Whilst most typical RPG games follow a similar predictable storyline, Eternal Sonata will take you through a unique journey inside the mind of Frederic Chopin, a renowned composer and pianist from Poland. The game follows the interesting events that take place during his lifetime, and are beautifully represented with an accompanied ongoing adventure using his thoughts and dreams as he fights against tuberculosis.
It is not very often that a game can represent emotion as well as Eternal Sonata. The game takes place inside Chopin’s mind as he is trying to differentiate between reality and dreams. Soon, however, he gets caught up in the ongoing tale that he first believes is his own, then soon realises he has became a part of the tale. Featuring a rich cast of characters that are continually evolving throughout the story, you will soon become attached and interested in their actions. Slowly the story will develop, showing more of each character developing bonds for one another and progressing on their own adventures, whilst coming together to complete a common goal.
Right from the start you will soon notice that the cut-scenes are often extremely long, even for a game of its genre. Be prepared to sit and spend a large majority of your playing session watching the storyline unfold in non-interactive cut-scenes. Whilst they are well designed, expressive and highly detailed, many gamers will dislike the long and frequent scenes.
As you progress through the game, you will also be presented with several glimpses into Chopin’s life in the form of a photographic narrative. These key segments will explain important moments in the composer’s life whilst being performed alongside one of his famous musical scores. It is often moving and extremely interesting to learn about his life, whilst also being connected to the music that is being played. Whilst the game does convey a deep sense of righteousness, it tries hard not to feel like a lesson in common sense and compliments the overall story design.
Not only is the game original and rich with detail, but the graphics are as close to breathtaking as you will find in any game on any platform. Developer Tri-Crescendo have come out of nowhere and created a masterpiece on a level of visual quality that can rival any title, cel-shaded or otherwise. Whilst the cel-shaded graphics are crisp, vibrant and detailed, it is the style that deserves the majority of the praise. Characters are covered in unique costumes that are detailed right down to the stitching. It doesn’t end there either; the environments are equally stunning, featuring locations that have been individually detailed to create a continual world that feels fresh and unique at every interval. A simple field will glow in the glistening sunlight whilst flowers sway in the breeze, in-between bustling trees and a calm river in the offset. This is a typical scenario of the varied environments that will come to pass.
It is clear that music is an underlying, but fundamental design decision throughout the entirety of the game. You will quickly notice that objects around the world resemble musical instruments, even to the point where character weapons resemble objects such as violins. Thankfully the games entire presentation continues this trend and is just as fantastic. Everything from the menu interfaces that represent different aspects of classical music, to the rich water and particle effects continues the ongoing excellence in quality.
As expected from a game based on a famous pianist, the sound is equally magnificent and compliments the graphics perfectly. The game features a selection of the Chopin’s compositions played by Stanislav Bunin, who has done a fantastic job, and an equally great selection of music composed by Motoi Sakuraba. This large soundtrack, fully supporting 5.1 surround sound, could quite easily be one of the most impressive audio representations ever heard in a game. Thankfully the game has not been let down by poor sound effects, as they are also of fantastic quality and fit perfectly with the emotional storyline and anime style of gameplay. Surprisingly, the character voice acting has not been neglected either, as the game features both Japanese and English voice acting (up to you which one you choose), something of which many games avoid. Both the Japanese and English voice actors represent the characters extremely well and help bring them to life.
A welcome feature to Eternal Sonata is the fantastic learning curve which takes your hand and introduces you into the game, whilst never damaging the story or your first impressions. Thanks to detailed instructions expressed throughout a brief start to the story, you will quickly get to grips with the game and can begin to enjoy what the game has to offer. Eternal Sonata features aspects typically seen in most RPG titles; a party of characters that improve as the storyline progresses, weapons and items that can be obtained or purchased, puzzles which need to be solved in order to progress, and of course a turn-based RPG styled combat system—but with a very noticeable twist. (More on that later) The typical RPG “mini-game” additions have been included too, with Eternal Sonata having you collect and perform musical scores for rewards and even photograph combat encounters for easy fortune.
Thankfully the combat system is not a process of simple menu selections followed by mundane attack sequences; rather, it is more action based and involves controlling the characters. Instead of random battle events, you will see all enemies in your path and are usually given the option to avoid or even gain an advantage and attack from behind. This is a welcome addition to Eternal Sonata and removes the often frustrating “grinding” found in other RPG titles. Once the battle has begun you will initiate “Tactical Time” which allows you to decide your actions. Once the “Tactical Time” expires or you perform an action, your turn will begin. Whilst the game features a turn-based fighting system and will only grant a limited time to perform your attack before it is another characters turn (or the enemies), you will be free to move in any direction and perform a range of attacks in real time, constantly against the clock. Eternal Sonata also provides the option to allow friends to control each of the three characters in your party at one time. Unfortunately, the small co-operative gameplay ends there.
Each character will have an offensive attack, be it ranged or melee, which will not only damage the opponent but also recover a small burst of turn time and add to the party’s “Echoes” meter. This meter determines what level a characters special ability will be performed at. Special abilities range from spell, melee and ranged attacks to defensive and recovery abilities that will help aid your party in long or difficult battles. Thankfully the game often requires a good mix of attack and defensive play in order to win the battle, resulting in an interesting combination of play styles and character selection (from a relatively large range of varied playable characters, that you will meet on your journey). You can also use items that you have obtained quickly and easily thanks to a pre-defined “Item Set”, that you can specify before a match. These items range from typical healing effects to resurrection items. After your round has ended, it is the enemies turn to retaliate (unless the enemy caught you from surprise and therefore began the encounter). Unfortunately, the enemy AI is not overly impressive and apart from the boss encounters, the majority of battles are easily won. Enemies will usually purposely waste time to give you an advantage and their attacks can easily be blocked, or even counterattacked, by a quick button press at key moments.
One particularly interesting aspect of the battle system is the use of light and dark areas in the environment. As an enemy passes into these different areas, they will often change form and combat style. Not only this, but you will also change your special abilities depending on your position in the environment. This can also be reproduced in the battle by enemies having the abilities that can force light or darkness around themselves or a player character, therefore forcing a specific play-style. This means that you will often find yourself trying to keep enemies in the correct areas and running from one to the other in order to perform specific special abilities, be it a light assault or a dark heal.
A unique concept, stunning graphics, inspiring audio and enjoyable gameplay comes together to create a fantastic RPG experience that rivals close competition. Whilst the game can become repetitive and the perks that made the game fresh and interesting can become predictable towards the close of the game, Eternal Sonata is an experience that any RPG fan should enjoy thoroughly. Director Hiroya Hatsushiba stated that he hoped gamers could enjoy Eternal Sonata whilst experiencing the fantastic work of Chopin, and he has been succeeded in doing this—all whilst creating a masterpiece of his own in the process.