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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Eternal Poison - Review

I was going to review Outlaw Star, but considering how recent this game is, I decided to put that on hold and refer to newer topics on hand.

After playing it for like... a few days straight (with nothing else to do around the house... Wish i didn't leave my memory cards nor bring all my stuff to the dorm), I'm ready. It may seem like a short while but I have it down pretty well and I've seen enough to grasp what kind of game this is.

Eternal Poison was originally known as Poison Pink in Japan. It's a strategy RPG developed by Flight Plan and published by Atlus or Banpresto depending on the regional version. I'm not sure where Namco-Bandai come into this, maybe they helped out in publishing (I'll get into that later) but their label's present as well.

Explaining the story may prove to be a bit difficult, but here I go. Eternal Poison is about a door to an alternate homeworld of demon-like creatures known as Majin that appears in Alea (which if you look at the map, looks kinda like an old sketch of southern Europe. I can even find Italy for you). Within Alea are multiple kingdoms, the two most significant being Stag and Valdia. Each with a heavy influence from their churches, the door to the alternate realm, known as Besek, is considered to either grant your wishes or contain immense power. During this time, Olifen, commander of the Valdian Knights, was betrothed to the princess when she suddenly disappeared. At the same time, a girl known as Thage (pronounced Tay-ge) enters the world with a wolf-like Majin companion, Ranunculus, whose goal is to capture every demon and create an encyclopedia (in a gothic fairy tale-like sense, meaning it involves some ancient capturing method involving a magic book and black frilly clothes).

Eternal Poison is broken down into multiple stories focusing on different main characters. In each story, they all enter Besek for one reason or another. In this way, the stories interweave with each other at points. Also, Besek, while overall linearly formed, has multiple stratum with multiple paths and intertwining paths. Each path also triggers different cut scenes and dialogue giving it some nice replay value.

The art style is very defined and helps define it from other strategy RPGs published by Atlus. The opening cutscenes are extremely beautiful and display the amount of skilled works that's possible. In addition, the ingame cut scenes have a distinct art style to them that's very appealing. It's certainly something unique. Nearly every character is unique. There are similarities between the clothing of those who are part of the same church and siblings, but that's to be expected. Everyone looks different from one another which is really nicely done. Even minor characters look different from everyone else, which makes the world seem much bigger than it really is. There's some nice detailing done in this aspect. In this aspect, it also makes each story very unique. Each main character, along with their companions all are very special and can go through a class change. Overall, EVERY character you play has basically their own move set and stat builds which really put you as a tactician on the edge of your seat.

The battle system is like that of other tactics RPGs. Turns are taken based on speed stats and attacks are categorized into an array of different properties. 10 to be exact. The max number of player characters you may have on a map is 7. Fewer if some Majin take up two character slots (I'll get into that later). The defining feature that separate this from others is the demon capture element. Most Majin have an overkill HP that must be fulfilled in one hit which ends up "binding" them. (For those who don't understand the concept) Overkilling an enemy refers to dealing damage past their remaining HP. I believe Final Fantasy X had some feature of Overkilling, where if you dealt a certain percentage of damage past the remaining HP, you get a happy Overkill symbol. Generally, it's recommended that you overkill and capture every Majin (first for later reasons and second) because you get more money selling capture Majin than you do in normal killing. This isn't that amazing of a feat. This is actually a very straight forward battle system. There aren't any random number generators that change up damage nor any luck stat. If you hit someone from behind, it's basically just simple algebra in comparing your attack power vs. the enemy's defense stat (or magic defense, depending on attack) and applying modifiers (if it's weak or strong to certain types. P.S. Modifiers go first, THEN stat comparisons are applied).

These captured Majin then can be handled and mistreated in a number of ways. First, you can "scribe" them onto your spell book, allowing you to summon them in battle (assuming you have enough slots available). You can also sell them to make money and help increase the shop's inventory (apparently, if you sell a certain number of specific Majin, you create items that you can buy. I'm being vague here because as to HOW that happens, I don't know. I just know that if I sell two Caprus Majin, the shop gets a specific spear that I need for a character). You can also grind Majin down in a giant cauldron which leads to one of two results. Either, you grind them to extract a skill which you can then place onto slotted items, or grind them for PP (Poison Points, Poison Pink, Pink points, "power points...."?) which are used to summon Majin.

You can also buy Majin (which I'm still trying to figure out the conditions for) and use them for scribing or.... grinding. You COULD sell them again, but that kind of defeats the purpose of getting them in the first place. Well, unless you REALLY need another copy of an item.

The story is pretty immense. With 6 total stories and multiple endings, this game has a lot of replay value. That and the New Game+ feature.

And now for the stuff that irks me.
First of all, each attack has a cutscene which has its own loading screen. Rather, when you initiate an attack, the screen whites out and you hear the grinding of your CD as it loads up a battle sequence of your attack. It's fine AT FIRST, but it soon gets annoying with how slow attacks are made. Spells help loosen the annoyance due to how fast casting and execution are but the drawing of the bow, the need to run to the target is all so slow. It's actually really interesting how there's an operatic voice that introduces the Majin by its name the first time you see it in battle and honestly, I didn't get tired of that. I can see how they thought it might change up the monotony of grid-to-grid fighting but this is purely a programming issue in that the map and it's characters should have probably been pre-cached for faster animations. I honestly wouldn't have minding a longer loading screen for pre-battle preparations if the screen didn't white out for 10-15 seconds before every attack. And it's not like the PS2 is LACKING in system RAM. I remember being able to play a free run of a map on Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (whatever) and replaying it with the entire soundtrack AFTER removing the DVD-ROM from the system. It's just bad insight.

