Eternal Sonata review
Eternally Awesome JRPG


Haha, 360 loses another exclusive.
Ported from the 360 over to the PS3, Eternal Sonata manages to maintain the awesomess from the 360 version, and add a few big drops of awesomesacue to the PS3 version to make it worth your money if you have both. Now, the PS3 isn't that loaded with RPGs, and normally, an RPG fanatic wouldn't shell out money for a PS3, unless they happen to be into other sorts of games, and odds are, they aren't. However, with Eternal Sonata on the PS3, maybe things will change. Maybe... As far as I'm concerned, it should. It plays, looks and sounds like a title that should be selling units and should make the PS3 popular with RPG enthusiasts who didn't get a 360 (which is scarce as far as I know, because many RPGs have appeared on the 360, whereas there aren't too many for PS3, at least, that you can't get on 360 as well). Hell, it should be the JRPG equivalent of Metal Gear Solid 4... or at least inFAMOUS and Killzone 2! Has a couple of minor gripes - most of which doesn't even feel like them, depending on your perspective - but still damn impressive, and perfectly able to show off what the PS3 can do to, once and for all, silence the 360 fanboys.

A dreamy symphony of a universe.
The story behind Eternal Sonata is that the famous composer, Frederic Chopin, is lying on his deathbed. Okay, so that's it, right? Wrong! This game takes place within Chopin's mind. Instead of a boring opera house filled to the brim with living violins and whatnot, you have a literal dream land, kind of like a typical RPG world (forests, mountains, towns, etc). In this world, Chopin is aware that he's dreaming, though he possesses not musical overtures that will lull the enemy to sleep, but rather, magic and prediction of the future, as well as being able to read people's thoughts (sounds cool, but this is a dream he thought up; unless it's uncontrollable, he should already have it planned out). He soon meets up with the heroine, Polka, and a couple of street urchins, Allegretto and Beat. This ragtag group sets out to confront the ruler of the country of Forte, Count Waltz, about the high taxes he has placed on everything except the questionable medicine known as Mineral Powder, which seems to be like a nuclear cure for cancer - it'll work, but at what cost?

Seems like an excellent concept for a story, if cliched. The edutainment value of the story, especially, is interesting, as you learn of Chopin's life and educate yourself on some of the best classical music this side of Beethoven, only Chopin isn't deaf and isn't literally the luckiest man on earth (seriously, how can a deaf guy compose some of the best tunes to have ever existed?). I actually ended up looking forward to the next scenes partially because of this, but also because the characters are also interesting, offering many sweet lines of dialogue and possessing dynamic personalities, which is something I admire in any game, especially an RPG. Trust me when I say... it's not too often that a modern RPG (as in post-PS1 RPGs) actually allows me to care about the story. Remember Enchanted Arms? Riveting tale if you didn't mind copious amounts of bullshittery and pre-teen characters.

However, it's not perfect. It doesn't make me want to shout it unto the heavens. It took a while to figure out why, but at least it's figure out-able; linearity. I can understand wanting to keep to a line, but even when they're kept to a line, JRPGs at least allowed for backtracking. Yeah, COPIOUS amounts of backtracking is annoying, but extremely scarce amounts isn't fun either. Only very few moments allow for a bit of backtracking, but other than that, you're going to Point B and ONLY Point B. With the exclusion of a warp system, if you want to get everything done, it's best to get it down there and then. In New Game+ or "Encore" (as it's called), there's an opportunity for a backtrack session, but that's about it. Me no like that. Me want opportunity to do sidequests later when I manage to look them up, usually AFTER the area they're in. I'm aware it's a dream, and in dreams, you'll want to go forward, but COME ON!

I feel like I've done this too much in the early 90's...
Unlike the story, the gameplay is very typical of the genre. You run around towns, talking to people and buying equipment, run around the world map slaying monsters (how to is another story), and you rush through dungeons, taking loot you find and killing big monsters or just complete assholes in your way to get big bucks. We've done this a lot; the only differences are that there aren't that many towns, and the dungeons offer only a path, a few easy puzzles, a bit of loot and a boss. The dungeons weren't anything amazing; just served as a means of fighting more monsters and getting more money. But at least it's all executed nicely, making it fine to play and not an annoyance.

It's not called Eternal Sonata just because it's based off a classical artist.
There are, however, a few things unique to this game. It's not yet another Super Nintendo RPG (ie. Lufia) with high definition 3D graphics (unlike Lost Odyssey); it actually tries to deviate from the form, which is very admirable, IF done right. And that's exactly what happens.

