Eternal Sonata Review

How, exactly, does someone go about deciding to make an RPG about famed 18th century composer Frederic Chopin? I mean, it’s not like it’s an easy connection to make: JRPG to the Polish "Poet of the Piano." It certainly takes a lot of testicular fortitude to present an idea like that to the general gaming public, then go about making a game that lets the idea make sense and remain fun for the non-elitist crowd. Nonetheless, Tri-Crescendo’s Xbox 360 game Eternal Sonata does just that — and surprisingly well.

The story of the game centers around Chopin, hours before his early death at the age of 39 in 1849. While on his deathbed, Chopin has begun to imagine a fantastical world where terminally ill people are gifted magic powers beyond that of our normal, boring-by-comparison-but-especially-for-the-dying earth. Inside this world, he meets a young girl named Polka, and from there the true story of the game takes off.

Sadly, the rest of the game’s story isn’t quite as imaginative as the setup. (Did they use all of their creative juices coming up with the concept?) What saves Eternal Sonata from failing due to a plot filled with overused RPG cliches is simple: its charm. From character design, to the music-inspired names, to the beautiful artwork, Eternal Sonata is a game that just draws you in, even with the "Haven’t I seen and done that before?" feeling it gives off while playing.

Even though it’s a very linear journey, once again, the charm makes it highly enjoyable (I can’t reiterate this enough). Whether it’s the lovable urchins, laughing at how dominant certain characters are in battle, or looking at the passion and emotion several characters share for one another, Eternal Sonata knows how to tug at all the right strings, and make you feel that much more awkward in front of your other guy friends after a rousing night of watching football — although once they try it they’ll be hooked, too.

The story also touches upon some very serious subject matter, even though the game appears to be very kiddy and happy-go-lucky. Chopin (and you, by association) is forced to understand death, come to terms with life, figure out what reality really means, and all of that fun stuff which is sure to snap you out of the game’s more cutesy moments. (I love it, by the way, since I’m always a fan of changing stuff up if it can be done tastefully and with style – and in Eternal Sonata it is.)

Despite the narrative being largely derivative of other typical JRPGs to one degree or another, the battle system makes it unique in its own right. Taking from a few other titles (such as Star Ocean: Till the End of Time) fights take place in realtime; unlike the aforementioned, though, you can control your entire party.

How battles work is simple. You basically choose where to move your characters, whether or not you want to attack, use items, or use a special skill, and have at it until your battle meter runs out. In a nice strategic element, your characters are granted different skills to use depending on whether or not they’re in the light or shadow. This leads to a lot of planning, as you can utilize monsters’ shadows against them. Of course, there’s also the frustration of barely touching a giant shadow and having your character use the wrong skill, but that doesn’t happen nearly often enough to take away from the combat’s fast-paced and intuitive fun.

If there’s one major mark against Eternal Sonata other than the linear and same ol’ same ol’ story elements, it’s that the game is far too short. Most gamers will beat it in 20 hours (maybe even less), making this a very short game by today’s RPG standards. There is a nice incentive to go back and play through again for you achievement junkies, but for most of the gaming populace, the story just isn’t captivating enough to justify a second playthrough.

Like I’ve already said several times, it’s the characters and charm that make Eternal Sonata what it is. If you rely fully on the gameplay and story, you’ll find a below average RPG once again proving the Xbox 360 hates RPG gamers. However, if you pay attention to the interactions characters have with one another, the emotional attachments you gain with the characters as Chopin’s journey unfolds, and all of the little things that make Chopin’s dream world so wonderful, you’re in for a real treat. It’s not a game every RPG gamer will enjoy, because it’s a very acquired taste. It is a game any RPG gamer who owns an Xbox 360 should at least try, though. It’s not a console seller or something that will sway the Japanese market, but hey, it’s better than Blue Dragon.


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Author: Brendon Lindsey View all posts by

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