Eternal Eyes is the first Playstation strategy RPG released in the US by Sunsoft, the publisher responsible for bringing us the wonderful Blaster Master back in the days of the 8-bit NES. At first glance, Eternal Eyes looks strikingly similar to Square's Final Fantasy Tactics, but closer inspection reveals that the two games are quite different. Although Sunsoft's newest offering doesn't feature the depth or intensity that made Square's medieval strategy title one of the finest of its genre ever released in this country, it is a lighter quest that strategy novices should be able handle without too much frustration, at least once they get over its overall mediocrity.
The story of Eternal Eyes revolves around Luke, a young teenager who dabbles in adventuring with his sister Elena and their friends Mouse and Nicol. Luke and Elena are orphans; their residence is a house in the kingdom of Gross left to them by their late parents. One day, while exploring for treasure in a local cave, the 4 youths discover a mysterious jewel. While the bookish Mouse attempts to analyze the spoils, Luke, Elena, and Nicol discover a secret room in their house. In the hidden chamber lies a pair of large humanoid dolls and a treasure map with an "X" on the nearby town of Goondocks. Intrigued by the discovery, the quartet of amateur adventurers head over to Goondocks.
In an abandoned house just outside of Goondocks, the 4 youths discover another mysterious jewel like the first, along with a note left to them by Luke and Elena's parents. In the note, the dearly departed parents tell Luke and Elena that they are members of an ancient and powerful race called the Eternal Eyes, who hold incredible power by controlling inanimate dolls called "Mappets". Mappets can be activated by fusing jewels like the ones formerly found with dolls like those discovered in the house's secret room. Someone in their world is attempting to resurrect the goddess of destruction, and it's up to Luke, Elena, and their Mappets to prevent the indescribable chaos that would result from such a ceremony.
Although Eternals Eyes' storyline gets off to a reasonably auspicious start, it unfortunately doesn't really go anywhere. From an event-based standpoint, it fails to inspire interest because it doesn't do anything to stand out from the countless other mediocre RPG plots out there. Most RPG veterans will likely find the plot to be highly predictable. Character development is extremely weak; beyond poorly presented primary personality traits, the characters in Eternal Eyes display almost no depth to their personalities, leaving players to care very little about what happens to them.
Eternal Eyes also seems to suffer from a sort of identity crisis, where it can't decide whether it's a light-hearted RPG or a more epic quest. Although the plot of the game is decidedly on the serious and grim side, the Pokemon-like Mappets that you control and fight against inhibit you from taking it seriously at all. For example, of the two Mappets that you start out with, one looks like a grossly obese Rabite from Square's Legend of Mana, while the other looks like an inflatable sheep that my friend Darren used to have in undergrad.
More importantly, Eternal Eyes has some serious problems with its plot progression. Unlike most top-notch strategy RPGs, which have at least a little bit of plot development after each battle, Eternal Eyes routinely forces players to fight through 5-6 consecutive battles before any kind of storyline progress is made. This causes RPG fans to lose interest in the dull plot even faster than they otherwise would.
On top of its other storyline woes, Eternal Eyes is not helped by its translation. Sunsoft's first Playstation RPG sports some of the worst dialogue seen in an RPG in recent memory. Spelling and grammatical errors abound, and dialogue flow is extremely poor and unnatural. In addition, the text writing is so inadequate in places that it's difficult to understand exactly what the characters are trying to say at those points.
Fortunately, Eternal Eyes' gameplay fares a bit better than its storyline. As mentioned before, Eternal Eyes is a strategy RPG that plays somewhat similarly to Square's Final Fantasy Tactics. The bulk of its gameplay takes place in turn-based strategy battles on isometric small-scale maps, with turns divided into distinct player/enemy phases. Unlike the aforementioned FFT, however, which allowed players to play as the majority of the game's protagonists, Eternal Eyes' only playable human character is Luke. The rest of the attack party is constructed of the inanimate Mappets.