The first is a sort of different method for getting some bonus items. In towns, you can perform with various townsfolk, matching Score Pieces you find all over the world with the phrases mentioned by the towns person or people you're performing with. Discordant matches will result in no reward, but close or perfect matches will gain a bonus item from the towns person/people. I found it pretty cool, since it gave them a purpose beyond collection and bragging rights, and it managed to make interaction with townspeople more... interesting I guess you could say. Instead of talking just to get directions or learn of histories you couldn't actually care less for, you can also perform music with them.

Holy crap, you can actually move AND input commands? WHOA!
As much as I like turn-based RPGs, I have to say... how can you make it more involving? I'm more partial to the ones using ATB systems, but can still admire the more traditional ones, as strategizing takes lots of time, and the system accommodates. Still, the exploration and dungeon crawling felt like every other RPG I've played. Does the battle system do this too? I said to myself "if this battle system is generic, I'm taking this game back."

Much to my amazement, it wasn't generic. The system reminded me a bit of Breath Of Fire: Dragon Quarter's system, when if you move, you decrease a counter, and when it hits zero, you're going to have to stay put and input that command, then end that turn. Rinse, lather and repeat for each character until they all have a turn, then the enemy/enemies has its/their turn. Simple enough. Well, Eternal Sonata (to my amazement) manages to make it even more involving - if you move, the ticker goes down from 4 or 5, and when it hits zero, your turn is over. It forces you to think more on your feet, though the ticker only really goes down when you move or when the Tactical Timer (the period of time to strategize) goes down to 0. It's basically stand and think about your strategy for a bit, then rush and attack, immolate or heal. Then do the same for the other two characters.

It sounds like a pretty interesting battle system, and one of the more interactive ones, which is always good in my book. I like to feel like I'm playing a game, not pressing X to input commands. Again, I like turn-based RPGs like Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy VII, but I also like games that don't just copy everybody else - Eternal Sonata already felt like every other RPG when it came to dungeons, towns (save for performances) and the world map; I don't want the battle system, which is always the main meat for me with RPGs alongside the story, to be that generic too.

Whenever an enemy attacks, you have the opportunity to guard and counterattack (if available) at the press of a button at the right time. While it helps out a bit in games like Super Mario RPG, it's basically essential in Eternal Sonata. If "chance" pops up, hit that guard button straight away, or you'll be taking a one way trip to hell, since enemies and bosses (especially bosses) can deal a fair amount of damage, and if you fail to guard two attacks in a row or maybe even one attack, you're dead meat. On the flip-side, if you guard, you won't get crippled much, and maybe even interrupt the enemy's attack. Some say it makes the game frustrating; I say it makes the game feel more active. I found it a little annoying at first, but eventually, you can get used to this, and get the timings right and whatnot. It can actually add a bit of challenge to the game, which is something worth admiring. Might sound cheap, but it's just your fault for not being quick enough on the guard button.

But everybody knows you can't have a truly awesome system without big bang attacks. It just so happens that if you manage to chain enough hits to fill your chain gauge up to 24 or 32 (and don't worry, it carries over each turn), you can perform a Harmony Chain or two. You know how you have special attacks? Imagine chaining one with another, and adding more punch to them... that's basically what they are, and you unlock them as your Party Class Level (explained later) increases. What ends up happening is that you can unleash hell on many enemies at higher velocities and ferocity as you progress, which is damn cool. Seriously, these things can be lifesavers (or rather, life enders for the enemies), especially if you chain a healing move at the end, making it less of a hassle to have healers in the party. It's just awesome...

It should also be noted that the now standard mana system has been cast off, and special abilities can be used infinite times in combat (though there are drawbacks to just executing special abilities constantly... that's for me to know and you to figure out).

As for items.. you know, the things that can make a difference in fights. Seems as if the system went for a bit of a change itself. You have to set items to be used in the pouch during battle, and they have to be replaced straight after. It's a bit of a pain, especially when you first start, since you don't have a whole heap of space in your pouch. As you increase the Party Class Level, you can store more items, but it's still a pain to manage them.

