I don’t know about Eternights just yet. I played the opening chapter of Studio Sai’s Persona-influenced action game/dating sim hybrid at Summer Game Fest, and on paper, a game that combines those elements should be my jam. But while what I played demonstrated good foundations and fun ideas, it didn’t make the best case for the game’s overall execution.
Eternights wears its Persona influence on its sleeve. It stars a group of teenagers fighting through supernatural forces as they also sort through their tumultuous social lives. All of that sounds dope, and unlike Persona, it’s going to have gay romance (though the male options are notably outnumbered by the women you can date). That’s a lot of boxes being checked off on a game that soundse tailor-made for me, a gay who loves social and dating elements in games, even in genres where they’re a bit unorthodox. My concern after playing the first chunk of the game is that it might not have the substance on either the dating end or the action end to lift all of this off the ground.
Dating sims demand engaging writing that creates characters we literally want to fall in love with, and sadly, Eternights’ writing failed to immediately grab me. Its early explorations of its characters were too superficial, and it made each of them, from dopey best friend Chani to popstar-turned-superhero Yuna, come off as caricatures of different anime archetypes. I’m hopeful that the characters break out of these shackles as the game progresses and you get to know them better, but no one character made an impression on me during the demo. Even those instances when a character was clearly meant to have a standout moment failed to stick with me. In a lot of games with dating elements, I’ll scope out a character I might be interested in pursuing, but Eternights gave me no sense of what those relationships might look like, thus giving me no reason to gravitate to anyone yet. Of course stories like these can unfold over time, but if Eternights’ Summer Game Fest demo was a first date, I think I’d have been ok with mutual ghosting.
The writing may improve as characters settle into relationships and dynamics, but more worrying is that Eternights feels flimsy as hell compared to its character action contemporaries. This game is probably not trying to be Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, but I was still caught off guard by how little weight there is to every slash, dash, and enemy bash. Your character has an arm blade that, as of the first hour, is mostly just used to swing away at the monsters overtaking its depiction of Japan. There’s some cool dodge timing mechanics and other things that have become standard in the genre, but ultimately, there’s a lack of weight to movement and combos that takes me out of Eternights’ groove.
While the intro doesn’t give the best first impression, it does seem like a lot of the mechanical and narrative depth will come later, as seen in the trailers. Ultimately, action games live or die by enemy and ability design, and everything in the first hour here feels like a kind of tutorial, and may not be the best showcase for what’s to come. I’m still really compelled by Eternights’ premise, because I love when games like Boyfriend Dungeon or Street Fighter 6 blend genres with social elements. But I just hope that the second date is better than the first.
Eternights is coming to PC, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 on September 21.
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