#22 Echo Night Beyond
Publisher: From Software (Japan)/Agetec (North America)/Digital Jesters (Europe)
Developer: From Software
Systems Released On: Sony Playstation 2
Release Date: 01/22/2004 (Japan)/07/27/2004 (North America)
Man, it seems like just last week I talked about Echo Night 1! Oh wait, it was.
Echo Night Beyond takes us from a haunted ocean liner in 1933 to a haunted moon colony in the year 2044. Yes. You read that right. Ghosts in Space!
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 crashes onto the lunar surface. 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. I say “this” because all three Echo Nights have the main character named Richard Osmond. All three also revolve around a strange glowing red stone.
The shuttle and the mining colony are both filled with ghosts. None of the ghosts are malevolent or evil. Instead, they are full of suffering and torment, unable to cross over into the hereafter; trapped in a state between this world and the next.
There is a small problem though. 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 Beyond has an overall plot and flashbacks that reveal the tale of the space station through ghostly recordings, in addition to the dozens of subquests you can perform in order to help the dead reach their final peace. You learn little about the ghost’s previous state of existence or the true depth of what occurred on the Lunar Colony. To me though, that is what makes this a frightening tale: The why and how are left to the player’s imagination.
I found myself really getting into the story, more so than with most games I have played. My heartbeat was 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. The game is so perfectly designed in terms of ambience, mood, theme, shadow, lighting, and noise that it was really hard for me to put this only at #22. If we were going simply on plot and feel, this game would be in the top ten with no problem.
The problem with ENB is a simple one. In spite of the amazing graphics, incredible sound and very spooky atmosphere, the controls of the game are not very good. In fact, they outright stink. 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.
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 have sworn I was in exactly the same spot. But in Echo Night Beyond, 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 considering 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!
You probably noticed my comments about “heart beat.” that’s how the game monitors your “health” if you were. you breathing and heart rates are constantly measured, and the only way you die in the game is from a panic/fear induced heart attack. Although the controls are Resident Evil bad, this dynamic is simply brilliant and is executed so well that it can’t help but creep you out and make you empathetic towards Richard Osmond.
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 get past what I couldn’t, you’re in for an excellent piece of digital storytelling.
Let’s talk 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 child 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 in ENB 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.
And then there is the graphics. Echo Night Beyond is simply beautiful. The graphics will astound you and make your jaw drop from how good the game looks. ESPECIALLY when compared to the original Echo Night. But that’s like comparing play-doh to Michelangelo’s David. The character designs still aren’t the best, but the background and views of space are mind boggling.
Finally, there’s the ending to ENB. Or should I say endings, as there are four of them. When I first played the game, I bitched about the endings. Now? They’ve grown on me and I absolutely love them. The endings reveal the real plot of the game. ENB is NOT about ghosts and saving the dead or finding your fiancee. No, it’s far bigger than that. The game is an existential question. What is makes a man a man? What is a soul? What defines a soul and who we are? What is good and evil and is what is good for one man, evil for another? The good endings are the best, as it forces you to take a look at the Cartesian (As in Rene Descartes) model of automatons and methodological skepticism as a whole. After achieving all four endings and then looking back at the game and all the stories and flashbacks, you come to an understanding that what the developers were trying to do is give you a video game that reflects Jon Swift’s attempts with Gulliver’s Travels. On one end, appealing to the lowest common denominator is a spooky tale set in space. On the more highbrow end are a ton of philosophical questions that and metaphors meant to make the gamer take an inward introspective look at what it means to be both alive, and to be human. I strongly underestimated this game a year and a half when it came out by only giving it a five. True, the game is VERY hard and the controls are awful, but the story, graphics, and sound are some of the best in all of gaming. It would make an excellent movie.
Echo Night Beyond is a hard game to find, but when you do it’s thankfully cheap. Tom Pandich just picked it up for ten bucks new a few weeks ago. Hopefully he’ll comment on it once he’s played it. ENB blows away the original Echo Night, giving you an even higher quality story and graphics and sound that are on par with some of the best games for the PS2. If you find this game at all, pick it up immediately. Even if the controls frustrate the hell out of you, you’ll still be able to marvel in the beginnings of the game and how sublime it is. If you can get a handle (or at least not get frustrated by) on the controls, you’re in for a dozen hours of only of the best horror games ever made. In a better world this first person horror game would be in the top ten instead of #22, but in a better world, the game would handle SO much better.