You also level up the Party Class Level as you advance further in the game, as opposed to EXP and monster slaying like with character levels. Each level up can allow for more items and skills, as well as better guarding and even counterattacks, but at the cost of time... precious time, which can really force you to think on your feet as you level it up higher. It's debatable whether that's really good or just annoying, but I reckon it's good. I like the fact that you have to think more on your feet, meaning you need to try out different strategies if one doesn't end up working for you. It's trial and error I can appreciate, at the very least.

Shadows in the light.
One little trick they added to the mix is a light and dark system. As well as a change in lighting, there are a few special abilities each character and their weapons can activate in the light. Likewise, there are certain effects they can unleash in the dark. Of course, monsters can use one or the other to their advantage, depending on what they are - some are stronger and even take on different forms in the light, but are like sloths in the dark, and vice-versa. To actually get it to be light, it needs to be light out. If there's a shadow - like enemy shadow or a cloud shadow - or it's a dimly lit area, it'll be dark in battle, and if your weapon sucks in the dark, you're going to fail. There are some items that will put you in a sort of "aura" of one or the other, just in case you can't be bothered letting fate sort out your lighting.

Smooth and pleasant, much like a sweet melody.
I liked the graphics, especially a lot of the character designs. It was colorful without feeling like they jacked the saturation dial past 11, and things were smooth and pleasant looking (to compliment the story and soundtrack), all making this world a sight to behold. Character's emotions were done really well with the anime style graphics, and some of their facial expressions surprised me with how adequately they summarized a character's feelings. Definitely admirable when most RPGs released as of late neglect this a fair bit (the most is in eyebrows - once I played Eternal Sonata, I was like "whoopee" to it all).

Eargasm Central.
Getting the nitty gritty out of the way, the voice acting - or at least the English voice acting - is damn impressive. MAYBE one or two aren't as good, but still, the acting is brilliant. It keeps you engaged and keeps your ears glued to the screen, especially since they're supporting such awesome dialog. They all have what some actors really lack - compassion, emotion, and other words regarding good voice acting. Seriously.

Now let's talk about the composer himself, Chopin; more specifically, his music. If you consider yourself a fan of classical music, you'll enjoy the music for this game, considering it's Chopin-composed music, which is some of the best classical music to have ever been composed. I gotta say, this game made me fall even more for classical music. Let's just say that the piano melodies and everything else is mesmerizing, very hypnotic... well, when it needs to be, anyway. The songs manage to provide strong moods while also striking as very interesting, so it's well worth getting a hold of the OST - very well worth it, one of the best I've heard in a while.

Chopin's Fantasy, or Beethoven's Nightmare?
Eternal Sonata manages to be a treat for those willing to play it. The problems presented aren't that big of a deal when you actually play through the game, though they're still there, preventing this game from being perfect. However, with an epic soundtrack, colorful anime-inspired visuals, coupled off with an excellent story and a very engaging battle system, Eternal Sonata comes as recommended to anybody, especially those into JRPGs. Don't care which system you get it on, though 360 owners will obviously get less content, but at least you get the game, which is arguably one of the best JRPGs ever released.

Sonata A, Statistics, 1st Movement:
Story: 9/10
Starts off pretty well, but remains on a constant line with no twists. Once you know who to kill, then it's a matter of dungeon crawling and enemy slaying before it ends. At least it remains entertaining.
Gameplay: 8/10
Battle system is easily the most intuitive part of the game, and the musical performances with townspeople is pretty cool, mostly because everything else has a sort of "been there done that" kind of feel to it. Path feels too linear for the most part, and the item system is a bit of an annoyance.
Controls: 10/10
Very cut and dry at least. During battle, commands appear, and are mapped intelligently to say the least. Because you don't technically start your turn until the Tactical Timer goes to 0, you can just look to see what button is going to do what. On the field, it's all cut and dry, like every other JRPG. Left stick to move, X to interact, it's all there.
Graphics: 10/10
With a library full of mostly dull colored games (Killzone 2, Call Of Duty 4) with the occasional artistic shiner (Heavenly Sword), the PS3 can at least welcome Eternal Sonata to the group, with very stylish and colorful visuals, inspired by anime. If there's any little nitpick I want to make, it doesn't support 1080dp, which is odd since most PS3 games support it.
Sound: 10/10
English voice acting was good, so there's no excuse to switch to Japanese, unless you have an extreme phobia of anything English in Japanese art. Music... It's frickin Chopin! It's awesome!

Overall: 9/10

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0 thumbs!
Asianz Nov 1, 09
Great Review! Enjoyed reading ^.^
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