Love is a powerful force. It can bring us together, tear us apart, give us the strength to overcome incredible odds, or give us super cool anime powers when a mysterious Wall turns everyone into monsters and kicks off the apocalypse.
In Eternights, the first outing from new indie outfit Studio Sai, you are thrust unwittingly into the end of all things when humans start becoming infected and everything goes to hell. It's a blend of Devil May Cry swordplay and Persona-style character development, where the relationships you build have as much to do with your success in battle as your shiny sword arm (no, not like that. Your arm literally is the sword).
You must manage your time carefully as you progress through the game, choosing between exploring dangerous dungeons, scavenging for supplies in the wasteland, or… going on dates.
Now, you may be thinking when the world is running headlong into a catastrophic disaster, now's not the best time to grab ice cream. But here's the whole point: When we are at our lowest, we must find strength in one another. We need a reason to fight other than the fight itself and to keep pushing no matter the odds because the people we love depend on us. That earnestness lies at the heart of Eternights, as it does in much of its inspiration.
"I grew up watching anime, and as a fan, I've always been fascinated by the captivating storytelling of creators like Shinkai Makoto," developer Jae Yoo says. "In fact, I wanted to take inspiration from his unique style and create a world that embodies the essence of his works, such as Your Name and Garden of Words."
Those inspirations are clear to see from the gameplay trailers. You can spot Shinkai's beautiful use of visual storytelling in the red string that ties the leads together in Your Name, the protagonist of Eternights's severed arm is both a symbol of what the world has lost and his greatest weapon to perhaps save it.
You may see the tag 'dating sim' on a game and roll your eyes, but the best stories have something at stake, and Studio Sai has done a good job of presenting that here.
Depending on which of the NPCs you decide to pursue relationships with, your main character will level up and access new powers. I asked if dating one person prevented you from doing so with the others, and Jae said, "Not necessarily. The outcome of the game's ending will vary based on the choices you make during the dating process. Your dating style and the decisions you make throughout the game will lead to different results and consequences."
Hopefully, this means you can unlock all the abilities from the different characters, but if you can't, there's always another playthrough. With an estimated 15 hours to get through the main story (44 for completionists), this shouldn't be too much of a deterrent.
As much as anime-inspired Studio Sai, the team's also drawn from other games while making Eternights. In fact, Jae quit his job to start working on this project after being inspired by the Persona series.
Look beyond Eternight's art style, and you can see a calendar system similar to the one that structures your days in P-Studio's JRPG makes an appearance here, as each day in Eternights, you'll have to choose how best to use your time. No idea what the consequences will be if I spend all my time playing minigolf in the rubble with my dates instead of battling monsters, but there's only one way to find out.
I'm also not sure I've ever been playing God of War or Devil May Cry and thought, "You know what would make this better? A dozen roses and a nice pasta dinner," but maybe I was missing out. Perhaps that's exactly what the genre needs to bring some heart to what can often devolve into senseless monster smashing and combo chasing.
Either way, we've got a new entry into gaming parlance. Moving forward, we won't just be pressing F to pay respects. We'll be pressing R2 to hold hands.