Review: Echo Night Beyond (PS2)

Echo Night Beyond
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Agetec
Genre: Survival-TERROR
Release Date: 7/27/04

The Echo Night series. Although each of the three games in the series are completely separate from each other, they all have two things in common that bear mentioning here: The main character is always named Richard Osmond and the plot always revolves around a strange red stone. So if one of you readers bears that name, stay the hell away from anything you think might be iron ore. Because with your luck, it’s not.

The Echo Night games are differently from any other form of survival horror games you might have played before, although they do bear some similarities to the Clock Tower series (before Capcom ruined it) and Dark Messiah/Hell Night, which like Echo Night 2 was never released in America, but Europe sure got their filthy hands on them both and didn’t appreciate them. Grrr.

In the Echo Night games, you can’t attack the monsters. You can only run. Some people may find that boring or slow, but hey no offense, I’m a very fit and athletic person and guess what? I’m going to get my ass kicked by a monster if I ever chance upon one so I’d run like my fanny was on fire too! It’s more realistic that hitting a giant zombie mutterings “S.T.A.R.S” with a rocket launcher.

Echo Night is also known for its originality. The first game (which you can buy used for pennies from EBGames.com) takes place on a haunted ocean liner. The second takes place in a Haunted Mansion. This third game takes a page out of the Event Horizon playbook by taking players into space and having them deal with a haunted Lunar Colony. The Echo Night series has always managed to take survival horror and turn it on its ear to where like the best games in the genre, it is instead Survival-Terror, where fear and creepiness take center stage over gore and violence.

I only knew this game was coming out by sheer coincidence of looking through coming soon lists on various game store web sites. There was no announcement or any real press release it was coming to America. All of a sudden it was three weeks before the release, and I saw Gamestop was selling it for 10$ less than EB was and so I slapped down a preorder on the game as Agetec generally has exceptionally small print runs and if I didn’t preorder it, I’d never see it again. Plus I like spooky games, and Ghosts in space was too neat a concept to pass up.

Let’s take a look at yet another game from “Lucard’s big book of games he plays and reviews for you even though most of you will never play them.” But then I said the same thing about Ribbit King and a lot of you went and bought that on my recommendation, eh?

Let’s Review

1. Story

It is the year 2044. Richard Osmond and his fiancee Claudia are traveling to the moon to fulfill their fantasy of being wed on it. However, while nearing the landing point, disaster strikes the shuttle and it crashing. Richard comes to and everyone is gone from the shuttle. Only he remains onboard and alive.

Although that does not mean that he is alone.

As Richard stumbles around the wreckage, he encounters a ghost warning him that although a lunar mining colony is near, it is a place of ill portent and only death awaits those that enter.

However, as Claudia is not on board the shuttle, Richard has no choice but to go looking for her in the only place she could be: Inside the station.

And so begins THIS Richard Osmond’s Echo Night. The shuttle is filled with ghosts. None that are malevolent or evil, but instead are full of suffering and torment, unable to cross over into the hereafter; instead trapped in a state between this world and the next.

But there is a small problem Richard has been warned of by the restless dead. A thick fog permeates parts of the station and it drives the ghosts that dwell within the station to madness and violence. In order to find Claudia, Richard must brave the fog, and save the various spirits that dwell within the colony from eternal limbo.

Echo Night has an overall plot and flashbacks that reveal the tale of the space station through ghostly recordings, but it’s overshadowing by each of the subquests you have to do and the shallow tales of each ghost you encounter. You learn little about them or the true depth of what occurred on the Lunar Colony. But in truth, that is what make a frightening tale: The why and how are left to the reader’s (or in this case player’s) imagination.

I found myself really getting into the story. My heart beat racing in time with Richard’s and tensing when I heard a voice or pausing when I heard a creaking step to ensure it was not my own. The mood and atmosphere of Echo Night Beyond is one of the best I have ever seen in a Survival Terror game, outside of the first two (Japanese first two, not US first two) Clock Towers and my beloved Hell Night. I wish Resident Evil and Silent Hill fans could see the Echo Night series to see what creepy really is.

