As I’ve covered in the past few reviews, it’s been too hot to play PC games, so I’ve been making an effort to tackle older console games and fill out some of this site’s more underrepresented platforms while trying to stay cool. The temperatures are starting to normalize into something a bit more reasonable, but I couldn’t end my little marathon without reviewing a Wii game; at the moment, I’ve only reviewed a single Wii game, that being Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, one of my all-time favorites. Since then, I haven’t covered any despite a stack of Wii games sitting right here next to me. The reason is one of cables: to record Wii gameplay with my HDPVR requires a TV with component cables, and all I’m working with at the moment are HDMI inputs and an older TV that only accepts composite. I got around this by using an emulator for Radiant Dawn and transferring my Wii saves into it, but the tradeoff was that it ran like a slideshow, so I only got screenshots of the first map and the one I was at in my then-current game. I only recently found an adapter that downsamples component to composite, so the Wii and Gamecube are now much more viable to review. Unfortunately for me, I chose to begin with Endless Ocean, a game that I had mixed feelings about when it first released. Those feelings have since deteriorated and snowballed into an avalanche of unbridled hatred toward this boring game and all of the endless stupidity it throws your way.
I haven’t ever finished this game
Even back when I had some positive feelings for it, I couldn’t bring myself to slog through the game’s slow-motion movements and terrible characterization to the end, moving on to greener pastures somewhere in the middle of the story. Consider this a disclaimer that if something insanely wonderful occurs toward the end of the game, it’s not being factored into this review. That’s incredibly unlikely, however, because the game’s wiki page seems to indicate that the story eventually turns into a hunt for “legendary” creatures (which apparently means “new species” that haven’t been discovered in real life). Needless to say, I’m comfortable judging the game based on what I’ve played of it over the years.
Kat is a terrible character
The first thing you’ll notice about the game is the awful dialogue. This comes courtesy of Katherine Sunday, your porn-name-having diving partner with a knack for stilted, awkward conversation that comes across as more cringe-inducing than enjoyably dorky. It’s no exaggeration that she’s one of the worst-written characters I’ve ever come across in a game, being stupid beyond belief at every opportunity. A perfect example of this is when she takes 15 seconds fretting about how she needs an experienced diver before realizing that you—the person standing in front of her the whole time and who is only present to work as a diver—fulfills that role. Never mind that the two of you are the only ones on the boat, and that she monitors your dives; it still takes her an unbelievable amount of time to add all of this up. She’s also full of absurd ultimatums, like when she tells you that she couldn’t work with anyone who didn’t respect animal life, as though the playable character became a diver so that they could strangle all kinds of ocean critters.
She’s hardly alone, mind you—the people who you’ll occasionally act as a diving guide to are full of similarly ridiculous dialogue that tries to be thoughtful and deep, but instead comes across as ridiculous and manic-depressive.
This is a very casual game
There was a time when I was a decidedly casual gamer. Apart from the Fire Emblem series and my enjoyment of older jRPGs like the Breath of Fire and Final Fantasy games for the Super Nintendo, my tastes were fairly simple and I didn’t ask for very much in games. This was before I had played Planescape, Baldur’s Gate 2, Arcanum, or any number of other games that pushed me more into more “hardcore” gaming, and yet even then I was unimpressed by Endless Ocean. Even as a casual game, it fails to create anything particularly memorable or worthwhile. In fact, I bought it for the sole purpose of having a game that I could relax to, and it failed at this spectacularly; between the ever-present stupidity in Kat’s interminable blathering, the annoying “you are underwater” sound effects, the fact that controlling your character during dives feels like steering some kind of Molasses Superman, and the long loading screens, Endless Ocean always managed to make me more stressed out than I was before.
There are no game overs
This is a game where you can poke sharks and other dangerous ocean animals with zero repercussions. Nothing ever attacks you, and it’s impossible to get a game over. Eternal Ocean is what would be considered by modern standards a “walking simulator,” though even most games that fall under that classification would shun this game for its awful story and characterization (those seemingly being the whole point of creating a “walking simulator”).
Gameplay is dull for its lack of consequence
Because you’re never in any kind of danger, you can’t help but feeling that there’s no purpose behind anything you’re doing. Eventually the game becomes little more than a hidden object game where you’re tasked with finding as many new fish as possible and petting them until you know all there is to know about them.
This is a fish molestation simulator
There are two ways to become familiar with sea life: by feeding it, or by petting/poking it. I’m not joking—this is a game where establishing familiarity with ocean life requires you to point the wiimote at a fish, then shake it back and forth to pet them. Going into the game, you and Kat know nothing about even the most common of fish until you unlock information through petting and poking. Despite the fact that Kat went to school for that kind of thing and claims to be able to speak to animals, your collective knowledge about the ocean begins at zero. Just think about how insane that is for a second. It’s like the developers realized that their game had nothing for the player to do, so they decided to render both of their characters—supposedly trained professionals—amnesiacs.
Other stuff was forced in, too
As you play through the game, you’ll make all kinds of dolphin friends who fill up your three “dolphin friend” slots. After that, you can take them with you on dives and teach them tricks. Here’s the strange thing: they already know tricks. Two minutes after meeting a dolphin for the first time, it performed a minutes-long series of complex tricks that it had apparently taught itself. Or maybe I’m just the most competent amnesiac dolphin trainer in existence. Whatever the case, this seems to exist solely to give you something to do; actually diving with a dolphin accomplishes little more than having a helper that occasionally finds hidden artifacts on the ocean floor for you (finding artifacts being another one of those hidden object types of things the game throws at you), so dolphins are basically reduced to “adorable loot” and “interchangeable loot finders.”
Loading screens are long and frequent
Every time you dive, be prepared for a loading screen. Should you dive into a cave or crevasse, expect yet another loading screen. When you’re done diving, you guessed it—loading screen. The game’s reliance on loading screens wouldn’t be as big a deal if you weren’t constantly being forced to dive and return in order to get new tasks emailed to you in order to move the game along, but you are. This means that a large portion of the game is spent sitting through loading screens.
The graphics have aged terribly
Expecting stellar graphics out of a game from 2007 is perhaps a bit unrealistic, but this is a game that released more than a year after Dreamfall: The Longest Journey and yet looks a console generation behind it. The water is constantly muddy (making it difficult to find certain fish without long periods of aimless wandering), there are jaggies everywhere (a quirk of the Wii and its limited technology, to be fair), and a large portion of the areas look the same. There’s some attention paid to certain areas that are designed better than others—a sunken ship stands out in my memory as one of the highlights—but far too much of the game is spent navigating through same-ish areas, relying on the map to find your way since there aren’t many things unique enough to function as landmarks.
The music is better, but marred by sound effects
The highlight of the entire game is listening to “Prayer” by Hayley Westenra, which is an amazing cover of an amazing song by an amazing singer. The downside to this is that it’s often drowned out by the “blub blub you are underwater” sound effects, and listening to that one track on repeat for 15-20 minute dives is probably not the optimal way of experiencing it. That said, the sound effects can be turned down and the music turned up, and more and more Hayley Westenra tracks become available as you progress in the game.
Endless Ocean also lets you play your own music during dives using an SD card, or at least it should. I know this worked for me at one point, but I tried 2 different SD cards to no avail, including the one that came with my Nintendo 2DS; in both cases it said something about being unable to read the card (despite the fact that the Wii itself recognized it just fine and allowed me to copy saves to both). I suppose the most likely reason behind this is that SD cards have changed in some way since 2007, so only certain types of cards function with the game.