Eternal Sonata review
An eternally guilty pleasure


Eternal Sonata is an RPG created by the stepchild of Tri-Ace known as Tri-Crescendo. Tri-Ace, for those who aren't completely sure of who they are, are RPG developers that are more interested in gameplay than stories. Just play a few rounds of any of the Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile games, and you'll see what I mean. I guess Tri-Crescendo are following in their steps, because Eternal Sonata plays reasonably well, and for good reason – because that's what keeps you going, even when the story starts to get stupid and annoying!

According to what I could comprehend, Chopin is in a coma, and this whole game is just a coma fantasy. He runs into a girl named Polka, who apparently looks like his 14 year old sister before she died in real life. Polka is sad because her Floral Powder is being overlooked in favor of Mineral Powder, made by the evil Count Waltz. The Mineral Powder is said to turn people into zombies who end up dying... why strap bombs around your troops when you can just make them snort some of this shit? So yeah, they have to stop Count Waltz, because he's evil. There are other characters, but their purpose is this – help kill Count Waltz. Oh, and Polka is apparently sick and about to die, all because she has the power to use magic. When you go through this game, the correlation will be explained a little better.

Oh, there's more, but at a certain point, it's like “who cares”, mostly because they're explained in long and boring cutscenes that really, really don't even try to entertain you. There aren't any punch lines or interesting plot twists (key word: interesting) – just some sterile exchanges of dialogue, with the occasional monologue that always end up so boring, that the Start and A buttons are begging to be pressed in that order. Do game developers actually watch their own cutscenes to see if they're remotely interesting? It's one thing to have an extremely shitty plot twist and some lame characters, and then it's another to have a story that goes nowhere with the whole cast being lame! Not to mention those interruptions in the form of a history lesson about Chopin himself! Cool. Wake me up when it's done, thanks. Christ, it brings back memories of how boring Final Fantasy X was to watch... okay, too far, because at least Allegretto isn't some whiny Meg Ryan looking person with daddy issues and Count Waltz actually feels like a villain.

The world of Eternal Sonata is linear... to a fault. I mean, going from place to place – that's fine, because there's no need to offer a big world if you're only meant to just go from one place to another with nothing else to do should you head anywhere else, but then there are the dungeons. The first dungeon is a big fat lie, because when you go through it, you think that every other dungeon will have puzzles, but nope. The graveyard in chapter 3 aside, the rest of the dungeons consist of just finding Point B and possibly fighting the boss. That sucks, because the puzzles aren't terrible or anything. Sure, one is vaguely explained and more of a series of trial and error bullshit (aka, the bad kind) and the other just consists of running around to collect different colored flames, but at least they tried. The rest? What, just run from Point A to Point B? It's like they're just hubs for bosses instead of something to do other than running around like a headless chicken!

Ah well, what gives this game its momentum is the battle system. You don't go through the usual turn based shit, bur rather, you have a set amount of time to move around, and perform actions, like attacking (regular or special) or using items. It might not seem like much, and it probably won't for a while against enemies, but once you start levelling up and learning more techniques, it'll start clicking, and once you get to chain together other party members' special attacks, man, this battle system just gets better and better! Even then, it retains a simplistic flavor that makes it easy to learn... just hard to master, that's all.

As you progress, you'll gain party levels. These allow you to do more in battle, like chain together other peoples' special attacks, move faster, and just generally kick more ass as you gain more Harmony Chains (basically, steam for your special attacks as you consecutively connect regular hits with enemies without using special attack). It is, however, at the expense of time, as you'll be given less time to think, forcing you to think more on your feet. It's nice how it gradually goes from a turn based/action RPG hybrid to just a plain action RPG, relying less on lengthy analytical thinking to quick thinking. I don't know why, but I just love it when a game does a good job of lulling you into a false sense of security with a SUCCESSFUL change like that, even if it ends up seeming minute on paper.. trust me, it does feel like a significant change, moreso on the PS3 version.

