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Eternights is an action-RPG romance sim with a surprising horror twist

Whenever I watch post-apocalyptic or zombie media, I always have one lingering question: are people still horny in the end times?

In Eternights, an upcoming action-dating sim hybrid from developer Studio Sai, the answer is yes. Its cross-genre story begins with its player-named hero getting convinced to join a dating app, where they quickly find a promising match. The day after some friendly flirting, an infection turns almost every human into a violent monster. The dating horror story goes from bad to worse when the world comes crumbling down and a mysterious woman named Delia cuts off the protagonist’s right arm with her scythe. Then he enters a dream state, and that dating app match from earlier replaces the lost limb with a glowing appendage that turns into a sword.

Dating apps, am I right?

That goofy setup sets the stage for an action game where players can finally take down the monsters in their own way, and also maybe fall in love while saving the world. I went hands-on with Eternights’ opening few hours and am already finding a promising action RPG that strikes a surprisingly functional balance between horror and mushy romance.

Fight for love

Eternights is a real-time action RPG game similar to something like the Ys games. I can perform basic combos with the sword and I can evade glowing red attacks. Timing my dodge right slows down time and lets me get in more hits, not unlike Bayonetta’s Witch Time system.

For bigger enemies and bosses, I need to charge up a meter by continually attacking them or perfect dodging. When it’s full, I’m able to unleash a special attack that depletes their shields and that lets me hack away at their HP bar. This adds a layer of strategy that doesn’t just involve mashing the attack button all the time. Some of those attacks do require button mashing and quick time events, though, and there doesn’t seem to be any sort of accessibility feature for those who want to automatically win those scenarios or at least alter them. I hope that changes in the final release.

Eternights fight
Studio Sai

Like a traditional RPG, there are party members that follow the hero around and can even support them during battle. The preview’s only romanceable character, a pop star named Yuna, can heal HP, for instance. Battles reward players with Black Essence, which are basically skill points used to enhance abilities. There’s nothing too new about it, but I appreciate the battle system’s straightforwardness considering the game’s multigenre juggling act.

Outside battle, players can talk to characters and build relationships with them. Picking certain responses will increase personality attributes, taking design cues from series like Persona. When I asked Chani about porn, I earned a small boost to my courage stat. I’ve yet to see how much personality attributes influence the story, but I’m looking forward to seeing where this mechanic ends up taking me.

Since this is a game about dating, there are romanceable characters too – and they have a specific purpose outside smooching: Increasing their rank unlocks and upgrading new abilities for them in battle. The demo ended right after I got Yuna’s first rank, increasing the aptitude of her healing skill, as well as unlocking a combo finisher and some sort of fire elemental ability.

The preview demo was heavily action-focused, so I wasn’t able to get a total grasp of how the social sim aspects worked out. It seems like simply talking to characters and picking certain responses would increase their relationship rank, just like with Yuna’s. As the ranks go up, more skills unlock, so it has a direct impact on gameplay and provides players with the incentive to pursue deeper relationships with the characters.

Eternights cutscene
Studio Sai

There were some other features in the preview demo that weren’t explored much at all, including its Persona-like calendar system. Although some days went by in-game, there weren’t really any mechanics or events tied in with the calendar. However, that’s likely a feature that I’ll experience much further in the full release.

Love can be scary

Eternights walks a tricky tightrope act, trying to balance a lot of different tones, something it pulls off well so far. Despite cute anime visuals, it’s a surprisingly gruesome game. Its monsters look like they’re straight out of ‌Resident Evil, covered head to toe in body parts and faces in places where faces don’t belong. Amid the chaos, Yuna is trying to find her friend Jisoo.

Following her is a rather impatient and rude girl named Lina, who always tells Yuna to hurry whenever she asks around survivors if they’ve seen Jisoo. Lina gets her just desserts, though. She haphazardly calls out for a police officer to help, only for her to turn around and see the cop is actually infected. The monster roars and tears Lina to shreds, filling up the screen with blood.

Additionally, much of the game’s opening hours take place in dark hallways and cramped dungeons, which contrasts with the characters’ rather juvenile, but funny dialogue. As often teenage boys do, Chani, the protagonist’s NPC friend, acts immaturely and isn’t afraid to crack crude jokes in light of serious situations. As the protagonist, you can choose to entertain these lines.

One of the funniest moments I experienced in my demo was when the protagonist awakens after fighting off enemies with his new glowing sword arm. As they dramatically lay in Chani’s arms, I chose the dialogue line “Do you remember the porn we stole from your grandpa?” When Chani asked to be more specific, I cracked up as I was given three options for what kind of content we were stealing: gross, vintage, or anime.

Eternights simulator
Studio Sai

The world is ending, but Eternights isn’t afraid to have a charming cast of characters that act realistically juvenile for their age, which is refreshing. If I was in the apocalypse, I’d also crack jokes in order to cope with the current situation I was in.

Eternight’s oddball contrast between apocalyptic horror and teen sex comedy makes for a fun, cartoonish time so far. The real-time combat is solid as well, which is a plus; many romance and social simulators are typically visual novel-type games, so just having a gameplay system like this already makes for something more engaging. Eternights already stands out in a crowded genre based on the demo I played. I can’t wait to dive back in and follow its awkward teens to the end of the world.

Eternights launches on September 21 for PS4, PS5, and PC.

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George Yang
George Yang is a freelance games writer for Digital Trends. He has written for places such as IGN, GameSpot, The Washington…
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