Eternal Poison Hands-On
Collect demons and summon them to do your bidding as you hunt for the Eternal Poison in Atlus' upcoming SRPG.
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Eternal Poison was released in Japan earlier this year under the name Poison Pink. This strategy role-playing game delves into darker, gothic themes and has a rather cliche "save the princess" plotline--a story that has been told countless times in video games in a variety of ways. Eternal Poison doesn't do much in terms of creating a unique and original experience, but it works well if you're looking for a standard SRPG to play. The game even throws in multiple storylines to pursue, as well as a demon-collecting system in which you can bind, capture, and then summon them to fight for you.
You begin the game with a prologue that introduces Thage, a lovely young woman with a thing for black lace. Raki--short for Ranunculus--is her trusty, wolflike companion, who just happens to be a Majin (demon). Together they teach you the basics of battle. As in past SRPGs, fights take place on a battleground where you move your characters on a grid to get closer to the enemy and then issue commands. The bottom of the screen tells you which unit or character is up next, so you can plan accordingly. Depending on your character, you'll move them closer to the enemy so you can engage in a melee attack; otherwise you can hang back and cast spells or attack with a long-ranged weapon. As the party leader (which changes depending on which story you follow), you can use the lead command, where if other members of the party wait on their turn, they save their attack to perform a powerful combo with the leader. Each enemy has a weakness, so it's useful to determine what it is and exploit it to make the battle go more swiftly. This also helps when you deliver the finishing blow, because if you take the enemy down to a certain number of negative hit points, you'll get an overkill, which allows you to bind the Majin and then capture it. Captured Majin can be sacrificed later for skills or summoned to aid you in battle.
Once you've completed the prologue, you can begin a new game that gives you a brief overview of the Kingdom of Valdia, where things seemed fine until the demonic realm of Besek mysteriously appeared. Not only are the Majin plaguing the lands with their fiendish ways, they've also kidnapped the princess of Valdia, who is betrothed to the young commander of the Valdian Knights, an elite military force that serves the kingdom. Like any good father would, King Valdus issues a royal decree stating that whoever rescues the princess from the Majin will be granted anything his or her heart desires. This is where you come in. You can choose to follow the story of one of the four groups presented. We chose to follow Thage, the young woman we saw in the prologue, and we learned that she's headed toward Besek to search for the eternal poison--a legendary artifact that may be able to grant wishes or provide the bearer unimaginable power. On her way into the Majin-infested territory, she comes across a young boy named Retica, whom she immediately latches onto using what she calls the "Oath of Obedience." Retica is now obliged to do as she says, and together they wander deeper into the depths of Besek, helping refugees along the way.
The local town acts as your hub, where you can purchase weapons and armor. The Traviata House is where you handle all things Majin. Archaya, a woman with a bit too much eye makeup, can help you manage the Majin you've captured on the battlefield. You can extract skills or poison points from them, sell them, or even set them up for battle so that you can summon them to fight on your side. Poison points are needed to be able to summon and keep them in battle since there is a cost for summoning. There are different types of demons, each with unique characteristics; but when you're on the battlefield, some demons may have an aura around them rendering them invincible until you exploit their weakness. This entire demon concept is intriguing and provides you with a chance to use other character types in your party rather than the ragtag bunch of miscreants that you can pick up in town.
The game progresses as you traverse deeper into the strata of Besek by taking on challenges in the battlefield. In between fights you can always return to town to restock and upgrade weapons. You will hit crossroads that will affect the storyline, so there is replay value if you want to see the different outcomes. There are already four tales to follow, and possibly more will unlock as the game goes on.
Eternal Poison's character designs are rich with detail, and the overall look is very elegant. The story-driven cutscenes are done well, bringing life to characters who otherwise don't look so good when you're on the battlefield and wandering around town. Fights on the field look blurry, which is a shame because the PlayStation 2 can do more than what is shown. There is a less than impressive animated sequence each time characters interact on the field, which can thankfully be switched off from the options menu. If it's on, it slows the gameplay down tremendously with the loading time, and the animations always look the same. However, during the higher-quality animated sequences, we get a wonderful close-up look at Raki's cold blue-green eyes, and Thage looks like a porcelain doll with her round, delicate face, making her beautiful and a little scary at the same time. The artwork is exquisite, from what we've seen of the various characters, and there is a gallery in the main menu that you can unlock as you play for more portraits. The voice acting is solid, but it's too bad that the visuals fluctuate so much. The music however, is a perfect fit for this gothic-themed SRPG with lovely piano and violin duets and organ melodies.
Atlus is one of several publishers that haven't forgotten that there are people who haven't let go of their PS2 yet. For the niche audience that enjoys Japanese SRPGs, Eternal Poison is worth taking a closer look, so be sure to check back for our full review when the game is released on November 11.