The only thing to watch out for is the balance in damage. See, when you're in a battle, especially against a boss, you have the opportunity to guard if you press B at the right time, sort of like in Paper Mario, except unlike Paper Mario, this is extremely unforgiving unless you power grind like *bleep*ing crazy. Failure to press B at the right time will result in taking a million points of damage, minimum, while guarding will cause you to take very little damage. Not to worry, though... you WILL develop the reflexes for it with little to no problems whatsoever, unless you have arthritis.

Once you finish the game the first time (which includes the 45+ minute long ending), you'll be presented with New Game+, which lets you keep the stuff you got the first time around, plus it lets you get more collectibles (for whatever reason that they conceal items until the second playthrough beyond just a way to sucker you into it, I'll never know), and the enemies will be stronger, so if you found it easy the first time around, it may not be so easy the second time around.

The graphics are pretty good. It's pretty rich in color and manages some pretty slick cel shaded textures. It's not exactly lifelike, but it at least makes you feel like you're looking at an anime. However, this isn't something you'd want to show your dad, because it looks like something out of a kid friendly anime like Pokemon and Yu-gi-oh, and I'm quite sure dads are more into guns, cars, sex, drugs and rock and roll. Hell, showing your friends this would probably lead you into being called “gay”, “poof”, “fag” and other homophobic insults. Okay, perhaps it's too colorful, but it's still pretty damn nice to look at if you ask me... if in a certain mood, of course...

Then you have the soundtrack, which is inspired by classical music, as should be expected from a game based on a classical composer. It's rather captivating and ambient, drawing you in with each perfectly executed note. Each situation, each battle, each lame ass dungeon, is made more epic because of this soundtrack. There is not a dull moment in this thing, and damn, that battle theme gets catchy! But not all is perfect in this realm... the voice acting, as good as it is, isn't up to par with the soundtrack. Each line is spoken in a manner that seems good, but isn't quite there... like, it doesn't really draw you into the cutscenes. The cutscenes are still lacking that punch that draws you in... well, okay, Count Waltz's voice is damn well done, suiting his overactive style, but the rest? Meh. Didn't get much out of them. Maybe I was too busy listening to the awesome soundtrack? Probably.

Gameplay: 4
The battle system is excellent. Everything else feels pretty half-assed, though, especially the puzzles and dungeons. Not terrible – just could've been better, that's all.

Controls: 4.5
It'd be pretty hard to screw up RPG controls, and suffice it to say, they did it right here, all easy to figure out and whatnot. It's when commands change buttons much, much later in the game (via optional dungeon) that they might serve as a bit of a problem.

Story: 2.5
The idea of stopping an evil tyrant is a good concept for a story, especially when the evil tyrant is as entertaining as Count Waltz. Having cutscenes that are way too long and go nowhere other than into convoluted circles half the time is just bullshit.

Graphics: 4.5
Very colorful and beautiful to look at. Might be a little too kiddie for typical 360 gamers, but just sort of swallow your pride and get into it!

Sound: 4.5
The soundtrack was excellent, with every piece of music suiting the mood and managing to sound damn good. Voice acting doesn't quite match the quality of the soundtrack, and it doesn't really make the cutscenes more entertaining, but it's still good enough to make you stay to your native tongue if you're an English speaker.

Lifespan: 3.5
It's a short RPG, standing at 20 hours long, but to get all the achievements, at least two playthroughs are required, and thank god the achievements aren't all bullshit “grind to level 100” crap! Yay!

Funfactor: 3.5
It's always fun killing enemies, especially with a robust battle system. Everything else isn't half bad either, but it's just generic “run through linear path” stuff – not all that fun. It might also help if you're looking to get into an easy RPG, because there aren't that many hard bosses to fight off.

Bottom line:
Eternal Sonata is a reasonably good game with some high production values, but like a Michael Bay film, it's pretty low on storytelling, despite a well thought out concept. Hope you're in it for the gameplay!


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