Eternal Sonata Review

Genius. Sheer, unabashed genius.

It shouldn’t work. Given the current state of videogame production, a game like Eternal Sonata should not exist. Set in the last hours of Chopin’s life during a fevered dream brought on by the final stages of the tuberculosis that eventually claimed him, the gorgeous cel-shaded RPG is a testament to a great (if a little bizarre) ideas coupled with great gameplay. But does this make it a great game?

The story is pretty standard RPG fare, with a nice couple of twists toward the end (but nothing the well-versed gamer wouldn’t be able to guess by squeezing their mind grapes a bit). Toward the beginning the game juggles some interesting ideas regarding the French Revolution along with some fairly heavy philosophical themes, but in the end the player is driven mainly to find out what happens to our favorite protagonist-slash-really-broody-dude, Chopin.

The writing is another matter altogether. Typical of JRPGs, the writing follows the camerawork as plodding, flowery, and a little too vague for this gamer’s tastes. And the ending? Let’s just say that you won’t miss much if you happen to go grab a sandwich.

The cel-shading in the game is phenomenal: colorful with a meticulously-chosen palette that hints at the enormous amount of art direction that must have ruled the production of the game with an iron fist. The art direction, in fact, is probably the thing that most piqued my interest in this game from the beginning. Every area is thoughtfully planned with beautiful musical/fantasy elements woven into it. Imagine a cel-shaded winter wonderland replete with gently pulsing pink crystals that fade into the horizon like eerie beacons and you’ll have a taste of the environments that are in store with ES.

The sound–as you would expect from a game revolving around a ridiculously famous composer–is excellent. Not only are the recordings of the classical Chopin tunes lovely, but there are an exceptional number of epic themes on the soundtrack that really make you feel at home as if you’re catching up with a charming bit of Chrono Trigger or FFIII history (as any JRPG worth its salt should!).

One complaint: during certain attacks there are pauses of about 5 seconds where your character exclaims some sort of catch phrase in order to (seemingly) strike fear into the hearts of your enemies.

It doesn’t.

What it does is slow the pace of the game substantially and add a silly touch to battles that are actually strategic, serious affairs (“My power shall become a shining beacon, which will bestow healing upon your broken wings“). Turn on the Japanese voices (assuming you don’t know Japanese) and your brain will thank you!

Battles revolve around a fully-3D playing field marked by patches of dark and light. Your characters special attacks are tied to whether they are standing in dark or light at the time you unleash them. Want to get that Heal Arrow out to your battered frontline fighters? Better make sure the Sun is out!

In addition to normal leveling of characters, ES also allows your “Party Level” to increase at various predetermined points in the game, changing up fundamental rules of the battlefield such as turn-length, etc., to make every few hours of battles feel just new enough to keep you grinding away.

Battles in the early stages of the game are pretty easy, button-mashing affairs, but the Bonus Dungeon (Mysterious Unison) will test your mettle and see just how good you are at exploiting the game’s innovative battle system. That being said, this game is still a pushover compared to some of Tri-Ace’s previous efforts like the Star Ocean series, so it’s still more than approachable for amateur JRPGers that want to go all the way and try to slog their way through the bonus dungeon.

All in all, I loved every bit of time I spent with ES (about 30 hours all told, including my time in the bonus dungeon). In fact, I’m the kind of gamer who rarely goes for things like bonus dungeons so that definitely speaks to the quality of the battle experience, which fits like a glove (not an OJ glove) after just a few short hours.

If you want a beautiful, inspiring piece of gaming art unlike anything else on the market today (or tomorrow, for that matter) you could do much worse than to reach for a copy of ES.

You’ll be glad you did.


One Response to “Eternal Sonata Review”

  1. Yay! A review!

    I also agree that the voices before the attacks got annoying fast šŸ˜€

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