Part of Atlus’ 3 big releases for the Holiday Season along with Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 and Luminous Arc 2, Eternal Poison was the one with the least anticipation or hype due to it being a new IP and a strategy-RPG, one of the least popular genres. There was something about Eternal Poison which caught my eye; maybe it was the attractive box art. Developed by Flight-Plan, known for their Summon Night series, their latest RPG to make it to the United States introduces us to medieval, gothic world of Besek filled with unusual demons and great art direction. Atlus’ latest strategy games weren’t met with praise, but can Eternal Poison change this trend?
The story starts off with the demonic world of Besek mysteriously emerging into the world, and then the Princess of Valdia is kidnapped by the Majins. Sounds pretty cliché huh? Not to worry since the story is much deeper than just rescue the princess. There are five stories in which each tells a different perspective to the story and not all of them have to do with rescuing the princess. The main character Thage, who is a witch accompanied by the silver wolf Ranunculus and her servant, Retica, is in search for the Eternal Poison. What is the Eternal Poison you ask? This is for you to find out and finding out why she wants the Eternal Poison is another mystery.
When beginning the game, you’ll notice the potential in the story department. The story in Eternal Poison is good, but pretty much everything remains vague until the end. The farther you get into Eternal Poison, the more sense and interesting the story becomes, but if you hate waiting for the story to kick in, then sadly Eternal Poison isn’t for you. The translation is strong, but the dialogue can get repetitive. Character development is weak, and many characters will feel lifeless throughout the whole game – no personality, no background, nothing. Minor characters have no business doing there, and their reasons for joining you on the exploration of Besek is very poor. There are a few exciting parts when a few characters will play with your mind just out of nowhere making you think whether they’re on your side or not.
Like stated before, there are five “stories” in one where each story has different characters showing different perspectives of the story which all ties up together which is a pretty interesting approach. You decide which one to start with, and each story has a good and bad ending. In order to get the good ending, a few requirements are needed, but those requirements will be nearly impossible to achieve on the first play-through. If you do get the bad ending, the story will restart, and you are given another chance until the good ending is achieved.
Eternal Poison is a turn-based strategy-RPG and battling is simple, quite possibly the simplest it can get in a strategy-RPG. There’s no picking up huge number of allies and throwing them like in Disgaea; no, it’s actually pretty straight-forward like Final Fantasy Tactics. Movements in battles are grid-based, and only the leader can call for a combo attack. Battles can suffer from repetitiveness where each battle is pretty much the same as the one you played before – the same enemies with the same objective. After reaching a certain level, your characters can change class and learn new skills, but be warned; they can’t change class after that. Skills can be assigned to characters by setting them to their armor at the store. There’s no turn limit meaning you don’t have to worry about finishing battles before turn 20 ends. There are a few features which separate it from other strategy games.
Multiple paths can be taken, and each path leads to a different boss which can determine the ending of the story. Each path has different secrets such as refugees, band members or rare majins to capture, but only one path leads you to the true ending.
Battle animations sounds pretty awesome, but sadly the execution to the animations is poor. Battle animations take a while to load, about 5 to 10 seconds, and while it might not sound bad, it does become annoying after a while. Also some of the battle animations are underwhelming in terms of length which lasts about a second or two, so waiting about five seconds to see a two seconds animation isn’t really worth it. Luckily, battle animations can be turned off even during battles and make battles tolerable.
Each majin will have an overkill HP and reaching the overkill HP lets you capture the majin, but if the overkill number isn’t reached, then the majin just disappears. Exposing the majin’s weakness is the key to achieving the overkill HP. Capturing majins is a good thing to do because you can extract skills or pp, which are required to summon majins during battles. Summoning majins is helpful in case you’re short of allies or need someone with a certain skill to defeat a majin, but majins disappear after a couple of turns. In Traviata House, you can set which majin you want to summon during battles along with extracting their skills or pp.
Eternal Poison is a difficult strategy-RPG and not recommend for anyone new to the genre. After each battle, you are taken back to town to recruit members, save and buy items, weapons or armor, and once you leave town, you choose the next path to go forward, deeper into Besek. It’s pretty much linear, and there are no optional battles for leveling up. There’s no turning back to play with the easier stages, and it’s really frustrating because some of your characters will remain under-leveled and die quickly in battles making you not use those under-leveled characters for the rest of the game.
To make matter worse, there are level requirements for both armor and weapons, so don’t expect to rely on buying the newest, strongest equipment available all the time. If your allies die in battle, you won’t loose them forever which is a great thing because if allies were lost forever, then you’d be stuck with only the main characters. Do everything you can during in battles to level up properly, or else you’ll have a hard time during the second half of the game. There’s no option to save during battles which is a little frustrating because some battles can last quite a while, and if the main character gets wiped out, then it’s game over; even if all your allies are alive and there was only one majin left.
Stones of fate is an optional mini-game found at the town’s pub, and it’s one of the best mini-games to be found in a strategy-RPG. The game takes place on a board of 33 squares, and the objective is to remove all pieces by hopping over them. The pieces must be adjacent, and there must be an open square for the piece to land on. There are a total of 50 stages of Stones of Fate, and after beating a stage, some concept arts are unlocked which can be viewed at the gallery.
Speaking of art, Eternal Poison oozes with a great gothic art style. The characters, majins and environments are well designed. The music in Eternal Poison ranges from jazz to rock, and while it’s mostly decent, there are some tunes that are just beautiful to listen. Voice acting is mostly solid, but a few of the main characters along with some minor characters sound bland, uninspired and just plain annoying. The nice people at Atlus decided to include a soundtrack CD with the game along with the artbook (for a few copies), and these bonuses are welcomed with open arms.
Despite its flaws and a few questionable features, Eternal Poison is actually an enjoyable game. The art style is engaging, the multi-perspective story is interesting and the difficulty of the game will make you strategize your moves ahead of time and make battles exciting.