Anyone who claims to have any fond memories of playing PS2 launch games other than TimeSplitters is a dirty liar. It was a miserable wave of sports and racing games, and before Dark Cloud came out, there were several action RPGs that absolutely honked people’s horns. Don’t talk to me about Fantasia.
No one comes to your house to play Fantasia.
Even with such fierce competition, FromSoftware’s Eternal Ring is the least memorable. Summoner looks a bit like something Bioware could make. Even Orphen: Scion of Sorcery at least has that rad anime guy on the cover.
The poor Eternal Ring had little to no merit when it first came out. Another of FromSoft’s first-person RPG offerings – King’s Field – doesn’t have the cultural cache acquired retroactively through its association with Souls games.
No shivering crowd eagerly awaiting its arrival, no dozens of tough guys just gritted their teeth explaining how It’s actually pretty easy if you just get the dung matriarch’s holy gizmo and dump all the points into the girth stats. 2000’s video games mostly live and die on the shelf, and the Eternal Ring box is an uninspired fantasy that hardly registers in the brain even if you flick it in a Blockbuster bargain five years later .
It’s easy to think of a developer’s past work as an iteration of an idea that will eventually crystallize into something you like. It’s fair to assume that the Eternal Ring could contain a bacterium that would become the Elden Ring. It’s about the ring. It’s so hard. It has a dragon. During opening hours, people visit the poisonous swamp for long periods of time. Of course there are aesthetic and thematic similarities, but it boils down to: FromSoft spark
There’s no obstacle for character creators, no chance to forge an unbreakable bond with the terrifying creatures you’ve made yourself. No chance to create a realistic Tom Jones just to see what he would look like dodging the monster in his panties. Every player is trapped in Kane Morgan’s shoes, a black hole of blond personality.
Cain feels like an unwelcome western interloper, in an environment with a firm FromSoftware tone, like he’s lost on his way to some bland platformer. Kane Morgan has been sent by the King to the Isle of No Return, a collection of uninspired caves and temples, in search of the Eternal Ring, a mysterious gadget with uncertain powers. It’s an oddly heroic and traditional setting from a developer known for making you an undead nobody.
And “regular” is one way to describe most of the Eternal Ring. Aside from being a little harder than your average PS2 action RPG, FromSoft’s usual daring way of designing esoteric systems and player confrontation is of little value. Each item clearly states itself. There are no hidden mechanics, no unusual weapons or bizarre spells. This lack of foresight extends to the rest of it as well.
Bad guys burn down open RPG village. Most enemies are goblin or lizard variants. But the biggest disappointment here is the environment. Whether it’s unfamiliarity with new hardware, time or money constraints, most of these caves and ruins barely match the level of detail and atmosphere found in PS1’s King’s Land 3. They really pale in comparison to the wet and terrifying world of King’s Field 4 (FromSoftware will release for the same console a little over a year later).
No character creator means everyone is stuck in exactly the same way, which involves one key of the sword and one key of magic. You’ll never find yourself stumbled upon an obscure weapon whose mysterious description will change the way you approach combat. The game starts with a sword in the left hand and a bunch of nondescript magic missiles in the right. The only thing that comes close to a sense of freedom in terms of how you fight is the specific order in which you make the game’s namesake rings.
You’ll do all of this through a vendor who introduces itself with a clear tutorial and asks for payment with an extremely rich resource. There’s also nothing unusual or unique about the magic of the Eternal Ring. It’s all pretty simple, mostly a series of fireballs of increasing size and power.
Did you know that Dark Souls was almost called Dark Ring, but FromSoft finally refused to let the Scots have fun? They just unapologetically released a game called Elden Ring – which is undeniably funnier – damn Scotch slang. It really shows a difference in their confidence in the vision the studio has developed over the years. The idea of Today’s FromSoft releasing a game with as many Western concessions as Eternal Ring is unthinkable. A bland character like Kane Morgan isn’t allowed within fifteen miles of this thing.
It feels closest to the FromSoftware B-team release; mid-level management quickly cobbled together something to take advantage of a release window with little competition, and the real passion was concentrated in King’s Field 4. Some of it feels very close to *spit out* a market test — a cynical attempt to gauge what’s missing from the launch lineup and deliver it. The label on the back of the box is “Who says fantasy has to be final?”. Uh.
In short, unless you’re a strict FromSoftware completionist, there’s little value in going back this far. You might stumble upon some echoes of the king’s realm, but you’ll find yourself slowly strafing around another lizard while throwing various elemental orbs at it until it stops moving. You’ll find a PS2 release game that isn’t TimeSplitters. Nobody deserves it.