Tuesday 31 January 2017

Eternam - Oh Deer...

written by Aperama

Alright. This is a game that I now have to try and approach a touch more seriously, given how poorly it apparently comes across when joked about. Admittedly, my jokes weren't exactly up to par and were largely just a gimmick to make this feel more readable, but this game. This game. I would ask you all to realise that I am being completely direct when I state that in this previous hour and a half playing, I was given impossible directions (follow a path by direction when no sense of direction is given), walked on water with no clue as to whether or not I was moving in the correct direction in doing so (as most water drowns you instantly), and was then promptly sentenced to death for stepping on a lawn. Again, no hyperbole. This is simply what happened.

Vive le freaking France

I might be a touch ahead of myself, though. The first thing that happened upon attempting to leave the castle was a guard appearing in the middle of the entryway where 'Rex' resides, with him telling me that I came through the ordeals with 'flying colours'. Little did he know that it was just my persistent reloading at work! I was then assailed by what I was thinking of as a bat before I read the Wikipedia page to lean that it was supposedly 'flying reptiles'. A Drakkhen reference, probably. Followed by another one. Never letting them get close enough to truly give me any grief, I just held the space bar key until the things disappeared from my screen in an explosion. There might have been frivolous use of the 'alert!' in the bottom left corner along with a rather hideous noise, but there was never any real danger. Instead, I ambled my way around the castle and found another path (completely removed from the first, mind you) and began to explore.

I found a few local drunks, but never had the opportunity to ask any of them about 'Victor'.

Nearby, I found a 'humble inn'. Humble, because the owner called it thus. Fantastic, I thought – perhaps this was a place I might give up some of my 'GP'. No. All this let me know was that the dialogue system in this game is legitimately atrocious. For the vast majority of characters, you're only allowed to speak to them a grand total of once before they'll shun you for good. I sincerely hope this doesn't mean that I need to save before speaking to every character! For instance, speaking with the inn keeper allows at first brush to say 'where am I', 'who are you' or 'what can I get here'. 'Where am I', almost universally, is always the wrong choice. All you'll get is a sarcastic answer with no real inkling as to a direction. In fact, most dialogue is largely useless as best as I can tell.

Choosing the 'wrong' option..

At least there's sometimes a little bit in the way of answers

The nearby inn doesn't give much. I was hoping to find the Victor mentioned by the random guard in the streets. I was fortunate enough to save as I walked into it, so I was able to run the full gamut of speech options with the innkeeper, the 'refugees' on the first floor and the drunk on the second. The innkeeper starts by complaining of taxes, then upon finding a way to speak to him again (e.g. walking in and out of the room as it will not allow speaking to the same person twice in a row) he starts complaining that you're scaring away his clientele. There's again no real reasoning behind this – it's not as though choosing a particular line of questioning makes any of them irate. It's just a default 'go away' message, and while I'd normally be happy to know I've taken a wrong logical leap in an adventure title? This bugs me, purely because it gives the impression you're missing out on something. Even now, I don't know if some of the seemingly useless dialogue is actually necessary, nor if dialogue is even an important part of the game.

If this isn't the town drunk, I don't know who is..

But we don't get to ask him about Victor!

This said, there is at least something of merit learned via dialogue. Or at least, subjectively useful. The issue with 'usefulness' as a noun within this game is that such simple English terms don't really translate awfully well. Wandering the countryside and randomly shooting down the bat/bird/reptilian flying things which litter the roads (again, purely because it triggers the 'alert' in the bottom left corner as opposed to them being of any real menace as they never seem to come closer to you) I happened upon a monk. He told me to seek the 'temple of TwinRoses' to get some information about getting to the nearby islands, and to say that 'Franscecus' sent me. This actually unlocked dialogue at said temple.. but the information given wasn't actually of any direct use as I'll explain shortly.

There was actually an intersection with a forked road and three flags. This made sense. I was immediately suspicious.

Following the yellow-flagged road along to its end, there's a temple. It's surrounded by gigantic pixelated roses. Clearly, this is the temple I'm supposed to go to! Each room (the entire temple only goes three rooms long, though if I think of it Castle Daventry was a similar size back in King's Quest 1) has someone within. The first is a lady who rattles off a whole bunch of spiritual mumbo jumbo, but on being pressed correctly via dialogue offers a letter to give to her 'daughter Marianne in Dorsalis' where we're due to go. This again seems too sensible to be trusted, particularly given we're able to repeatedly ask her questions without her snapping at me. The next holds the 'Inquisitor', a guy who is apparently out to exterminate the 'walking skeletons and evil monstrosities' within Ethelred's castle. Eh, they seemed pretty nice to me. Next is the man who has all of the answers, the (elder?) of the Temple..

If you pick the second before the first, he tells you that you need a member of the Order to vouch for you – dialogue puzzle success!

On the other hand, we're again given a direction by compass heading with literally no grounds to declare one direction from another

So, the big bonus for randomly talking to strangers passing by is at least a thing – but unfortunately, it's not actually particularly useful. I was also quite confused here as I attempted to offer Francescus' name first, leading him to say I needed someone to vouch for me after already providing the sensitive information. Makes it a little less helpful! As though the programmers felt my pain, the prize for finding my way through this vague set of directions was to be a compass. If you're all wondering – taking the directions given here to be the crossroads we came from leads back to Ethelred's castle, so it must be some other crossroads he speaks of in the screenshot above. Basically, I walked around in a random direction, eventually finding some water with dark brown lumps in it.