But with all this praise, there is one big red mark plot-wise that totally crushed the previous enjoyment I had for this game. Or should I say FOUR big red marks. Each of which are the potential endings you can get. None are satisfying in the slightest. And the “good endings” which you can only achieve by saving every ghost in the space station reminded me way too much of 1996 when I was obsessed with D by Acclaim and the special “RUSSORIFFIC” plot twist made me drop my joystick in disgust. There are so many problems with the “correct” ending plausibility wise that it literally made me say out loud, “I spent how many days devoting free time to this?” The ending is totally a slap in the face to everything you just did to beat the game and I wish I could rant about it more but it would ruin the game for you guys. But yeah, MAN! One of the most lackluster/disappointing endings in all of gaming since Super Mario 3.

Although for the most part, I really loved the feel, the pace, and the plot of Echo Night Beyond, the ending really makes you feel like the game wasn’t worth the 10 or so hours you put into beating it. But if you can get past what I couldn’t, you’re in for an excellent piece of digital storytelling.

Story Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

The opening CGI movie that plays when you first turn on your PS2 is mind blowing. There were times it could pass for actual footage of people walking on the surface of the moon. I was impressed.

The game in action, however, is another story. Like the first two Echo Nights, the character designs in the game are nowhere near pushing the power of the PS2. But they are still quite acceptable. Some people may complain that the ghosts are blurry and lacking in detail, but you know what? They’re ghosts! Ghosts are going to be lacking physical detail due to the incorporeity of their very nature. Ectoplasm and all that. The spirits are not meant to be Squaresoft or Sacnoth beautiful. Like the rest of Echo Night Beyond, we are dealing with vague whispers of what once was. Not a concrete hand holding explanation.

The backgrounds are great, but again, nowhere near jaw dropping like the opening movie was. You’ll go up to a wall with bloody writing on it, but words across the screen will tell you what it says instead of being able to actually make out the scrawl. Little details like that being improved upon would have made the game so much better instead of reminding you, “Hey, it’s just a game.”

I do want to point out the fog is beautiful. A great effect that holds up throughout the entire game. You catch yourself with each new room evaluating the level of fog in the room to make sure it’s not to the point where a ghost will go berserk from it. Outside the lunar colony boasts some beautiful graphics as well. From Software really captured the beauty of space while tying it in with the terror of being in a specter filled moon base.

The graphics are not the most stunning you will ever see on the PS2, but they’re very good for what they are. Although I’m not a fan of the character designs in the game, I understand the reasoning behind why they look the way they do, and am otherwise impressed with the backgrounds and effects like the fog.

2. Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

This is by far the best quality of the game. The use of Moonlight Sonata, the opening operetta, the incredible and believable voice acting: all simply amazing.

I’m most impressed with the voice acting in ENB. Agetec did a great job in the translation and giving characters authentic sounding accents in regards to their nationality. Even the children, which generally sound terrible in video games, sounded as if they were the appropriate age. Yes, there are children ghosts in this game. There’s also a, well, I won’t spoil it for you. The voice acting is easily on par with Koudelka for the PSX.

The music is the best I have ever heard in a survival-terror game. It’s used only when needed and always adds a sense of drama to the game. No matter how many times I see the opening movie, it always sends a chill down my spine. And that’s mainly from the use of music in the game.

Sound effects are also incredible. Every time I stepped into a mesh or metal surface and heard a creaking, I would whip around to ensure it was my footsteps I was hearing. Richard’s breath as his heart beat races. It sounds very real, as does his heartbeat. The effort put into everything from the whooshing sound as a door opens to noise coming from a spinning office chair is evident and highly appreciated by this reviewer.

Sound Rating: 10/10

4. Control

And we go from the best part of the game, to the absolute worst.

Wow. I never thought there was a game that would make me appreciate the crap that passed for controls in Residence Evil and Alone in the Dark, but my god here it is.

Couple huge nit-picks: The fact you have to spin around using the analog pad and then have to press up to walk in that direction is very annoying. Especially when a crazed ghost is near. And is faster than you nine times out of ten. Want a good way to have the mood of a game ruined for you? Ask yourself when was the last time you SLOWLY rotated 180 degrees while something trying to kill you was drawing ever near and then ran? It doesn’t happen like that. I’d have enjoyed this game so much more if I could have just simply picked a direction and walked in it. But alas, it was not meant to be.

