The events of Eternal Poison are triggered by that timeless chestnut of plot clichés: the kidnapping of a princess. However, very few other details of this captivating strategy RPG are typical. The princess was kidnapped by demons, whose country seems to have just sprung out of nothingness. One of the three initially selectable main characters – clearly the one we’re meant to choose – is not a knight type. She’s a young sorceress in black lace, who runs with a talking, horned wolf and has a magically bound boy warrior as her slave. Most of your enemies are demonic majin that you can force into servitude. Grab this one now, because it’s going to be a cult classic in a few years.
One of Eternal Poison’s strongest strengths is its atmosphere, which starts infecting you before you even get the cellophane off the game case. This is a gothic RPG in every way. Everyone is in frock coats and lace, with puffy sleeves long hair and exquisite posture, and the art is velvety rich and filled with deep, dark colors. And in-game, the art is gorgeous. In fact, our biggest gripe is that this game isn’t on a 360 or PS3, which could show off the details of the visual style much better.
But like most Strategy RPGs, the real meat of Eternal Poison is in its battle system. Here, the usual meets the unusual. Combat itself is a fairly standard, turn-based affair: you’ve got a grid, and you maneuver up to seven units around it, hacking at the bad guys with blade and spell. And many of the details you monitor are familiar: you’ve got three kinds of physical damage: slash, strike, pierce, as well as seven elements: light, dark, fire, water, earth, air, and null.
These are typical. But you’ve also got five classes of demon: starving, wretched, howling, dreadful, and infernal, each with specific weaknesses (or lack thereof). And while some status effects are typical (slow, regenerate), you’ll also suffer through exotic conditions like bleed, fracture, disease, and chill. That’s fresh. So are the facts that many of your units are captured demons and that you can choose to nuke captured majin instead of keeping them – learning their skills as a reward or gaining extra gold for your bloodlust.
The story isn’t a great strength. But you actually hear it from five different perspectives before you’re done, which is rare. And we appreciate the way the plot reveals itself to you different ways, depending upon whom you’ve chosen as your initial main character and what route you take through the demonic land of Besek.
The game’s other weaknesses, and the things that will make this torture for some, are mechanical. First, if you leave all the battle animations on, get ready for a lot of loading pauses (another reason we wish this was on a next-gen console). Secondly, Eternal Poison’s refusal to just recycle the usual cliches comes with its challenges: these battles can be really tough. Many enemies have odd combinations of strengths and weaknesses, so you’ll often find yourself struggling to find the right strategy. This is compounded by the third weakness: too much important data is buried in status screens when it should be more obvious to you.
Beyond that, our biggest complaint is that your captured majin are released after a set number of turns. We’d much rather keep our collected foes forever, as you can in Enchanted Arms and Pokemon and publisher Atlus’s own Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. And when a game’s biggest problem is that it left us wanting more, we’d say that’s a good problem to have.
Nov 24, 2008