Platform reviewed: PS5
Available on: PS5, PS4, PC
Release date: Sept 12, 2023
When you load up Studio Sai’s dating action game Eternights for the first time, it’s evident what its focus is. You - a quiet, young, dark-haired lad - are feeling painfully single, and with the help of your overzealous friend, have decided that it’s finally time to get yourself on some dating apps in the hopes of meeting that special someone.
However, it soon becomes apparent that there are greater issues to contend with than your dating profile’s allure. Before you can go out on your first date with a mysterious faceless lady (you’ve definitely had better ideas than that, by the way), the world is plunged into an apocalypse, and the majority of humans are transformed into grotesque, violent monsters. Oh, and you get your arm cut off, but it grows back - glowing - and can transform into a sword. Normal stuff. Rest assured, none of this is going to detract from your quest for romance. And saving the world, I guess.
Blending exploration, action, and dating simulation elements into one neat package, Eternights provides plenty to love. Over the course of a set number of in-game days, you’ll fight your way through dungeons riddled with dangerous foes and bosses in a valiant attempt to save the world and its inhabitants, while also using your indomitable rizz in your free time to seduce one (or more) of the game’s potential love interests, on your train journey to the source of the apocalypse.
Combat is certainly where Eternights shines the brightest. With your trusty glowing arm/sword/other ethereal weapon, you’re able to execute a number of different attacks and combos on your foes. The game rewards precision rather than button mashing, which is a lesson I learned the hard way - most attacks won’t stun enemies, meaning that if you get overconfident, you’ll likely be smacked square in the face.
That’s where your dodge comes in, and your ability to play ‘well’ hinges on you mastering it. Swiftly evading an attack at the last second will slow time and make you temporarily invulnerable, giving you a short window to dish out some extra damage, in a way not dissimilar to the Bayonetta series’ Witch Time dodges.
In order to unlock new combat skills, you must progress your relationships with your confidants - the characters who sit at the heart of Eternights. Each of these fellow survivors (who’ll join you on the train throughout your adventure) are distinct and memorable, with excellent, fully-voiced dialogue present throughout the majority of the game to solidify their charming personalities. From the eccentric scientist Sia to the timid athlete Min, each of them has their own loveable quirks and deeper backstories, which unfold as you raise their relationship ranks.
Getting to know you
Progressing relationships in Eternights is a simple matter - you can simply choose to hang out with any of the five characters when you’re not busy battling it out in a dungeon, both on the train itself and out in the world. Spend enough time with them, and with the exception of your best buddy Chani, you’re able to take things to the next level and get romantic (although doing so isn’t a requirement to get your hands on the best skills). Given that the various hangouts gradually fill you in on everyone’s backstories, which in turn increases the stakes of the main story, the social sim elements don’t feel like filler content and contribute an important part to the overall package.
If reading any of this review so far has made you think, “Huh, that sounds a bit like Persona”, then you’re not wrong. Persona fans will feel right at home with Eternights’ time-management elements. Using a calendar to track your progress, the game employs deadlines at set points to push the story forward - with each new objective, you’ll be told how many days you have to get to a certain point in the dungeons.
Much like Persona, if you don’t procrastinate and get straight on with the task at hand, you’ll still have that same number of days left to use as free time with your confidants, so there’s no need to worry about cramming in all your socializing first. It’s worth noting though, that, at least from my experience, it doesn’t seem to be possible to max out all of the characters’ relationships in a single playthrough, so some prioritization is required.
Lost in your eyes (and dungeons)
Unfortunately, Eternights isn’t without its flaws. Although it succeeds in creating a gloomy yet modern take on the apocalyptic aesthetic, some of its dungeon environments can feel sterile and samey, and this becomes exceedingly apparent whenever you come to leave an area after a longer sequence of fights. Since combat has your character stabbing and slashing foes in all directions, you’ll often end up ending battles facing in a different direction from what you started in. This shouldn’t be a problem, but the number of times that I’ve become uncertain as to which way I need to go, thanks to all the routes looking the same, is more than I’d care to admit.
This issue is worsened by the fact that there’s no map to refer to in Eternights, so your navigation skills need to be on point. Most of the time, this isn’t an overwhelming problem - dungeons aren’t home to any major secrets or collectibles that you’d get lost looking for (beyond the occasional chunks of ‘Black Essence’, a material used to learn skills). However, one hospital-based location had me running around in circles for far too long as it wasn’t clear where I was meant to be going, despite the fact that I’d completed the puzzle and was ready to leave.
Upon entering the game’s final act, I came to the sudden realization that my choices up to that point mattered far more than I thought they would, and my heart dropped. Understanding that there was nothing I could do but accept the situation I’d led myself into, I sat on the edge of my seat as the events unfolded.
On top of that, every enemy respawns when you die. In general, getting a ‘game over’ is quite forgiving and will never set you back too far, but it can be infuriating when, as mentioned above, you’re trying to figure out where to go, and you keep getting stuck in the same rooms that lock you in until you’ve defeated all their monsters… again.
One last downside is that it was impossible to progress through Eternights without finding some of the dialogue cringeworthy, particularly when it came to the playable character’s responses. He and Chani come across as a little sex-obsessed, and while this can be amusing sometimes, it’s a bit too much over the course of the game’s runtime. While not detrimental to the overall story, it could have been taken down a notch.
All in all, though, Eternights offers an engaging loop of action and social simulation elements, which feel perfectly balanced. The story is engrossing, the combat feels satisfying, and it’s incredibly easy to look at your in-game calendar and get sucked into playing for ‘one more day’, over and over again. Dare I say it, I think I’m in love.
Eternights is light on the ground when it comes to accessibility features. Players have the option to select from several languages at the start of the game (of which subtitles are provided for all), and choose from three difficulty options - easy, normal, and expert. Vibration, camera sensitivity, camera shake and audio levels can be altered using sliders in the options menu, and the camera controls can be inverted. However, there are no options to alter the other default controls, such as your attack and dodge buttons.
How we reviewed
I played around 14 hours of Eternights on PS5, using a DualSense Wireless Controller. In this time, I completed the main story and managed to max out my relationships with three of the characters. However, I only entered a relationship with one, as after accidentally romancing a second, I felt so bad that I had to reload an older save. Please forgive me, Yuna.