The course of true love rarely runs smoothly. If you throw in the apocalypse, you’re fighting an uphill battle to get a date. Horror action RPG Eternights encourages you to form bonds and potentially find love, largely succeeding by being an entertaining and surprisingly uplifting experience if you manage to see it through to the end. Despite not being the biggest fan of horror stories, I immensely enjoyed my time with the title.
Our story begins with the nameable main character and his best friend Chani creating dating app profiles in the hopes of scoring dates. In the background, there’s news of a new anti-aging drug called Eternights and a significant pop star named Yuna preparing for a concert. Those minute details fade from memory as Chani sends you a link to a new dating app with an engaging personality test. After taking the test, a mysterious woman contacts you, asking you to go on a proper yacht date. But when you’re preparing to meet a potentially mentally unstable suitor, the world unexpectedly (and rather violently) changes: most of the population turns into rampaging horrific monsters. You and Chani get barricaded in a city shelter, but things go from bad to worse. Before you know it, you lose your right arm and are thrust into a fight for the world’s survival alongside companions you must form bonds with to strengthen your resolve.
At its core, Eternights is an action RPG. You progress through dungeon areas, navigating disturbing environments while fighting monsters. You string combos with simple button presses as you try to evade incoming enemy attacks. Some enemy types and bosses in particular have strong barriers that require numerous elemental QTE attacks to destroy completely before you can actually deal real damage. Successfully attacking and evading fills up an elemental gauge, allowing you to launch a devastating special attack in the form of QTEs guaranteed to even break through boss barriers. It takes some practice to successfully pull off during the game’s early acts, but you can become a powerhouse later on as you unlock more abilities.
You aren’t alone either, as comrades join throughout your dungeon adventures. The main three ally characters are pop star Yuna, hapless Min, and science-loving Sia. Yuna is the most valuable party member, possessing vital healing powers. However, all three provide beneficial elemental attacks that are helpful in barrier-breaking when used with the elemental gauge, with Yuna representing fire, Min lightning, and Sia ice. You can call upon their unique abilities and attacks to help you in fights so long as you have enough SP, which I often conserved just for healing. Yohan is a fourth comrade who joins the group, though he remains outside direct combat, playing a support role. He also provides special attacks you can unlock via the abilities menu, provided you reach sufficient bond ranks with him.
Each party member has a social/relationship rank attached to them, including Chani, who acts more as “wingman” support by helping you raise social stats needed to advance bonds with the other characters. You can strengthen this rank by spending time with the characters. You collect White Essence to bolster stats associated with the party members by training with them or scavenging for items they require. These stats range from increasing health and SP to strengthening their abilities. Black Essence is collected in dungeons and through battling enemies, helping you strengthen your existing sword skills while unlocking new ones. You’re limited at first in how much SP is at your disposal, encouraging you to do a dungeon run in multiple phases to replenish your strength. However, you can power through later dungeons more quickly if you efficiently utilize your skills.
Dungeons in Eternights are short enough not to overstay their welcome, and the action-oriented combat helps keep things from getting too monotonous. I also found the plethora of different puzzles and minigames spliced into dungeons a welcome change of pace. Puzzles range from memory games to rearranging picture tiles or changing all of a set of colored tiles at the same time. There are also stealth segments, as well as a motorcycle racing minigame to conquer. While these segments are short enough that they don’t drag on and help to break up any potential monotony, they also don’t show up enough to ever feel like they’re getting repetitive.
The biggest draw of Eternights is its bond system with your four potential love interests: Yuna, Min, Sia, and Yohan. You’re encouraged to increase your bond with one of them to Rank Six before what the game touts as the “final” segment to uncover the “true” final act. To raise their affection, you can train with one of them in specialized minigames, often involving timed button pressing or scavenging for items they need with the randomized potential of finding the items during a timed event. You also raise affection with the love interests by spending time with them and choosing favorable responses during story scenes, but only if you have raised the prerequisite social stat to continue seeing the character’s story. For instance, Yohan requires that you keep your Courage social stat sufficiently leveled to view his “time together” scenes. You can also develop your friendship with Chani, and he, in turn, trains you in one of the social stats that helps increase your rapport with the other characters. It’s more than doable to raise at least one character’s affection to Rank Six by the time the game indicates, and doing so helps to see Eternights through in its entirety. The bonding scenes in Eternights are well done, and the romance elements are conveyed surprisingly well throughout the game.
There’s a timed element to Eternights, as you only get a set number of “free days” before the next cataclysmic event in the narrative unfolds. You can only spend time exploring dungeons or interacting with characters during the day. Nighttime segments are devoted to training with a character or helping them scavenge. I usually spent the first few free days before a deadline exploring dungeons to get that out of the way. Then I spent the rest of my days increasing social stats with Chani or hanging out with him or the other characters. I appreciate that in-game days, even the free days, never feel truly wasted in Eternights. There’s always something to do, as well as frequent story scenes depicting the characters going about their day or night, regardless of your choice. So long as you advance to the final portion of the dungeon and face the boss fight there, you are free to choose how to spend your time!
