I knew there was something special about Eternights when it was announced back in 2022 at PlayStation’s State of Play event. While it contains many elements and themes that are reminiscent of Atlas’s Persona series, this project seems to stand out in its own unique way. Now that the game is finally releasing soon, I can confidently say that the long wait was well worth it.
If you didn’t know already, Eternights is a dating sim and a hack and slash action role playing game all in one. You take on the role of a young man just trying to find a girlfriend after being unsuccessful on some online dating apps. Not long after your best friend and roommate Chani enhances your profile and starts the swiping game on your behalf, a bizarre drug known as Eternights starts to mutate humans into zombie-like creatures. Now it’s up to you and your friend to seek shelter, and maybe score a date along the way? After all, falling in love and saving the world from impending doom go hand in hand right?
As you escape to an underground bunker, you run into another survivor, a k-pop star known as Yuna, who is looking for her lost friend Jisoo. The three of you form the initial team of heroes before even stranger events start to unfold. At this moment, none of you have any powers, so you have to rely on stealth to get around the ghastly creatures. Eternights employs some immersive stealth and chase sequences before your arm gets suddenly cut off and transforms into a magical blade. A mysterious woman’s voice from a flying drone promises to explain everything, but the team must make it onto a safe train first before she can explain. The narrative starts off a bit slow, setting up the context and characters before introducing you gradually to its complex set of game mechanics.
Let’s talk about the dialogue and dating aspects first. Gameplay is broken down into calendar days, with a day and night cycle. You can choose what you want to do during this time, but there’s a timer before a major event needs to be addressed. Much like Persona, you can form and deepen bonds with all of your friends through either spending time with them or choosing certain dialogue options. In fact, in order to unlock the true ending, you need to max out your bond with at least one character. While there is no new game plus, the replay value lies in getting the different endings based on your choices throughout the game. Deepening your bond with a particular character allows for specific skills related to that character to unlock. For example, Chani’s skill tree can increase your base HP while Yuna’s skill tree allows for her to heal you in battle.
You can increase your bond with a character in more ways than just conversing with them. Eternights has implemented several mini-games to partake in when you spend time with your friends, such as a breathing exercise game with Yuna. As you complete these activities, you earn two types of currency: white and black essence. White is used to unlock relationship related skills whereas black is used to unlock skills specific to you. Certain abilities are even locked behind you reaching a particular bond level with a particular character.
Several personality traits can be leveled up depending on which responses you choose. These include Expression, Confidence, Acceptance, and Courage These directly correspond to your character stats such as attack and defense. A nice attention to detail I noticed is that other characters can get jealous or even angry depending on how you act. I was trying super hard to flirt with Yuna in the beginning, always choosing the response that would earn brownie points with her, and I could see Chani getting upset, throwing out passive aggressive remarks and just being an overly difficult friend. It’s nice to see these characters being grounded and realistic, rather than stereotypical idealistic video game characters. Every single character you meet contains incredible emotional depth and a heartfelt backstory. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t invested in all the cast members in Eternights, that’s how great the writing is.
There’s a total of 5 characters that join your party, but I won’t spoil the rest so that you can experience it for yourself. You can also romance characters by choosing flirtatious remarks or complimenting them. Some people might not appreciate the instances of fan service and perverted jokes that get thrown around, but I found it to be quite amusing as the game knows when to not take itself too seriously. For example, there will be a fall sequence with a certain character landing on you and touching your private part. They then share some dialogue with the option of you choosing “But you’re still touching it!”
The other half of gameplay is the hack and slash action portion, which is actually quite more complex than I had initially thought. Many times you find yourself in rooms filled with multiple enemies or even a gigantic boss encounter. Sadly I found many of the boss battles to be quite bland. For some reason, the enemies are only interested in you, as they won’t attack your friends. For basics you have a light attack with your sword arm, mapped to the square button, and a dodge roll, mapped to the X button. This took some getting used to considering most of the action games I’ve played have attacking mapped to R1 and dodging mapped to circle. Eternights puts extra emphasis on perfect dodging, which slows down time for you to get a flurry of attacks that grant you an extra final blow move. Stagger an enemy enough and you can perform a deathblow attack that deals massive damage.
As you land attacks, a gauge starts to fill up, which then enables you to perform special skills with your party members. Every party member wields a different element, such as Yuna being the fire type. This is the main crux of combat, as many harder enemies are shielded with a particular elemental shield that you then must break with the corresponding counter element before you do damage to them. Using these abilities puts you in a quick time event where you must either mash the square button or time it correctly. I found combat to be slick, smooth, and balanced. Note that you can only heal through Yuna’s special skill, which expends a mana bar that can’t be refilled during combat. There is another mana-type bar for your own special skills that you unlock in your own skill tree, such as a quick lunge forward or summoning spectral blades around yourself.
Studio Sai even decided to add a bit more variety into gameplay with the inclusion of puzzles and even “platforming” sections. Puzzles are usually quite simple and only require a bit of critical thinking to figure out. I say “platforming” because they’re not really platforming but rather Little Nightmares-esque as the camera angle suddenly turns to a 2D side scrolling affair and has you traversing through obstacles while avoiding being spotted by monsters. These are nicely sprinkled in that vary up the pace of gameplay. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about level design and dungeon exploration. Levels are quite linear with very little to explore. There’s no gear or loot to find.
For an indie studio’s debut title, Eternights looks absolutely stunning. The well constructed environments encapsulate the post-apocalyptic vibe perfectly, and all the character models are well designed and expressive. Despite being built with the Unity Engine, the game’s overall visuals are quite impressive for a project of this budget. That being said, many shades of the same colors are re-used and can come off as blurry and muted, but that could just be a style preference. The entire game is permeated with some combination of purple, red, and black in all of its themes. One thing I wasn’t a big fan of was the calendar system shifting days, as the animations are way too slow and happen way too often. I wish there was an option to skip over it.
I was surprised to see that most of the dialogue in this game is voice acted, and it’s pretty decent as a matter of fact. Eternights offers voice options in Korean, English, and Japanese with text options in several more languages. Most games of this nature are filled with occasional anime-esque grunts and noises and just have you reading tons of text bubbles, which can get quite tiresome after a while. The cherry on top is that you are also occasionally treated to a fully animated cutscene that you’d only expect to see in an anime.
Performance-wise, Eternights fares quite well on the PlayStation 5. Load times are super fast and I never noticed a dip in the framerates. The user interface and heads up display are pretty intuitive and basic, but can feel a bit stiff and unresponsive when navigating them. There’s also no way to confirm that you successfully changed some setting options, so you’re going to have to double check that the changes actually went through. Usually the circle button on the PlayStation is used to go back or cancel things, but this game has that functionality mapped to the start button, which can take getting used to.
For the most part, accessibility is quite standard. There are three difficulty options that you can change at any time: Story, Normal, and Expert. Saving the game can only be done when on the train, but the game has plenty of auto-save opportunities. Perhaps the most accessible part of the game is its humble price of $29.99.
It’s amazing to see such a passionate debut title from Studio Sai. Eternights elegantly blends in addicting and engaging action combat with dating mechanics while providing beautiful visuals and excellent voice acting. I can’t wait to see what’s next from this small team of developers.