Saturday, February 19, 2011

Third Rate Game Play 1: Eternal Ring

Game: Eternal Ring

System: Playstation 2

Developer: From Software

Publisher: Agetec

Player: Alex Wanschura

Experience: Blind

From Software was formed in 1986 by only four people, specializing as a company for business and software development, but the company first went into video game production in 1994. The company’s first major franchise was King’s Field, a first-person role-playing game released on the Playstation and subsequently Playstation 2. From Software is, perhaps, better known for its second, now much larger franchise Armored Core, a series of games in which players control large mechs through a number of missions for multiple missionary groups.

For the Playstation 2’s launch, From Software took it upon itself to develop a number of games. Armored Core 2 would appear at launch, but a new King’s Field was passed in favor of two new games in the company’s RPG repertoire: Evergrace, an action RPG with two unique storylines and an equipment-based leveling system, and Eternal Ring, a first-person RPG akin to King’s Field but with a unique ring-equipment system.

The publisher, Agetec, was originally ASCII Entertainment, formed in 1991 as the American branch for Japanese publisher ASCII. At the time, it had become popular for bringing over various Japanese titles including those developed by From Software. However, in order to focus more on American tastes, the company was spun-off in 1998 as "Ascii Game Entertainment TEChnology,” or Agetec. One year later, it separated from ASCII entirely, which in turn would cease game publishing in 2002.

"Who said fantasies had to be final? A young magician is sent by his king to investigate the strange happenings on the Island of No Return. Armed with his sword and his natural talent as a sorcerer, Cain attempts to be the first person to return from the island alive. Legend has it that magical powers are at rest on this island. It is inhabited by numerous beasts, enormous dragons, and magical items that were supposed to be buried long ago. As Cain, the player must solve several baffling scenarios whilst keeping his hide intact in his search for the ultimate magic ring."

Eternal Ring is a first-person RPG in which players control Cain Morgan, a young magician who is sent to the Island of No Return by the peaceful king of Heingaria in order to investigate a secret team sent to the Island by the kingdom's elders. The island is home to the legendary Eternal Ring, a ring with power well beyond mortal comprehension, and with little means to return, Cain must venture forth in search of the true intentions of the Heingarian Elders’ mission while perhaps learning more about his own past along the way.

At first, players only have the means to attack with a sword, but over time, they are capable of wearing magical rings which can boost abilities and allow spells to be cast. Furthermore, money is replaced by a number of elemental gems which can be traded in for items or used to make or improve ring powers and weaponry. Rings have set levels of strength, but adding elemental gems to them can boost their abilities to a degree.

The game itself is situated in a linear experience, guiding players into a cavern, then a town-like setting, and then into the first dungeon. Following that, the game leads players through a number of dangerous environments, encountering strange people and ferocious monsters along the way.

While there are no sequels to Eternal Ring, From Software has continued to bring role-playing games, including first-person variations, into the gaming industry. For Playstation 2, the company brought out King’s Field: The Ancient City (the fourth in the series, but the third to go overseas) and Forever Kingdom (which is a prequel to Evergrace); Shadow Tower Abyss, a sequel to Shadow Tower and another first-person RPG, was disallowed an American release by SCEA. For GameCube, the company developed the Lost Kingdoms franchise, which was published in America by Activision. This generation, From Software earned acclaim for its unique and, at times, excruciatingly difficult RPG products: 3D Dot Heroes, an overheard RPG akin to retro Zelda games with a focus on pixelated graphics and basic gameplay design, and Demon’s Souls, a dark fantasy action RPG in which players can be brought back to life as a soul, although the game ultimately punishes them for dying in the first place. Many have stated that Demon’s Souls is a spiritual successor to the King’s Field series.

Agetec still exists, albeit in a more muted form than what it was when Eternal Ring was released. It continued to publish a number of Japanese titles for American audiences, including games developed by SNK and From Software, as well as smaller budget Japanese Playstation titles. While From Software got publishing deals with Atlus and other, larger publishers, Agetec continued to publish smaller titles for the company, the last of which was Cookie & Cream for the DS in 2007. While it focuses mainly on budget releases, it still exists. The site has not been updated heavily since 2009, but it continues to publish titles, including three DSiWare titles: Go Fetch!, Paul’s Shooting Adventure, and Paul’s Monster Adventure, all developed by small Japanese developer ICM. Its most recent release was Treasure Hunter X for DSiWare in February 2011, developed by SilverStar, whose other works have been brought stateside by Agetec, too.

Currently, From Software is developing Dark Souls, a game similar to Demon’s Souls, published by Namco-Bandai, alongside Armored Core V and Capcom’s Kinect project Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor.

Agetec’s current activities are unknown, but it appears as though it is primarily focused on DSiWare projects.

Originally filmed early September 2010, this was supposed to be completed by the 10th anniversary of the American Playstation 2 launch, consisting of a collection of four games which released that October: Fantavision, Eternal Ring, TimeSplitters, and Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore. Alas, Fantavision had not arrived yet, so we assumed it would not appear in time. As a result, we named it a three-part Let’s Play before it finally arrived. As a note, we had not yet named the show Third Rate Game Play yet, so any “Let’s Play” or “Quick Play” mention is referring to Third Rate Game Play.

Alex had no prior experience with the game beforehand, and he had only seen screenshots and one video clip before playing the game. All reactions are made on-the-fly as both experience it for the first time.

In this episode, Alex ventures into the Island of No Return and completes the Water Temple, the first major dungeon. The runtime approaches an hour, and while it does not provide much insight into the game’s ring system, it does provide a good look into the game’s other, core gameplay concepts.

Eternal Ring was a surprising affair for me. Having only seen a video of the game briefly played, I had no real idea how the game would turn out, so I was surprised to find that the game was actually a pretty good for a launch title for the Playstation 2.

The actual game itself was smooth in pacing, and while the game’s dialogue and presentation left something to be desired, the gameplay was accessible and unique from my perspective. While we did not get very far into the game itself, I can imagine there is a lot more strategy involved with the rings, which could improve or damage the overall experience. The world seemed simple, artistically speaking, and the characters were nearly pointless in their interactions. So, perhaps the best way to describe my feelings for Eternal Ring is this: the gameplay is solid, though the scenario could definitely be more polished.

The episode went very smoothly, and having no prior experience to the game, we had plenty of comments to make, further improving the overall adventure. While I stupidly died at the beginning and end of the playthrough, I think the deaths added to the humor, looking back at the episode today.

It was certainly a good way to start off the series of videos!

If you would like us to continue making episodes for Eternal Ring, feel free to comment on the video's Youtube page or this page.

3RM Says: Eternal Ring is a fun RPG, but the Ring itself makes a great Hula Hoop!

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