I would have also killed random passersby my house and then sacrificed them to the evil that made the red stone if it had only meant this game would have developed a cursor for me to use. You see, the entire game is a first person event, and Echo Night Beyond is exceptionally picky in regards to picking up or using items. Often times you have to hope that what you are looking for is in the exact spot you want it to be and then press X. I can’t tell you how frustrating getting a roll of tape in this game was. But if there had been a cursor for me to direct, wow would that have saved me a lot of time. This also hurts you in a room where you have to open a bog to get to a ventilating system before a ghost kills you dead. I move the box, I get out my ID card and try to slide it in the slot I think I have perfectly lined up.

I get the message “Nothing happened.” I try again. Same message. Oh. Ghost induced heart attack and game over. Arrgh. I go back a second time and voila! Not a problem. Although I could swear I was in exactly the same spot. But in Echo Night, the slightest fraction of a millimeter = terrible terrible death. I can’t tell you how many times you will think you are in the right spot and then turn out not to be at the cost of Richard’s life. Profanity, thy name is Echo Night Beyond.

Another issue I had is that when your heartbeat gets up to about 211, your monitor will black out sometimes. I think it may be a bug, as there seems to be no rhyme or reason, but considering your normal heart beat is about 80 and death is a little over 300, this is a huge obstacle to overcome considered you can’t see what the hell you are doing.

The controls are piss poor for this game. I’m sorry to be that blunt, but as good as everything else was that I mentioned, this was downright terrible. The default controls are the worst, and switching them to another setting where one pad is moving and another is looking up and down helps a bit, but no. I hated them. They frustrated me from the snail’s pace it took to turn around when a legion of the damned is floating after you, to simply trying to pick up a battery or that %$)((#!! Roll of tape!

And when we get to balance, then I’ll let loose my hate on the priest,

Control Rating: 4/10

5. Replayability

Although there are four endings, it’s quite easy to get them all on the same game. The “bad” endings are available if you don’t save all the ghosts and your ending is determined by a simple yes or no answer. Same with the good endings, but you have to get help all the other ghosts make it into the next life for those to be available. You just save before you save the last ghost, get both bad endings. Reload, save the last ghost and get the good ones.

After you have beaten Echo Night Beyond, there is absolutely no reason to play it again. You will know the plot, you will know where to get everything, and you’ll know which ghosts take skill to get past and which ones are passable only by blind luck. The game is one of those that is good to play through once, and then you either trade it in or give it to a friend who likes the Echo Night series (as I am doing) or you keep it to play in a few months/years when it will feel almost fresh and new again.

Replayability: 3/10

6. Balance

Hard to believe I started this review so positively, eh? Well get ready for another downside to the game.

Case in point: There is no balance to the game. It’s either super easy, or nigh impossible to complete certain tasks. When you spend a few minutes just trying to pick up a bloody roll of tape or attempt to get past the fisheries room where there are several ghosts waiting to kill you dead but over and over again you end up dying because for some reason you can’t move, oh yes, you wonder what From Software employees were smoking.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love hard games. I’m the guy that loved Metal Slug for their sheer brutality. Remember, I’m a 2D shooter fan first and foremost. The genre that defines hard. But where those games take skill, Echo Night Beyond has a lot of obstacles that are based on luck being the factor that decides whether you go back to the last save point or proceed. And I have a huge problem with that. Especially since previous echo nights were all about puzzle solving and thinking thinking thinking.

Now I do love that often times Echo Night puzzles aren’t very obvious. It’s not a simple series by any means. There is no hand holding or little walkthrough at the beginning or the game or any real hints of any kind. It’s just hard out brutal old school “play or die.” And I thoroughly miss that in games nowadays. But sometimes Echo Night Beyond crosses the line between being a challenge, and being frustrated to the point where the game stops being fun.

I’m guessing 8/10 gamers who pick up this game will never beat it without an FAQ or some major help from people who HAVE beaten it. Because they will either find it too hard, or too frustrating. There are many times, where I wanted to stop playing the game because the puzzles were based on random luck and I want to die from my own stupid mistakes, not because the ghost just happened upon me at that very moment. And I’m the type of gamer that usually gets off on this sort of thing.

Balance: 4/10

7. Originality

I can only think of one other game that puts the survival horror in Space for a current system: Dino Crisis 3. And I think most of us have blocked that game out of existence in our brains. However there is one game back on the Sega Saturn that is exceptionally obscure and forgotten about, that has theme same theme of “scary shit in space” going on, but with a MUCH better story and ending. It’s called Enemy Zero, and it was the game between D for the Saturn and D2 for the Dreamcast. Wonderful game pitting poor Laura Lewis in space.

