Eternal Sonata is a sleeper title from the Sound Composer division turned developer of Tri Ace, Tri Crescendo. Released in 2007, the title focuses on the life of famed composer Frances Fredrick Chopin and manages to craft an original story around the composer and delivers a package that shines in production values. Tri Crescendo has taken the challenge to create one of the most beautiful and original RPG ever to hit the system but does the tune stay in rhythm or is it a broken note?
Set in the dream of Chopin and broken up into 7 chapters each having a piece of Chopin’s music as it’s name, players begin as Polka, a young girl in Tenuto,a village within the kingdom of Forte.Polka however, is cursed with a terminal illness which has a side effect of the ability to perform magic in the dream world. This leads many people to be afraid of her for fear of contracting the illness. She makes her living selling floral Powder which unfortunately can’t complete with the tax free “mineral powder”, an addictive healing agent which is being supplied by Forte Castle. Eventually she meets up with Frederic Chopin who offers to help escort her as she tries to plead with Count Waltz to increase prices and the story unfolds from there into a war between the kingdoms of Forte and Baroque. Polka and Frederic are not alone for the journey however as they meet many new additions to their group such as the Orphans Allergretto and Beat, Herder Viola, Guardians of Agogo Forest Salsa and March and the group of Andantino comprising of Jazz, Falsetto and Claves.
The story is rich in many themes concerning war, love, life, messages of hope and courage each revolving around Chopin’s life and music. The characters are well written with a good amount of back story to each of them and throughout the narrative, they each show progression as they learn more about themselves and find the answers they were searching for. Polka is the most touching of them as you’ll feel an attachment to her by the time you reach the end. There is a lot of material to take in and the game doesn’t hold back from telling it, as a majority of the dialogue is well written with a large amount of philosophical phrases. The problem is that for some, it may be too much to take in and in combination with it’s slow pacing, does become a bit long winded at times but, if you can look past that, it is still a very rewarding and touching story with a large amount of depth, character development and attachment. Though the story is charming and beautifully crafted, it does come out a bit short clocking in at 20 hours for the main story and 30 for those who take up all the side quests.
The worlds in Eternal Sonata are filled to the brim with many musical motifs and has a healthy blend of imaginative environments with many locales having a strong music presence right down to their name. The majority of the time you’ll be exploring towns or traversing through new areas. Battle encounters are all on screen and can be avoided at will or running at them at a specific direction which are then taken into a random battle field. The battle system in carries on from the system you see in other games such as Tales and Star Ocean employing a roaming turn based system. You can give commands to attack, use special attacks, items and guard. While the system is fairly limited at first, gradually it evolves with limits to the amount of tactical time and placing depth into how you use harmony chains to string special attacks. Chaining the right attacks can add damage and help you out of difficult situations especially in the bonus dungeon at the end of the game and forcing the player to use normal attacks to build up echo chains reduces the abuse of using only special attacks. Of course, you are not the only one able to dish out damage as enemies can easily take out a member or two in a single move in later areas. This is where the guard button helps to get you out of difficult situations to the point where battles can only be won by learning to guard and leaving you dead otherwise. It does seem like a crutch at times, but you’ll be thankful for it once you’re in later portions of the game. Another mechanic, is the light dark system where you and your enemies change attributes depending on whether you’re in light or dark areas. These greatly effect the tide of battle and mixes the action making you choose the correct strategy to defeat them. The battles themselves are played out in short bursts so that players don’t receive any downtime when coming back to the main story. Level grinding is virtually non existence if you play the game normally and resist avoiding enemies but those who do will find normal battles to be fairly easy except for the occasional bosses and later areas. There are also a vast amount of customization with different weapons and abilities you can assign to your character. The only issue is that equipment placed on your character doesn’t show up on your character and only serve to change stat points.
One major problem of the game is the camera. By incorporating a fixed camera perspective, it makes it hard to enjoy some of the game’s visual presentation when traversing areas and quickly becomes a nuisance in battles since you have no control over it’s placement resulting in times where you’ll be obscured by a large enemy and cannot see where to place your character so you ending up hitting nothing.
There are also a number of side quests such as the score collection but most of these can only be completed on a second run through. The score collection mini-game has you collecting score pieces scattered throughout the game and playing them against an NPC to be either awarded a rank and collect an item or booed. While seemingly simplistic compared to other mini games in the genre, it does adds to the overall music theme and gives the player something to do other than the main story. The main issue with it is the trial and error nature as there is no real way to ideally mix and match score pieces but this is overlooked as it is an optional component.
As you traverse the environments, you’ll come to appreciate the colourful and gorgeous visuals the game has to offer. Each town or city you visit is enriched in detail and the character models are all unique and wonderfully animated. Story cut scenes are well scripted with only minor lip sync issues. Though the game has a large emphasis on the music of Chopin and contains a number of his pieces, there are also original compositions by Matoi Sakuraba which are all fully orchestrated. The voice acting is pretty solid but does get annoying at times where there is long dialogue.
Eternal Sonata does the Xbox 360 justice with an imaginative story and deep battle system which offers JRPG fans a rewarding experience. It maybe a bit cliche but the story is one of a kind and you won’t find anything else like it. Chopin’s tale has proved itself to be some worth hearing. This is definitely a must own title for all fans of the genre.
Story – 9.0 – exceptional but slow story telling with a large amount of themes and morals in combination with an original plot combining real and fantasy, background info of Chopin is excellent
Gameplay – 7.5 – Fun and evolving battle system with some depth, Camera issues, limited exploration, Linear environments
Video – 9.0 – Colourful and charming environments with plenty of detail, Excellent character and enemy models.
Audio – 8.5 – Orchestrated soundtrack with many piano pieces with real pieces from Chopin. Excellent composition, Voice acting sometimes annoying but passable.
Overall – 8.5