It’s with the characters that Eternights’ heart truly lies, and they’re easily the most substantial facet of its storytelling. The cast is small, which helps them all be written believably and stand out on their own. I love how stereotypical they all appear on the surface, yet how surprisingly complex and multi-faceted all party members become as you advance through the narrative. Yuna is a likable character struggling to find herself and make up for her past mistakes. Min is understandably scared and runs from her problems, suffering tremendous regret as a result, yet she constantly pulls herself through thanks to encouragement and support. Sia prides herself on her passion for science but tries to cover up how much fun she has with it so that she is taken seriously. Yohan suffers from immense survivor’s guilt following tragic past events, yet he starts learning to appreciate life again if he bonds with you. His teasing side is a delight once it starts poking through his mysterious demeanor. All of the characters evolve and find wells of hidden strength through their experiences together. Even the main character, often just a silent blank slate in games of a similar ilk, has a well-defined personality and a “voice” that shines through the game’s storytelling the more you play.
Other characters aside from the protagonist and the love interests also stand out. Eunji is a little girl impacted by the disaster who is an enthusiastic fan of Yuna’s. While her behavior is undoubtedly odd, there’s something inherently endearing about her. Aria is a researcher who tries to help as best she can, lending a sympathetic ear to the group even as she pushes them to continue. The mysterious “yacht lady” herself, Lux, has some of the best lines in the game! Delia is a sad figure behind her antagonistic leanings.
However, one of the biggest surprises for me in terms of the game’s characters is Chani. I wasn’t sure what to make of him initially as he leans heavily into “perverted best friend” trope territory while also sporting a jealous attitude towards you because of your powers. However, he realistically grows past this initial characterization, showing himself as a caring and supportive figure. When another character he’s romantically interested in reveals herself to be ace when turning him down, Chani understands and respects her decision. I romanced Yohan in my playthrough and was worried about how “dudebro” Chani might react. Yet, he completely supports the male protagonist having romantic feelings for another guy, becoming your biggest relationship cheerleader later on. Chani’s story is about how he has to find himself first and foremost, and Eternights does a remarkable job with his inner journey. The only character in the main cast I didn’t feel overly strongly about was the main antagonist, though you’re certainly not meant to like Umbra by the time you reach the game’s final act.
Eternights isn’t the most visually stunning title out there. The graphics certainly look dated, and you find yourself facing off against hordes of the same enemy types. However, the visuals and character design lean heavily into anime aesthetics, helping to cover that up somewhat. The nicely done animated cutscenes and CG illustrations interjected throughout the game at crucial moments are more artistically impressive. The UI is straightforward, easy to read, and does the trick nicely. The game’s soundscape is quite fitting, too. There’s voice acting available in English, Japanese, and Korean, depending on your language preference. I love how dynamic the English voice acting in Eternights is; the music helps convey the tense atmosphere and haunting parts of the title exceptionally well. I especially love the beautiful ending theme sung by Lorien.
That isn’t to say that Eternights is a wholly perfect experience. The camera is shaky throughout cutscenes in an admirable attempt to capture a horror feel, though it can sometimes be too jarring and distracting. In one instance, I almost got motion sickness from it, and that’s pretty rare for me! Camera angles can sometimes be problematic during fights, particularly when you’re in close quarters, and walls suddenly pop up. Aside from the training minigames, which you can repeat as often as you like, many of the minigames, stealth segments, and puzzles you encounter only happen briefly. So, while they break up the monotony of dungeon exploration and fighting, you only encounter them once or twice, and that’s it. You’ll never see a similar gameplay segment again when you start getting the hang of them. This brevity is particularly true of the dancing minigame and racing segment.
Timing in the beginning portions of the game is easily manageable. I was able to reach Rank Three with everyone with no real issue. But once the game reaches the point where it encourages you to focus on getting a character bond to at least Rank Six, you must pick and choose which characters you want to spend time with carefully. Reaching Rank Six with someone is certainly worth it, but I love all of the game’s characters and became invested in their stories, so I was disappointed that I couldn’t see everyone’s story scenes in one playthrough. That’s a testament to the power of the character writing, though!
The three central girls’ storylines are the most prevalent throughout the main plot. In contrast, you have to choose to bond with Yohan and Chani to flesh out their stories. The game’s humor tends to be more juvenile, but given that the main characters are young adults, it makes sense and works rather well overall. Still, you do have to be more tolerant of that kind of humor in the first place. I did want to hug poor Min several times, given how often the poor girl became the butt of a joke!
Even with its flaws, I immensely enjoyed the time I spent playing Eternights, especially once I reached the game’s true ending. Hint: When you reach the end credits and if you’ve remained faithful to your chosen bonded partner, keep your phone’s camera on for an additional pleasant surprise! I had more fun with Eternights than several other games I’ve played this year. It’s a true delight if you fit the target audience for it, especially for those action RPG enthusiasts who don’t mind romance and dating sim elements. In some ways, it is more substantial than some of the games it will invariably draw comparisons to, and it shows that Studio Sai is an indie developer to watch out for in the future! Follow your heart and stay the course with this one, as Eternights shows that even a rocky path to true love can ultimately be worth it.