Eternal Daughter is a game designed by by Derek Yu and Jon Perry under the Blackeye Software label. In this exploration platformer, you play as Mia, a young girl with an unknown father, who was raised as a slave after the mechanized Dungaga race conquer her people. One day, after witnessing her stepfather strike her mother, Mia is given a magic sword and cuts him down. This leads to her having to run away from her home and embark on an adventure that will have her uniting the races of the land against an evil force that has existed for millennia and discovering the truth behind her parentage.
Look, I hate beating up on the plot of a game, especially when the game happened earlier in the career of a developer but Eternal Daughter has a very detestable narrative that only picks up in a couple of places. One of the big problems is that Mila and her allies are terrible people that are only the “good guys” because they are up against pure evil. Mila, for instance, tries to start a genocide at one point in the game and shows no pity to someone she hurt (the person had legitimate reasons for fighting her). Her allies are even worse, refusing to help her with a simple task until it’s too late despite her pleading and engage in murder, possession, and generally being very contemptible while they send a little girl to fight eldritchian horrors. Also while the game follows the general structure of a jrpg with a strong conclusion and a great midpoint encounter against a series of intimidating bosses, it fails to be particularly engaging (with the exception of the finl act, which hits all the right points) or dealing with the darker portions of this game. This is a game that has rape, slavery, war, assassinations, and demonic gods but, with only two exceptions are any of these dark subjects given any weight. Fortunately, there is more to this game than the plot but the narrative doesn’t do this game any favors.
The gameplay is another area where the game fails to live up to its potential. While this game did predate Cave Story by almost two years and thus beat out the big trend of developers making freeware exploration platformers, it also lacks a lot of the polish those later games would have. For one thing, the controls are terrible. This game makes use of the ‘SHIFT + CTRL’ scheme (with Shift making Mia jump while Ctrl makes her swing her sword) without any way to customize controls, which makes it very tedious to keep playing. This gets even worse when you realize how many functions are mapped to those two buttons. By the end of the game, you’ll need to know all the various inputs and pray you don’t mess up and accidentally perform a slide when you meant to do a jump flip. Luckily, the game does offer the ability to plug in a controller but that only relieves the strain on your fingers, not the over use of those two buttons or some of the buggier aspects of the game.
Glitches are very common in Eternal Daughter and can make parts of the game extremely frustrating. For instance, shortly after getting the ability to kick off of walls (cause every exploration platformer has to have that ability), you’ll encounter a glitch where Mia (who normally runs at a snail’s pace) will land and run backwards as fast as if she was still falling. While this at first just looks cute, later parts of the game will make this glitch fatal as you will find yourself accidentally running through enemy filled corridors and smacking into obstacles for a quarter of your life. There’s also a few glitches that can be helpful for speed runs, like being able to walk through walls or get a familiar long before you’re supposed to be able to, though these glitches can get you stuck in a wall or prevent you from reaching some power-ups so use them at your own risk.
A final fault with the gameplay is it’s ungodly, unfair, difficulty. This is a game where everything is designed to kill you and the levels are very good at doing that. While most games like this start with your character being weak and getting stronger as you journey through the game. This game starts with you being extremely weak and ending the game weak, you just have a few more combat options. Mia only has two weapons at a time; her sword which starts off so weak and small that Mia may as well be punching enemies with her string bean arms since she’s just as likely to get hit either way and one of several subweapon that are extremely conditional on when they can be useful in combat. The bosses also have no real order in difficulty, the third boss is considered the second toughest boss in the entire game and there’s over a dozen more. One of the most damning areas of the game in terms of difficulty appears towards the end. The area is filled with old enemies who have had their damage output doubled without any sign they are different (not even a palette swap) and plenty of areas where Mia (due to her spazzing out and jumping back twenty yards every time she gets hit) can get caught in a damage loop or fall off the screen and will have to attempt the same area again. To make things even more annoying, the best way to deal with several bosses is to just spam an attack which makes you invincible for a second. There’s no strategy to theses fights, you either keep pulling off the same move, take a hit, or try to beat the boss using your sword, which is amazingly difficult. To give you an idea how tough this game is, I died over 200 times on one boss.
So why bring this game up? After all, those are some big flaws. Well first, I want to dedicate some time to Derek Yu and his work. Secondly, this game does have some real strengths. For example, while I may have criticized the plot, the world itself is actually pretty interesting. The gods and species in the game, while not completely original, are interesting and the way they all work together in the final act (which is by far the best part of the game in terms of plot and dramatic tension) is interesting. The character designs are also excellent and all of the monsters and bosses are memorable. The whole look of the game, with its soft palette of colors and thick vegetation, looks really good. In addition, the soundtrack, by David Saulesco, is very impressive for a freeware game, expecially for the time (2002), and the two boss themes are some of my favorite for any game. The music captures every area perfectly and works with the art and character design to create a real sense of adventure and whimsy or tension depending on what the scene requires.
However, what really makes me give this at least a bit of a recommendation is its place in freeware history. When this game was made, exploration platformers were really only released in mainstream games and almost all of them were released under the Castlevania or Metroid franchises (leading to the term Metroidvania). With the exception of Metroid fan games, you wouldn’t see this type of game getting released by freeware developers. Nowadays, this type of game is common, on the laptop I use to do all my writing, I have the following games: Hero Core, Cave Story, Artillery F, Momodoro 1 +2, Lyle in Cube Sector, Within a Deep Forest, and An Untitled Story, all of them freeware and all of them exploration platformers. However, all of these games came out after Eternal Daughter; that’s not to claim that they all styled themselves after Eternal Daughter but rather to put a spotlight on how impressive it was that such a small group could put out an original game in a barely explored genre (at least by indie standards at the time), create their own world for it and publish it by themselves. While this game certainly has its flaws, I am in no way trying to take away from Yu, Perry, and Saulesco’s work or their accomplishment. This game is a milestone and is still quite impressive.
What’s more, and what attracts a lot of people to this game is that it has a lot of heart. While I would get frustrated playing this game and sometimes rage over certain sections, there was never a point where I didn’t feel the love the developer’s had for this game. It’s hard to really describe how the game conveyed this to me or even point to a specific point in the game but it’s one of those things that I just felt. While it may seem like a silly thing to consider, it would just be wrong to not include this thought. While I have a lot of issues with the game, I still have a soft spot for it just because of the affection the developers had for this project.
Eternal Daughter is one of those games that I am completely torn on when it comes to recommend. On the one hand, it has Derek Yu’s artwork and the soft palate of colors works perfectly with the whimsical side of the story though it does tend to clash with the darker portions of the game, On the other hand, the story and gameplay are extremely frustrating and undermine the aesthetic. The soundtrack is a very solid bit of work by David Saulesco and the boss themes are excellent but the glitches and controls give a very unfinished feel to the game. Still, whether it was actual enjoyment or just joy over putting a part of the game behind me, I did feel some real accomplishment when I reached the final boss. In the end, I would still suggest playing this game but there are definitely better games on Derk Yu’s resume and definetly ones that are more fun to play, one of which we will take a look at next week.
Freeware Friday is a series of articles by Gabriel B. that explores the exemplary (or just plain weird) free games released by independent developers.