), several irritating and even seemingly useless characters, the silly added animations that accompany actions on the field, and battles that feel a lot less dynamic than they could’ve been, it hurts an otherwise solid effort. The bottom line is that if you’re a fiend for this genre, you’ll probably enjoy this one, but otherwise, there’s nothing really fresh, nor is there anything that might appeal to RPG fans who aren’t used to this style. Buy it only if you couldn’t live without Disgaea for months on end.
1/5/2009 Ben Dutka