Despite being an indie release from a fresh, fully-remote studio, Eternights is a game with all the visual flair and anime aesthetic of a veteran JRPG. To no surprise, the game is heavily inspired by the increasingly popular Persona series, putting just as much emphasis on dating party members as it does on atmospheric dungeons and high-octane combat. Since its announcement, I’ve been excited to see how the promise of an action-adventure spin on the dating-sim stylings of Persona would come together, but my time with the opening hours of Eternights leaves me worried that it might not live up to those lofty aspirations.
The stakes are low at the start of Eternights, but they couldn’t be higher for the protagonist and his pal Chani. Chani is helping you set up a profile on a dating app to try and get some dates – something the two of them seem to have been struggling with for a while now. The protagonist isn’t silent, and you’ve got frequent dialogue options you can choose from to give responses during dialogue. There’s a really fun, casual sense of humour to these options, and while you usually only have two to choose from, at least one of them is always loaded with dead-pan sarcasm or disinterest that always added a fun punch to every conversation. The game excels at giving these characters personality, and making them feel likeable and relatable, but it’s the wider story beats where Eternights initially struggles.
Being inspired by the Persona series shouldn’t just mean that you’re an RPG with romancing characters – there’s a tone to the writing and pacing of Persona games where the characters’ circumstances develop slowly and realistically – Eternights races past that. In the opening act of the game, our protagonist goes to the city for a blind date with a girl he matched with on a mystery dating app – only for giant phantasmal walls to appear in the city and citizens across the globe to turn into infected beasts. Our hero and Chani escape to a massive security bunker, and stay there for days before eventually deciding to leave their room and see who else might be in the bunker with them.
These are huge events, with massive repercussions, and yet Eternights skips right past them. When the giant walls appear, Chani calls us and says he’s going to “the bunker”. Fade to black and you’re now both there one day later. How did they get there? How are they feeling? Why does this massive underground bunker exist? None of this is broached, and our characters take their sudden apocalyptic circumstances in stride. Through the game there’s a Persona-style calendar ticking arbitrarily by with each cutscene, and while it will likely become more relevant as you balance dungeon-dives with dates, in these opening moments it just serves to highlight how little is happening in the script despite so much happening in the actual game world.
Three days pass, and our heroes run into another duo inside the bunker – famous teen idol Yuna and a nagging, nervous girl that has accompanied her. The four group up and decide to try and escape the bunker together, leading to what would ordinarily feel like the first foray into the games dungeons – except I don’t have any powers or weapons yet. Instead, the crew navigates a dark, dreadful and ominously empty bunker, employing clunky sneaking-controls and slippery running controls to escape nearby monsters until they find a way out.
An action-adventure dating-sim opening with a rushed survival-horror section is incredibly bizarre, and if the build up or execution had been polished enough I might have been super into it – but Eternights seems to lack the nuanced execution it needs to back up its ambitious ideas.
As my preview demo for the game progresses, our protagonist gains his glowing-arm and combat prowess, Yuna reveals her healing powers, and Chani gets incredibly jealous that he doesn’t have any kind of weird anime abilities. The three escape the bunker and find themselves in a proper, beast-filled dungeon, where the meat of Eternights combat finally starts to shine through.
Combat in Eternights is simple, but satisfying – you’ve got a single attack button and a dodge button, but you can end your combos with a heavy strike using the right bumper or dodge attacks at the last second to boost your combo strength and speed. Down the line, you’ll be able to upgrade your skill-tree enough to unlock new attacks that spice up your arsenal even more.
Standard enemies can be dealt with as you please, but larger foes have shields that you’ll need to first break through by building up and using your Elemental Fist meter. The loop of using normal attacks to fuel your Eternal Fist to take down big baddies was engaging, but they will trigger anyone with bad memories of QTE-infested games from the early 2000s. Each one triggers a set of QTE and button-mashing prompts that, if failed, cancel your attack and do no damage to the enemy shield. Battles in Eternights are fast, and these slow and methodical QTE’s took me out of the flow every single time. I’m hoping the final version of the game either introduces different kinds of Elemental Fist attacks that don’t have QTEs, or simply removes those button prompts entirely.
My time with Eternights wrapped up much like it began, with huge story beats unfolding with little buildup. There’s some incredible ideas within this game, and loads of personality, but the events that bring the characters together feel rushed in a way that takes me out of the experience. One of the most enjoyable things with life-simulating games is that feeling of being so immersed in the world and the shifting relationship meters as the calendar ticks by. Eternights moves at such a brisk pace that I felts I was reading the highlights of someone else’s story. I can only hope that the full game lets you slow down and savour the post-apocalyptic dating scene.