However, Enemy Zero (not to be confused by the very similar name Fatal Frame is called in Europe, PROJECT Zero), is horror rather than terror, and you spend time killing aliens, rather than saving souls. Enemy Zero is a classic worth hunting down and devouring. Just thought I’d through that in so you know that Echo Night Beyond does have a decent game worth comparing it to.

In all other aspects, ENB is a good game. The mystery involving the deaths of those aboard the space station for one. However, with the red stone being involves as the antichrist version of deus ex machina, it brings things down a bit. Especially if you have played the other 2 Echo Nights. It’s nice to have a recurring theme in games, but like a lot of things plot related in Echo Night Beyond, it feels like a cop out because they came up with the idea for the game, but didn’t know how to make the plot move. What they came up with was good, but still cliche

The fog aspects, the saving of ghosts instead of obliterating, the slow pace of the game. It’s all part of the Echo Night series, but is still very unique considering the other games and series in the survival horror genre. But like with all aspects of Echo Night Beyond, it’s a lot of the same old, same old from the series with a nice face lift and another very imaginative setting.

Originality: 6/10

8. Addictiveness

This is an odd aspect of the game. You will feel like you have been playing for hours when it’s only been 1-1 1/2 hours that you have been traversing the lunar colony. Imagine my surprise when after finally getting the three chocolate coins to give to Greedy Von GluttonGhost that I had only been playing for 4.5 hours! I thought I’d been playing for about 8! And that 4.5 hours was me investigating every nook and cranny, pressing X everywhere to see what happens and to also see how long a battery lasts.

The problem is the slow pace of the game. It feel great and fits the game perfectly. But it plays tricks with your sense of time. Especially if you play it at night with the lights out. I’d get tired of the game, even while enjoying it, but little actual time had passed. Sure it meant I had more free time for my non electronic based social life, but it also left me with a mixed feeling. Was the pace and the tone of the game that good, or was it like a boring lecture where times moves so slowly you wonder if it’s going backwards. A minute feels like an eon for example.

And even now I don’t know. I do know that while playing the game, I loved (most) of it, but when I turned it off, I really didn’t want to go back to it. Towards the end of the game I found myself going, “Boy I could sure go for some Disgaea or Ikari Warriors right now.” I was playing it more to beat the game than to have fun doing so. And that’s never a good sign.

I’d say the first few hours of the game are gripping and mesmerizing, but that it all goes downhill after that.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10

9. Appeal Factor

Heh. Not much of one to be honest. The game is very difficult, and gamers today don’t seem to like a challenge. It’s also obscure as hell due to little to no marketing from Agetec and a very low print run for the game. This game is only for people that like a VERY high level of difficulty in their games, or are survival horror fanatics to the point where they devour and play every game in the genre.

It’s going to be hard to find in a few weeks. Hell, it’s hard to find now. Echo Night Beyond is going to be a very acquired taste, so don’t buy it just to have an obscure or rare game if you find a copy. Buy it because you want to experience it or know a friend that would like it.

Appeal Factor: 3/10

10. Miscellaneous

There are no unlockables. There are no hidden or special features. No difficulty levels. No anything. It’s simply a game you play once, and that’s pretty much it. No sparkle or bonus things of any kind. It’s like back in the days of 8 and 16 bits carts where developers just gave you the game and you were creaming your pants if anything was added or there was a special feature liked the extra ending to Shining Force 1 or the all boss battle that occurred about 15 minutes after Shining Force 2 “ended.”

Doesn’t help it here, now does it?

Seriously, Echo Night is a one time beat ’em and dump ’em game. Glad I played it. But it holds no value or anything other than a ten hour (or more if you get stumped) fix. It’s far better suited as a rental than a purchase. Good luck trying to find a rental copy of it though.

Miscellaneous Rating: 1/10

Short Attention Span Summary
Truly the epitome of niche gaming, Echo Night Beyond has some aspects that will make it an endearing part of some people’s collections as a game they will talk about for years to come. For others, it will be a lot of disappointment, annoyance, and frustration for the same reasons the much smaller target audience enjoys it. If you can find it as a rental, do so as I wouldn’t recommend buying it unless you are a fan of the previous Echo Night games because that way you’ll know what you are in for.