Review by CondorMan
"Dark, intruiging, and hampered by design flaws"
Eternal Poison is a Strategy/RPG set in a dark European setting in which a demon world, Besek, has appeared. The plot revolves around a kidnapped princess and a powerful treasure--the Eternal Poison--that are both within this mysterious and dangerous labyrinth. The actual gameplay is mostly similar to Vandal Hearts, with elements of Pokemon and Fire Emblem. The game suffers from a number of design flaws but overall works out well. Learning about and reading the IGN review by Ryan Clements in which he rated this game a 3.5/10 makes me want to set the record straight.
After the Princess of Valdia is kidnapped by the Majin, the king beseeches the aid of anyone who will help. You get to play as one of five different parties (three available from the start) who enter Besek for a variety of motivations. Thage is a Witch who wants the Eternal Poison for her own purposes and who travels with a powerful Wolf Majin. Olifen, the Commander of the Valdian Knights, is the Princess Lenarshe's betrothed. Ashley, a Protector of the Church of Valdia, is under orders to investigate Besek, and also hopes to find her lost mentor.
This is one of those games where the whole story revolves around a single dungeon crawl. Mechanically, there's not much except for traveling deeper into Besek and the characters dealing with its challenges, both various minions and demonic masters, their own pasts brought back to them in vivid detail, interactions in the town/rest area, and the increasing toll entering a demon world inflicts on humans. And of course all the people plotting behind the characters' backs. Supposedly as you get farther into the game from each of these characters' viewpoints, you get to see the entire story unfold. Certainly there is more character development and plot twists for some parties than others. Thage seems to know everything, and you're dying to know what she's really thinking. Olifen is far less subtle and thrown for a loop. The beginning of the game poses a lot of mysteries and unanswered questions.
The voice acting in between scenes is a welcome touch, although some of the character personalities appear a little too stilted and predictable. Still, it's refreshing to have an RPG that isn't chock full of overly immature angsty and hormonal characters. Instead these are mostly mature characters who have a past--often a dark one--but still some development to go through. Each story has a handful of supporting main characters who offer advice in and out of combat, and a large cast of one-dimensional mercenaries or adventurers who can join you in town. The non pivotal allies appear to be just thrown in there for no apparent reason except to join your party, say why they don't want to join, or to give the standard civilian one-liner.
The overall gameplay is most similar to Vandal Hearts, with 3D grids as battle maps and hordes of enemies with easily exploitable weaknesses. Combat is turn based with each character getting turns based on their Speed. Although each character is unique, they tend to be typecast into caster, archer, heavy armor, infantry, and archer roles. You always have to pay attention to character movement and enemy range. It's Game Over if the leader is defeated (nice; Thage is a WITCH). Other allies are removed from the map for the rest of combat when they're defeated. There are many points at which you can choose between different realms and battle stages, but these choices are final. The game is quite linear and there are no extra or random encounters. After each battle you go to town (which for some reason is an easy trip no matter where you are in Besek?). The enemy AI is very basic. Most enemies will stand still and only attack if you move close to their range, so the battles are rarely very intense.
Some interesting elements give this game a unique feel. The leader of each party can, as a free action, order allies who chose to Wait on their turn to move or act immediately. The leader can also order or take part in Combo attacks by two allies. You can capture enemy Majin by "Overkilling" them with a powerful finishing blow, then dispose of them for profit. Or you can deploy or summon Majin into battle. By Sacrificing Majin for Skills, you can equip many characters with new spells and attacks for increased versatility. Also, several of the monsters and characters speak in different languages, such as Latin or backwards English, which the characters either will or will not understand. The first time you battle each Majin in a combat, they do a unique pose as their names are sung incomprehensibly in an opera style.
Most of the challenge in this game comes from capturing enemy Majin and bosses, which unfortunately isn't all that rewarding. Killing a Majin gives you gold, Poison Points for using Majin in battle, and an item. Disposing of or selling a captured Majin gives you better rewards but gives them to you piecemeal, and you have to buy the item. Worst of all, in a major design flaw, capturing every Majin in a battle causes you to miss out on the end of battle cash bonus entirely, costing you thousands of gold. Majin don't hold up very well in combat either, in no small part because they can't level-up. With a strict limit to the number of allies you can take into combat, no random encounters, and a large cast of joinable humans, you'll usually opt to select among the humans, especially since you can Summon Majin as your allies are defeated. The joinable characters frequently start off and remain underleveled and weak, but they can do a lot more than the Majin can. As in the Fire Emblem games, you'll probably have to bench a lot of the humans eventually. One thing I will say in this game's favor is that the customization is not nearly as overwhelming as it is in most other RPGs. Just buy a weapon, set the skills for each character and decide what you want to do with the Majin.
The interface has a couple of hangups, though it's nowhere near as bad as the IGN reviewer made it out to be. You can only equip characters at the Inn, in the shop, or before combat. I'm not sure why Ryan Clements says it's not possible to equip characters before combat or that your total health isn't displayed when an enemy attacks you, because those statements are simply not true. Also enemy resistances vary widely enough that it is necessary to look at each Majin's status screen at the beginning of combat and intermittently throughout. You can't see a character's Move stat on their status screen. Probably the biggest hangup I have about this game is how SLOWLY combats play out, especially if you're out to capture Majin and you happen to mess up on the one must-have. There are options to turn the animation off or skip through the animated scenes, but what remains is very uninteresting and you'll have to go back to check your characters' status.
Probably the highlight is the richly detailed character portraits, from Thage's cleavage to Olifen's embroidered uniform, that appear again and again in story scenes, with some changes for facial expressions. The combat animation is impressive, too, with the character figures and actions looking flawless and richly detailed, especially the leaders' poses when they're capturing a Majin. Many of the monsters, however, appear more like moving Gothic paintings than actual demons and monsters. The character and monster sprites, or whatever they call 3D models, are okay. They're fully animated, you'll know who's who, but they definitely could be better. The maps could use some work. Outdoor maps are serviceable, but places with multiple elevations and indoor maps aren't handled too well. It's sometimes hard to tell the distance from enemies, and you have to rotate the map sometimes to see a clear picture of how far an enemy can move.
Well, there's voice-acting in this game, and it rarely falls astray. There's not much of those overly dramatic and angsty lines repeating themselves over and over again in and out of combat, although some characters seem designed to have deliberately annoying, sickeningly sweet voices. The music in this game tends to be subtle and subdued, matching the game's tone. There is some dramatic music during boss battles and important story scenes, but you won't find the epic cheeriness that characterizes most other RPGs. The sound effects include sickening sounds when mace strikes hit home and some generic magical sound effects. Nothing truly notable.
High. Each party's trip into Besek is relatively short, but you have five stories to play through, and each story on its own tells you not very much. The 3-4 most pivotal characters will have differing strengths and weaknesses in each story. Also, your choice of battles can affect each character's story and be quite bewildering. Data is shared between different saves. Some items that one party sells can be bought by another. The differences between capturable Majin and recruitable allies among the different stories is relatively slight, however. You won't be able to get all the data from every capturable Majin in the game (especially bosses) without playing the game multiple times. Also there are class change options you may want to explore differently in multiple playthroughs.
Eternal Poison's mechanics are pretty solid for an RPG, and it offers enough unique elements and intriguing enough characters story to keep you interested. However this is not a genre-defining game, it's a generic game, and it suffers from a clear lack of polish. Eternal Poison relies heavily on its story to carry its weight, and that's ultimately too high a burden for it to bear gracefully.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/14/09
Game Release: Eternal Poison (US, 11/11/08)
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