Speaking of the in-battle cut scenes. Despite how beautiful the 3D cutscenes were at the beginning, a lot of the in-battle models look extremely awkward. Many characters (Humans and Majin alike) seem to be missing key joints that would help make movement look more fluid. It seriously looks like someone's playing with action figures and then making a movie out of it. Some have this ridiculous straight back, rigid, contrapostto stance that I don't think was intended.

It also feels like Flight Plan half-assed the cutscenes. The story itself has a lot of potential and opening cutscenes show promise of how amazing the game could be but every one except for the ending goes on the typical background + half body image with emotional expressions, visual novel style cut scenes. And it's worse than those visual novel games because at least in those, they explain movements in detail... like a novel. Here, you just once again have to assume movements. Normally, this doesn't bother me, but with a story that's supposed to be taken seriously, it's kind of hard to imagine what's happening. I could be worse though. It could be Fire Emblem where they have the characters move across the screen and vibrate up and down to indicate some form of movement which ends up looking absolutely ridiculous (I'm sorry. You CANNOT coordinate a sparring/dancing session with two characters overlapping each other, moving wildly across the screen. In fact, I think it makes it worse since they don't even have facial expressions).

If the story is presented well, then it makes the game much better, but in this way, I can't really get immersed too well. Expressions are very minimal and so I would have to rely on voice acting, which overall is pretty solid. There are some weak roles but I'll let them pass.

Finally, You run the same exact dungeons (with slight monster variations)in every story and nearly in the same order. What you end up seeing a lot of is the same thing. This somewhat adds to the monotony of the game. While characters change, the scenery doesn't, and you end up using the same tactics for monsters you've already seen before. The total monster index is actually surprisingly small.

Overall, Eternal Poison is a game that can be purely decided on your judgment. It is a demanding game that may or may not be to your liking. Depending on how you see it, it can be extremely rewarding or a disappointment. Each story takes around 10-15 hours depending on how you play, assuming you start a new game every time and don't do new game+. So overall it's around 60-80+ hours of game play, which isn't that bad to me. I can find time to dedicate that much, hell, I don't even want to know how much I clocked collectively between La Pucelle, Disgaea (all of them on all consoles except 3), Makai Kingdom, Phantom Brave, and Soul Nomad. The thing is, Eternal Poison (to me) doesn't really deem worthy of how much it's demanding. You as the player only start to really get into the story after perhaps your first story (preferably Thage as you start off as her in the prologue). Maybe it's just me, but that's far too long. That isn't to say I've dropped the game (I'm currently on the third story) but it wasn't really worth the pre-order (well, the artbook definately was) and the time spent on it.

It kinda feels like a tactics version of Odin Sphere except the immersion is a bit lacking.

Here's how it honestly feels like to me. I feel like Eternal Poison could have been an amazing game had more time been spent on it. I'm not too sure how much of the 4.7 Gb it covers but I wouldn't have minded a 2 disk set if they could keep the quality up. The story is really good but to get to the good parts requires a good chunk of time. Let me put this into perspective.

I've spent well over 25ish hours on Persona 4 without realizing it. It has a good hook and then tries to keep its pace. There are times where I groan, like one specific sauna like dungeon with absolutely trashy music that I abhor each time I HAVE to enter it, but I take it in good stride knowing that there's more. With Persona 4, I can't really see how far this game will go. Well, I do since it takes one year, but I don't know how much untapped potential exists in the game. With Eternal Poison, you play through two stories, and you've seen nearly every single monster available to you. It's now a matter of trudging through the story to see how it plays out. The battles start to become more like work, and it's weird since Eternal Poison is practically Grind-proof. I say that because you CAN'T go back. God forbid they make games challenging and force you to advance, but it loses its appeal once you've seen around 50% of the total battle content through ONE play through.

I would actually rank Baroque higher than this due to how immersive Baroque is. Despite its painfully hard dungeons, and unforgiving gameplay, the story right off the bat indicates how complex the scenario you're placed in is. After a couple run through, you realize that the dungeon changes according to how much you've progressed STORYWISE. Eternal Poison for me has too long of a crawl before you get to taste the gold. That isn't to say I don't like the story. I think it's complex and well done... uh rather, the latter half is well done, but it needs to go through a handful of re-edits if it wants to shine.

Random side note: I think Namco-Bandai got involved voice acting wise. I'm hearing a lot of Bandai regulars voice acting some of the cast as well as Atlus oldies (The voice actor for Aigis plays vivian and the voice actor for Kite from the original .hack// series plays Lavette). This actually brings up a concern of mine. Before, the total number of voice actors was so numerous among all games that hearing the same voice was kind of like a hidden jewel. Now I feel like the total pool of voice actors chosen is around... 12-15ish? that dominate the main roles and then a handful of cheap, skill-deprived extras and so, I'm hearing the same voice actors play a lot of roles. It's both good and bad in that it's good that I can gauge how good a voice actor is by his ability to adapt and bad in that, I want to hear some variations. I cannot even begin to name the number of games Yuri Lowenthal has been in as well as anime. I'm not saying I don't like Lowenthal, but damn, he's really popular. The same goes to a couple others.

Super random Side note: Resident Evil: Degeneration, the CG-animated film that takes place before RE:4 focusing on Leon Kennedy comes out TODAY. IN THE US. FOR REAL. IT'S GOOD. GET IT. P.S. I'm not sure if it's the same voice actor. Would be cool if it was.

Edit: *Slaps self in the face* I was going to post this on noon, but now that it's already published, I'm too lazy to change it back.... I'll just edit the time.

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