Member the games you used to play? We member. The basement at the Hardcore Gamer office has a section known as the Crust Room, with an old grey couch and a big old CRT TV. All the classic systems are down there collecting dust, so in an effort to improve the cleanliness of our work space, we dust off these old consoles every so often and put an old game through its paces, just to make sure everything stays in working order. We even have a beige computer with a floppy disk drive.
FromSoftware has become synonymous with Soulsborne games and subsequently one of the more celebrated developers. While these games are their most popular offerings, they aren’t the studio’s first venture into action roleplaying games. Before Elden Ring there was Eternal Ring, a game where being a PlayStation 2 launch title was its biggest asset in getting anyone to notice it. It’s not a game that will make any all time greatest lists, but when a new console launches the selection of games to show off what the new hardware can do is limited. And while the Metacritic score alone shows that this isn’t in the same league as Elden Ring, it was still an enjoyable way to break in the new console if not very memorable.
The protagonist is a magician named Cain Morgan. Cain is sent to the ominously-named Isle of No Return in search of a legendary artifact called the
Elden Eternal Ring. Cain seems about as generic as the name of the island he’s exploring. He’s a typical adventuring sort, armed with a knife to fight off the large crabs and fishmen he’ll encounter in the early part of the island. They aren’t the most threatening looking creatures, but Cain isn’t initially equipped for battle, although that changes before long.
Crabs and fishmen are conventional training fodder in RPGs, but soon Cain is faced with tougher enemies. Lizardmen, harpies, ogres, werewolves and gargoyles are a few of monsters he encounters on the island. The island seems appropriately named as these creatures don’t bode well for anyone’s chances of leaving. On top of that there’s also about eight dragons Cain needs to dispatch of because RPGs love making people kill dragons. The dragons and other boss fights are some of the more enjoyable and tense combat encounters Eternal Ring has to offer, but even with good magic encounters with lesser monsters can quickly end Cain’s journey. It’s nowhere near the danger and difficulty as some of the more famous FromSoftware titles, but Cain just isn’t made of sturdy stuff.
While capable with a sword, sole reliance on a blade won’t get him too far on the island. Fortunately for him he soon discovers a way to learn the knowledge of the ancients, whatever that means. Eternal Ring has a ring crafting system that offers up over a hundred different spells for Cain to use. The over a hundred spells is misleading as many of these spells are useless and others are variations of the same idea with varying levels of power, but that ends up being true of most RPGs. The powerful spells do end up being useful and can lead to enjoyable combat. Cain can equip more than one ring at a time which makes casting multiple spells in battle easy.
The downside with crafting rings is that the ancients don’t seem to know exactly what they’re doing. The spell affixed to a ring ends up being somewhat random. One concoction ended up creating a powerful spell, but unfortunately Cain met an untimely demise before saving after the spell was created. Using the same recipe resulted in a much weaker spell and it took a couple save file reloads to end up with the desirable spell. The uncertainty with ring crafting can be used to the player’s advantage to try to get powerful spells early on such as ice magic that can freeze enemies in place or powerful flaming weapons for taking out hard-to-reach flying dragons, but the random nature of ring craft was more of a nuisance than asset.
Like most RPGs the player isn’t too well versed in the Isle of No Return and the Eternal Ring, but these mysteries become clearer through exploration and story progression. The gameplay itself is straightforward and simple. It’s a first-person action RPG that was patterned after the King’s Field games, though after checking out some King’s Field games after Eternal Ring, it was determined the latter is actually better. The gameplay is exploring the island, doing a few puzzles and fighting off the hordes of monsters. Despite having access to so many spells, battles aren’t overly complicated. Most conflicts are handled by dodging and weaving out of striking distances while attacking and casting spells. Nothing would be considered impressive by modern standards, but taking down some of the big dragons flying over towers was satisfying.
For the most part Eternal Ring was a decent game, but suffered from many shortcomings. The dialogue was one of the more memorable features and not for good reason. “You followed me. You disgust me. Die.” This was how Cain was greeted before one boss fight, and while no one expects writing on par with Hamlet’s Soliloquy before a boss fight, we do hope for something better than that. The story does take a few interesting turns like the encounter with the God-Child that was disturbing yet entertaining, but it’s not too terribly memorable. When breaking down the game into its graphics, sounds, mechanics, story and overall level of enjoyment, every box gets checked for passable, but there’s no real area where Eternal Ring excels. It was fun to play to break in the brand new PlayStation 2, but it was one of those that was destined for a single playthrough.
Eternal Ring is a game that was fun to play through back at the end of the year 2000. Being a launch title for PlayStation 2 is partly to blame for many of its shortcomings as new console launch titles would rather showcase the potential of the new hardware. But being a launch title was also one of Eternal Ring’s greatest selling points as had it been released a few months later it would have been lost in a sea of better games. Generic and mediocre are two words that best describe it. There are fond memories of playing Eternal Ring on the brand new Sony console, but memories of specific moments in the game that were exceptional aren’t exactly coming to mind. The most interesting thing about Eternal Ring is it was my introduction to FromSoftware which left me with the impression that they aren’t a studio that’s worth paying attention to and probably won’t hold much relevance in the gaming world. Two decades later they release a game that sells 12 million copies in a matter of weeks.
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