Systems Released On: Sega Saturn, 3DO (Japan Only), Sony Playstation (Europe and Japan Only), PC (US Only)
Release Date: 12/01/1995 (Japan) 3/31/1996 (US)
I know, an Acclaim title makes the list! But here me out on this.
D is one of those games that most gamers don’t remember. Those that do tend to have a fanatical devotion to it and the two sequels it spawned. Here’s an off topic fun fact: D2 is actually the third D game. Go figure. For me, I didn’t really get into the other two D games. Enemy Zero left me cold and D2 was just well…utterly weird and I couldn’t consider it a horror game even if I wanted to. I enjoyed it immensely, but it was almost too bizarre for classification. Think “The Thing” meets “Big Game Hunter.”
Anyway, if you remember at the beginning of this countdown, I commented that this list was not geared as “Top 30 Spooky Games” in regards to what hardcore video game players would enjoy, but rather the top 30 horror/terror games that a horror/terror fan could enjoy, regardless of their gaming experience. I personally don’t think D is amongst the greatest games ever made, but I’m also one of those gamers that memorizes King of Fighter frame rates so I know how to break through a master Geese Howard player’s defenses, so sometimes I have to step out of my own elitist thought process and remember how the casual gamer thinks. And it’s because of one very significant experience with D that it manages to almost make the top 20.
It was the fall of 1996; not quite ten years ago. I was a plucky 19 year old freshman in his first semester of University. I ended up on the top floor of a dorm where we had a hair over forty people living on the floor. Like any freshmen door floor, it was a mix of people. My roommate for example…didn’t speak English. We had jocks, preppie chicks, stoners, uber nerds, the resident perky guy in all black who wasn’t quite saying “Pikachu” every five minutes, ex debutantes, hippies, neo-cons in training and so much more. Needless to say it was a clusterf*ck of personalities. There was little to nothing drawing any of us together as a community. Which is totally fine. You don’t need to form a cult with your dorm floor after all.
One week after we all moved in, three other people on my floor wanted to play video games with me. Ivan, Brandon, and Ronni looked through my Saturn collection and thought D looked good and spooky. To be honest, at this point I had played D once around July of that year, hadn’t gotten very far and never touched it again thanks to owning Guardian Heroes and Wrestlemania: the Arcade Game at that point. What can I say? I enjoyed hearing, “You’ve got to give credit to YO-KO-ZUNA!” a lot. The problem was my roomie was studying and as I said earlier did not have a grasp of the English language and was trying really hard to study. I suggested we hook it up elsewhere. Ivan though the main TV lounge as no one was in there. We all agreed and ended up using the big screen TV that we had to play D on. By this time it was a little after 9:30 and we all turned out the lights because we were silly young dorks who wanted to “enhance” the spooky factor.
While the demo was playing, three girls came in, thought we were watching some cgi cartoon and sat down. Then some guys from the other side of the hall saw we were gaming and decided to see what game we were playing. And it slowly but surely grew.
As I said before, D is not on my own personal list of all time favorite games, but looking back, I remember everyone entering the lounge becoming entranced with the game. Everyone wanted to find out why Laura’s (The main character) father went insane in the hospital where he was a doctor at, killed a great deal of people and was currently holding the few survivors hostage. They began to discuss how the hospital could be so dramatically changed into castle of sorts, complete with puzzles, cryptic messages and spooky occurrences. Most importantly, people began cheering on Ivan, who had the controls at the time, shouting out what he should do before the two hour time limit ran out and Laura was lost to her father’s madness forever.
Of course, we didn’t beat the game in the allotted time. Laura was lost, her dad was psycho, and I turned off the Saturn and turned around…to find half the dorm floor was in there and now discussing the game. Was it all in her father’s mind? Was he a magician or psychic of some sort? Was Laura actually the insane one? It was crazy. I’d never before seen a video game unify such an allotment of differing people to the degree D had.
And then came the question I never expected. Someone, I wish I could remember who, called out “Same time tomorrow night?” I blurted out, sure. With that, we all departed, some still in groups amazed that a video game could be “that cool.”
Thus began what for a fortnight became an important bonding period for a few dozen people from all over the country (and some from foreign lands) who were new to the concept of independence from the family. That second night, we had almost, if not the entire floor crammed into the lounge. From then on, there was always at least two dozen people at a time gathered for the nightly sessions. Some might leave for study groups, or dates or what have you, while others entered while the game was in progress, but there was always a steady stream of people wanting to see if we had solved the mystery of D yet.