In battles, Luke can use a variety of weapons and items to attack enemies and aid his Mappet allies. The Mappets can use natural attacks and magic to accomplish the same goals. Luke and the Mappets gain experience and level up as they fight, and new magic is learned for the Mappets when jewels gained as the spoils of victory are fused with them. At certain levels of power, Mappets can be evolved into stronger (or weaker) forms by fusing the jewels with them, too.
Eternal Eyes also features more involved town gameplay than the majority of strategy RPGs available today. You can roam freely as Luke, traditional RPG-style, in the game's towns, entering shops and talking to townspeople. One really nice feature that Eternal Eyes brings to the table is the fact that Luke can immediately travel to any building in a town by simply pulling up a menu and selecting the building from the menu, saving players a good amount of time in the process.
Although Eternal Eyes' gameplay is for the most part simplistic and reasonably enjoyable, some of its features become a nuisance, particularly after continued play. First of all, you can only take 4 characters into battle at once, which immediately decreases the strategy of the battles to a minimal level. Second, the game is incredibly repetitive. Enemies, despite possessing slight variations in appearance and strength, really don't do anything different as you progress through the game, so you really don't have to adjust your strategies at all as you trudge onward. As a result, the game gets really repetitive and leaves you little motivation to play, especially in light of the fact that storyline development is very sporadic.
Like Sega's first Sakura Taisen game and the aforementioned Final Fantasy Tactics, Eternal Eyes also features the bothersome quirk of not allowing players to cancel their characters' movements. This needlessly consumes a lot of time for players, because they have to spend it analyzing potential attack ranges and memorizing tiles, two activities that quickly make strategy RPGs tedious.
In addition, the Mappet evolution system is highly annoying to deal with. The results of the evolution are extremely variable, often yielding incredibly weak Mappets from formerly powerful ones, which wastes a lot of time for those who don't immediately accept the weaker Mappet. This problem is compounded by the fact that Mappet evolution is near-mandatory; crucial stronger spells require certain levels of Mappet evolution before they can be learned.
Control is perhaps Eternal Eyes' strongest suit, though this may not be saying much, given the game's overall mediocrity. In the towns, Luke can be moved in 8 directions, and a dash button accelerates him along a bit quicker. Although the collision detection in the control is off and the dash button is somewhat sluggish, the control is overall pretty responsive. In towns, the camera can be manually rotated in 45-degree increments.
In the strategy battles, the control is solid as well, though not quite as precise as in the towns. Control of the cursor is isometric rather than standard and step-wise rather than smooth and continuous, but all of it is pretty responsive. Here, the camera can be rotated in 90-degree increments, which isn't as precise as in the towns, but it gets the job done nicely. The menus are well organized and provide adequate information.
Eternal Eyes' visual presentation also fails to stand out when compared to others of its genre. It features a good level of detail in its sprite characters and polygonal backgrounds, but characters and backgrounds alike are constantly blocky. Character animation is somewhat choppy, though it generally looks all right. The art is drawn in a somewhat cherubic anime style, but it's a bit below the standards of most of the better-drawn games in the genre.
There are some high points here, though. The color palette is pretty well chosen. The opening anime movie, despite an overall haziness, is also very nice, featuring nice art and smooth animation. Spell effects look pretty good, especially the more powerful ones.
Like most of its other individual facets, Eternal Eyes is lackluster in its sound department. The sound effects are quite run-of-the-mill; there's nothing memorable about them. There is no voice acting, and the soundtrack, despite being reasonably pleasant to listen to, is highly repetitive and not at all inspiring. One exception, though, is the opening theme of the game, which features a soaring nylon-string guitar melody over a well-written Jpop-style rock theme.
Eternal Eyes proves to be a competent first Playstation RPG from Sunsoft, but nothing about it makes it stand out from the ranks of mediocrity. It might be a good one to try if you're a fan of both Pokemon and Final Fantasy Tactics, but if you're not, this one isn't highly recommended.
Reviewer's note: This review is based on a review copy of Eternal Eyes sent to RPGFan by Sunsoft. Changes may be made to the final version of the game.