Oh, of course you can walk on this..

Given they haven't made me think that water is to be feared and all

The first time I attempted to follow his directions, I got lost. I kinda hunched that the way might be over the random brown lumps. The issue is, after walking over them, everything you're walking over becomes entirely blue like the 'kill you' ocean elsewhere. So it's entire fluke that led me to the main city of Dorsalis, Middleville..

The imagery on the world map versus elsewhere literally does not match up

Middleville is.. okay, let's just get this out of the way. In a land of insanity on par with anything Lewis Carroll decided was a reasonable thing, this place was written by Carroll's schizophrenic French neighbour. French in multiple ways, mind. There are French flags littering the area surrounding it, the people here speak (broken) French, the décor is largely French, and their preferred method of execution is the guillotine. Really, really French. I had to look up the Wikipedia page after this and discovered it was Hubert Chardot, the mind behind the original few Alone in the Dark games, who claims lead design and story for Eternam. His surreal outlook worked far better in the creepy vibe of Alone in the Dark, methinks.

I'm not joking when I say looking up the 'story designer' here, this was nearly the first image on offer. This game makes sense now, somehow.

Meanwhile, back in Middleville, I'm again reminded not to ask where I am

So, in typical Frenchman-out-of-Monty Python fashion, I'm insulted as soon as I enter the town. I can live with some friendly banter and all, though – the second person we meet is out to sell us a compass! I've been crying for one since I opened the game up, so it's a great relief to finally have one in stow. Or rather, it almost was. See, this town is not precisely friendly. Admittedly, our omniscient helper did mention that Middleville was under some turmoil, but I hadn't thought to save within the first three screens. I started by getting insulted by the fisherman at the entrance of the town, bought a compass, stepped on some grass and was then sentenced to death.

Take all of my money. Now.

I was actually just on the path, but..

So, I'm not sure if this is actually supposed to happen as soon as it did to me, because.. well. I couldn't work a way out. See, as soon as I walked up to the first house I found in attempting to explore the town, I was accosted by some men with muskets and fancy bicorne hats. Turns out I was illegally on some grass. They informed me that I had the right to a phone call (but as they had no phones, I had no rights). Ha. I get it. After Don automatically tells them off for arguing with one another's attempts to arrest him in more vicious ways than one another, he gets told that he's insulted them and will as such be sentenced to death ('automatically found guilty after examination of the facts').

I mean, this could be funny if it had something else to ground it a little?

Yup – more harsh than death, apparently!

So, Don is thrown into jail. Fine, there's bound to be a way out, I told myself. Someone was talking through the bars to the outside, so I started a conversation – 'Isabelle' and 'Gaston' outside, a likely Beauty and the Beast reference I suppose? However, my first attempt at conversation had them run away from me. They then came in to execute me. I had maybe thirty seconds real time to react, look around my cell etc. Clock issues, perhaps? I didn't even have a chance to attempt to offer up the letter due to Marianne, given I was fairly certain by this point I was in Dorsalis. Nope – just death. I didn't save. That was the real problem, honestly. I spent the next forty five minutes making my way back across the ocean, again randomly stumbling without a compass. The issue is that there's really no points of reference upon the map to speak of, making the trip largely random as I wasn't exactly mapping with the awkward first person perspective..

The dread realisation of how bleak France is as it pertains to adventure games is not lost here

I really wanted to hop right back where I was after feeling like I'd made some actual headway – fording intra-island seemed like a big move towards actually getting something done in the game, but my next little while was simply spent walking in circles. I made it over the river once more after several deaths by drowning, but didn't immediately find Middleville. Instead, I found a few people on the roads and in houses. One told me to meet the 'bookkeeper' to find out where I was (the scribe from the castle perhaps?) Another told me that I ought take care of myself now that I was on Dorsalis, as there are apparently thieves all around. Then I ran into a random deer on the road which couldn't be interacted with at all, much like nigh upon everything on the world map. It stood out even in this game, with no seeming rhyme nor reason. Clinging to what little sanity I had left, I frantically closed DosBOX I put all of the blinds down in my house, fell into the fetal position and hid in a dark, dark corner.

Nobody. Just nobody.

Time played: 3 and a half hours, maybe. Time is not an object at present.
Mental age increase after playing: How old is Montgomery Burns, again?

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. I am a fish I am a fish I am a fish I am a fish I am a fiiiiiii


  1. Reading a walkthrough for parts you've already completed, apparently the other dialogue trees with the drunk DO reveal what happened to Victor. Answer: he drowned by getting lost trying to cross the ford.

    1. There must be a condition to unlock the dialogue which I somehow missed, in this case. there were only two choices, neither of which allowed me to bring up Victor in spite of already having spoken to the guard. Good to hear the info wasn't too noteworthy, thanks Voltgloss!

  2. Those flying lizards are pretty stupid part of the game. You don't even need to shoot them, because it's pretty easy just to outrun them.

    The game really is full of all sort of more or less silly references. Take for instance, Marianne, who is a national symbol of French Republic (much like Uncle Sam is for USA). I seem to remember that the image of the character in-game resembles a traditional picture of Marianne.

    And have you wondered about the strange names of the islands? And remember how you thought that the map of the world resembles a dinosaur? Well, the first island was called Cauda (tail), now you are in Dorsal (back) and there will be more...