I think what made D so successful was that it was it wasn’t a straight adventure or point and click game. Some puzzles required actual knowledge you had to bring from outside the game, like the puzzle on Astrology. I remember no one on the floor knew what the twelve zodiac symbols were. Sure we knew the names, but could we point out what the actual Virgo or Aquarius symbols were. No, we could not. I remember when we first encountered that puzzle, EVERYONE turned towards our hippie RA and she was like “Thanks for the stereotype guys!”
There was also a really nice action sequence that was the hardest part in the game for all of us. It involved dodging the blows of a ghostly suit of armour. It would have been easier if we didn’t allow a different person to use the controller each session, but by sharing in the controls, it always managed to breath in a new bit of life to the game even when you repeated a certain scene for the tenth day in a row. As well, because people were always coming and going, there would be some puzzles that we knew someone on the floor knew the answer to, but they weren’t there. I’d be in my room doing Psychology homework when someone would know on the door and ask me to come out quick and walk them through a puzzle or two. Looking back, I’m amazed none of us used Gamefaqs or searched online for a walk through. But then, that would have also ruined the game for everyone.
That variety in D was what really appealed to the variety of us all. There was always some puzzle one of us could figure out because it played to his or her strengths. Before then, it had never occurred to me to play a point and click game in a group setting. The plot attracted some kids, the graphics other, the brain teasers yet others. But most of all I think it was that we were all new and relatively alone and D allowed so many of my floor mates to have a conversation starter or to have that first step as a common thread between two strangers to allow them to become friends. “You going to D tonight?” I’ll admit that’s how I learned most everyone’s name on my floor.
Finally, two weeks later, we got to the very end of the game. Of course, we didn’t know it. We solved what D stood for, and although I won’t give it away here in this column, I will state the answer is in last weeks. We had brought Laura into contact with her father and we were in Climax City. The problem was, we didn’t know what to do next. The guy at the controls tried something and success! We got the ending. But, we got the BAD ending. Which was quite twisted and the audio during the end credits was a nice “Holy shit” moment for everyone involved.
The next night however, was the largest gathering since the second night, because everyone knew we were going to get the good ending this time. And we did. We won, the good ending played and that was that. D was done, and the magic was done as well. There were no more 10pm – midnight gaming sessions with large groups. Everyone started doing their own thing, making friends all over (and off) campus and generally going about their lives. But D had served its purpose. We all knew each other’s names and things about each other. We lived together and all had some underlying commonality now. It was a game a random mix of over 40 people really enjoyed. They didn’t just think it was neat or okay or cool. They ENJOYED it. Whether it was the bonding, the game itself, or what the f*ck ever, there wasn’t a single person on that floor that didn’t have a “D memory”. I can’t think of another game that could get a few dozen people who when asked at random would all go “I like that game!” I don’t care if it is Legend of Zelda, Shining Force, Marble Madness, Wrestlefest, or Pac-Man. Getting a cross section of men and women to all really enthusiastically like a title like that is damn near impossible.
This is why D is #21. Because I’ve never seen another game unify people like this one. Even though it might not be one of my all time, “OMG! GET THIS GAME!!!1!!” titles, this list is about helping horror and terror fans cross over and find video games in this genre they can enjoy, and due to my own personal experiences watching others befriend people through D, there was no way I couldn’t put this on my list.
After all, gaming isn’t about the flashiest graphics, or most advanced engines, or getting a double redizzy combo, or getting a 100% complete on some game that takes 80+ hours to beat. It’s about having fun. It’s about having those memories or cherished moments that make you passionate about the game even years after you’ve touched it. And across the board, people found D to be a very importance and piece of their freshmen year of college. That’s why whenever anyone goes into massive Akklaim bashing, I hold up this game (and Ravenloft: Iron & Blood) as proof that Akklaim made some good games and not just shit like BMX XXX.
It’s a short game once you get good at it, but D has a good plot, some excellent puzzles, and good graphics for a ten year old game. It’s a game that fans of all genres can enjoy, without falling prey to the lowest common denominator trap.
No little folklore essay to accompany these this week. I spent the past four days in Toronto getting double digits of sleep if you added up all four days, and so I am in great need of a long rest. I’ll see you next week with two games made by entirely different companies but featuring the same protagonist.