~ Graphics - ED's graphics are both technically well done and extremely creative. While not flawless they are far above average. The all-polygon environment is sharp but not as smooth as some better made contemporaries. Characters and items occasionally look blocky or pixellated, but this is rare. The cutscenes can be a little blurry but for the most part are quite good. Lip synching is some of the best I've seen. Creature design is very original, with even the ubiquitous zombies being creatively quirky. The backgrounds look almost as good as GameCube's Resident Evil, but without the extreme drawback of being prerendered and static. Light sourcing is nigh-flawless. The camera is intelligent third person (it picks a pivot point that will ensure the character is visible), and you can swing it to either side to get a better view of things. It will on rare occasion get stuck in such a way that you can't see some or all of the action. When your character starts going insane (see below) the graphics get very lively and intense. The items and areas from various time periods are fairly well represented; they are believable if not particularly authentic. The hand-drawn art in the game is exquisite.
~ Sound - The sound is superb. Voice acting is uniformly excellent; the evil deities are all creepily and uniquely protrayed, the period accents are fine, and they even include the interesting effect of transitioning from subtitled foreign languages into English. The music is extremely understated and mostly just there for dramatic effect. Sound effects, in particular the noises monsters make and the aural hallucinations you experience when crazy, are all convincing. I would practically recommend the game just on the strength of the voice acting. It makes the cinema sequences seem much more like movies and less like filler than usual.
~ Interface - The interface is usable but clunky. Movement and camera control are fine, but in my opinion there is too much menu navigation required. The spell menu, in particular, has a few annoying navigation problems that become very apparent after you have played the game through a couple times. Overall it doesn't detract from the game much, but it could definitely use some refinement before they try to use it for another game.
~ Replay - The game is meant to be played through three times. The second time through I caught a couple of the secrets I missed the first time. By the third time it was getting to be chorelike and boring. After the third time there's nothing that would justify playing it more. You can definitely get through it once with a single rental, and probably all three times with an additional rental.
~ Gameplay - For all its presentational splendour, this is not a particularly well designed game. The story is much better than average, but HIGHLY derivative of Lovecraft without being close enough that they had to give him more than passing mention. The main problem comes down to the relative monotony in the gameplay. There is not much variety of monsters, and you have run into all of them you are going to run into (save for bosses) by midway through the game. The puzzles are all extremely simplistic. While there is a great variety in weapon design, most melee weapons handle almost identically, and ranged weapons are almost all from one of two molds (little, generally ineffective hand guns, or big, powerful, slow to reload rifles). Ammunition for ranged weapons wasn't a factor for the entire game. They include an interesting spell system, but there are only a couple spells that you will frequently (or even continuously) and the rest are only for rare situations.
One of my biggest problems was the challenge level. There practically was none. Early on the monsters are too mindless and sparse to be a serious threat, and as soon as you gain the massively powerful spells like Shield and Regeneration, the threat of death drops to almost nil. The sub-bosses are fairly tough until you figure out their "tricks", then it's cake. I beat the final boss the first time I tried him without ever getting too nervous. I understand that most GameCube games have challenge levels geared more towards younger kids, but this is a Mature rated game. Why make a game obviously geared towards older kids and adults, but keep the challenge level so minimal (not to mention unadjustable!)?
The game's main strong point playwise is the atmosphere. It generates an immersive, creepy world much better than games like Resident Evil's attempts. A big part of this is the game's main innovation: the sanity gauge. Again borrowing heavily from Lovecraft, the sanity gauge starts empty and fills up as your character experiences insanity-inducing things, generally being either seen by or attacked by monsters. The gauge has a dual function. First as sort of an "air meter", in that when it is maxed you begin to take constant physical damage (like an air meter running out). More interestingly (since the gauge is difficult to max, easy to heal, and the physical damage is minimal) are the various visual and aural hallucinations that begin to occur as the sanity gauge increases (discussed in detail in "Enjoyment").
All in all, the game plays like an above average Tomb Raider-style 3rd person following adventure game, with more atmosphere but less item variety or challenge.
~ Enjoyment - The enjoyability of this game works opposite of most. In action-oriented games the story is generally bland and uninteresting and most of the game's attraction is in the gameplay. In ED's case the game is monotonous and unchallenging, but the story and environment are very interesting. As result I found myself exploring more than necessary, and playing more to find out what happens next rather than because the gameplay was at all gripping.
The sanity gauge was perhaps the most enjoyable non-story part of the game. When the gauge has just begun to fill your character will hear footsteps and slamming doors, the room will tilt to a rather jaunty angle, and the walls might bleed a bit. Apparently the specific insanity caused is some sort of extracorporeal schizophrenia. As the gauge increases you'll hear screams and evil laughter, the camera angle will get REALLY off, and surprising things will begin to happen to your character's person.
For the most part the insanity adds greatly to the atmosphere of the game. The downside is that unless you are remarkably good at keeping your sanity up you will probably see all of the insanity effects in the course of your first play-through, and definitely by midway through the second. Assuming you intend to play through all three times to see the "real" ending, this means that the insanity effects will be tired and annoying before you're halfway done. While the replayability is otherwise pretty admirable, particularly for this genre of game, it would have been nice if they had added additional major insanity events, and perhaps spaced them out a bit more.
All said, I did enjoy playing this game, at least the first couple times through. It's a fine example of how creating an interesting, well fleshed-out world can have just as much effect on a game's enjoyability as cutting edge graphics and slick gameplay.
(12/15) (if I was a gothfage I'd probably give it a 15)
~ Swear Rating -
Very low. There were a couple sub-bosses that irritated me enough to provoke a few angry words, but that's it. For the most part it was too easy to get worked up over.
7.0/10 - Highly recommended rental, but without the longevity to make it worth buying.