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About the Story
The last hope for a dying empire.
Edit: There are several alternative takes on this game available in the comments.
This story is one of the main games displayed on the front page of ChooseYourStory.com and has been upheld by some in the community as some of their best work.
ChooseYourStory's corpus was downloaded and used to fuel the original AI Dungeon (although the new version, I think, uses other material), and quite a few on IFDB and intfiction were very interested in AI Dungeon, so I thought it would be interesting to see the source of it.
From the outside, the CYS community is very different from the other writing communities I've been in. For instance, the SCP wiki mods, Choice of Games editors and IFComp voters are obsessed with games being free from typos and errors. So in that sense, it's more like the Wesnoth campaigns and creepypasta sites, where the focus is more on just size of writing and worldbuilding.
Edit: several comments about CYS as whole were removed.
This game is an example of all of these things. In content, it reminds me of nothing more than when I started browsing some fanfiction. The worldbuilding is very detailed, and the content is huge. Reading every branch would easily take over 10 hours.
Structure-wise, it's more like a long chapter-based novel where the next chapter is determined by your choices at the end of each section. Choices are usually binary, unless they are 'reference' choices that give you optional backstory. Out of the binary options, one is usually a death. The graph of this game's choice structure would generally be a tree.
In fact, it's almost like three games in one, since one of the earliest (maybe the very first?) choice lets you pick one of three branches that offer different perspectives on the same story.
Content-wise, this is a dark power fantasy. You are essentially like Darth Vader but in a fantasy world, in the sense that you are a ruthless murderer and assassin in the service of an emperor.
The content is labeled as 'grimdark'. There is content in it that I found offensive, especially (Spoiler - click to show)the main character's penchant for violently raping women before killing them, or the way many women want to be raped, the way that the character helps run a concentration camp to eliminate another race, the character's joy in sexually humiliating or physically defacing others, or acting like King David by sleeping with a married woman then killing her husband discreetly. Interestingly, the only thing that the player regrets is accidentally sleeping with an enemy by mistake when she was disguised as his true love, with him later realizing that it was rape and he feels upset.
I generally just stop playing games in these situations, but in this one, the game was oddly distant from the graphic situations, generally because there wasn't a lot of lead-up. I've been deeply affected by traumatic scenes in stories before, but usually because there was a previous investment in character development to make me care for the people involved and an expectation of normalcy established that made the later broken barriers seem shocking. Like Ethan Frome, for instance, which I hated. Or Vespers, the game, which led me to try actions with awful results with no one else to blame but me for typing them in. In this game, it was more like 'you walk into a room and slit someone's throat to establish dominance'. In any case, I only finished so that I could give an accurate report for my first CYS review (although I did review Briar Rose before).
The author himself seemed to eventually tire of the rape-murder fantasies, leaving much of the second half of the game devoted to political intrigue.
My grading scale is not designed for this type of game, but I'll give it a go anyway:
-Polish: There were numerous typos and other errors.
+Descriptiveness: The worldbuilding was detailed and vivid.
+Interactivity: The game had a lot of real choices, with even dead ends having thousands of words poured into them.
+Emotional impact: Not always ones I wanted, but it was there.
-Would I play again? No, and in the future I'll heed the warnings available on the site for various games.
Edit: It should be added that this game has over 8000 ratings and over 400,000 plays on their website, far outstripping any IFComp game.
EditEdit: I should also say that Champion of the Gods is a game I loved that has a fairly similar concept but without any non-consensual encounters. In that game, it was fun playing a wild barbarian, but the justification for it was much stronger. Also, I played this game with a profanity filter in the browser.
By no exaggeration, some of the paths in this story are a novel by themselves. This is a piece of grim-dark fantasy genius. Eternal isn't a story about a King that has a strong democratic personality that lets any peasant speak to him as they like. This is the story of an Empire's last-ditch effort to stay strong by building a race of super soldiers. You can be one of those supersoldiers
There's very little bright in this world. If you make the wrong decision, you're grave meat. If you make any other decisions entire peoples will die off, kingdoms will fall at your feet, Monarchs will die at your hands. People will try to use you to their advantage.
Be warned though. Terrible things will happen to you along the way. Well-adjusted individuals don't conquer the known world in a lifetime.
When I first read this story, I was searching for a new experience in the realm of story games. I played through quite a number of games where I did not feel much agency as a player. I had to deal with cliché tropes in stories, and the author's personal bias on certain issues. I'm glad to say this is not one of those games. Eternal brought a much needed shock to my tastes. It was simply both pleasing and a joy to read at the same time. It stirred within me various emotions like, anger, frustration, happiness, contentment, etc. For a work to be able to do this is simply astonishing. I truly felt immersed in the world of Eternal, and had control of my player's fate.
Honestly this story is a timeless classic in this medium, and it would be a shame if you did not give this story a try. Come, read and enjoy a new experience today!
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