Eternal Sonata - Charmingly Average

esopening.jpgI will go ahead and say it right now: Eternal Sonata is the best video game about Chopin ever created. A lofty claim I know, but one I feel confident in standing behind. As a roleplaying game, however, Namco Bandai and Tri-Crescendo's foray into the next-generation RPG could use less focus on next-generation visuals and exposition and a bit more emphasis on compelling, original gameplay. The Neverending Story esimpress02.jpg You've probably heard the plot synopsis before. Frédéric Chopin lies on his death bed after a long struggle with pulminary tuberculosis, and in his last moments he visits a fantastical world where everyone has a music-themed named and the terminally ill can cast magic. He meets a girl named Polka who is dying and wants to do something good for the world before she goes and gets caught up in an epic struggle against Count Waltz of Forte, who is using medicine to turn his citizens into mindless, magic-using monsters. Along the way you meet a host of colorful characters including Allegretto and Beat, a pair of orphans trying to help the poor in the port city of Ritardando, Jazz, Falsetto and Claves, members of the Andantino resistance, and twins Salsa and March, who are seeking to protect the Agogo forest from the dangers of Forte's strip mining.

The game packs plenty of social commentary in a tiny package. From class struggles to drug use, ecological concerns to unfair taxation, Eternal Sonata has it all. It's a bit much, really, to the point where I was rolling my eyes every time a new issue came to light. Messages in video games are great in moderation, but this is just a bit much.

You Talk Too Much estalkin.jpg Speaking of a bit much, the exposition in the game is downright yawn-inducing. Whenever a character starts talking to themselves you know you are in for a good five minutes worth of dialog that usually says the same thing, over and over again. At one point Chopin questions the nature of reality and dreams, and I literally fell asleep in the middle of it. Boring, weighty dialog that just bogs down the game tremendously. There's a death scene that I swore went on for ten minutes, and the character was completely alone at the time. I never wanted a person to die as much as the character in question. You'll see.

Shot Through The Heart escombat.jpg While we're on boring and repetitive, let's talk about combat. Now combat in Eternal Sonata is a mix of real-time and turn based that is actually quite pleasing at first. Your character's turn comes up, and then once you initiate an action you have a certain amount of time available to act, after which the turn passes on. Characters can use normal attacks to build up combos which are then used to augment the power of special attacks. Later on you can chain special attacks once you have a certain amount of combo points, making for some interesting and downright awesome amounts of damage racking up. Quick, easy, and a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, every area you wander into only houses two or three types of enemies with established attacking patterns, so after you've f aught a similar group three or four times you end up doing the exact same thing, over and over again. After the 10th similar group it starts getting really old, and almost frustratingly easy if there is such a thing.

Aside from the nifty combat style, Eternal Sonata is pretty much your standard RPG. Your characters level, learn new powers, gain enhanced stats, etc. Your equipment is good until you find the next upgrade, and as long as you keep up with equipment and take care of every monster you run into the whole game is pretty easy. Of course I am only about 23 hours in right now, and I've still got a major boss fight or two left, but so far it's been smooth sailing. You're Beautiful, It's True esbeauty.jpg Where the game really shines is presentation. It's no secret that I've been in love with the game since I saw the first screenshots, and the real thing holds up just as well. Environments are vibrant, colorful, and full of just as much character as the characters themselves. You can take a screenshot during any of the cutscenes and have yourself an image suitable for framing. My only real complaint with the graphics is that the characters all look the same, albeit with different hair styles and colors, but that's pretty much the same with any anime-inspired look.

Rock Me Ama...Nevermind esmusic.jpg A game about Chopin better have good music, and Eternal Sonata delivers, to an extent. The Chopin portions are simply amazing. Each chapter of the game is named for one of the composers more famous works, and at certain points in each chapter the piece will play in full, along with a brief history behind the music complete with still photographs and illustrations from places Chopin lived. From the five or so pieces I've collected I've learned more about the man's life than any music appreciation class I've ever taken. In case you are really, really pathetic, Namco Bandai will sell you a code to unlock all of the music for a small fee via Xbox Live. Seriously, if you do this you suck.

The rest of the game music, however, suffers in comparison. At best it is generic, though a few pieces do stand out. I don't care how talented a game composer you are - you go up against Chopin, you lose.

As with any Japanese game translated into US English, voices are pretty hit or miss. Some are done very well (the man himself), while others are at first cute but quickly become grating (March.) Japanese with subtitles is the way to go, as any anime fan worth their salt will tell you.

This Is The End esending.jpg Eternal Sonata is a truly beautiful game graphically and musically, and the concept certainly deserves points for originality, but the rest of the game didn't follow suit. It's certainly worth purchasing, but don't go into it looking for and innovating RPG or you'll be disappointed.


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