Eternal Sonata, developed by Japanese studio tri-Crescendo and published by Namco, is a JRPG with a difference. It takes you on the final journey of famed Polish classical pianist Frederic Chopin through his final dream when lying in his bed just before dying in his house in Paris in 1849. It won’t come as a surprise to learn that the design team behind this captivating game are all musicians. Hiroya Hatsushiba is an audio programmer who has worked with fellow tri-Crescendo founder Motoi Sakuraba, who is in fact a composer, on many other JRPG’s including the likes off Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile for parent studio tri-Ace.
Eternal Sonata is one of those rare and wonderful games completely based on musical history. Throughout the game you will hear wonderful music from the famed pianist that the game is based on. In addition, there are some original songs that round off an amazing soundtrack.
Eternal Sonata boasts what is an amazing selection of characters, which as you play through the game you will come to love and cherish. What is surprising is that, although the game and music is based on Frederic Chopin, Chopin is not the central character. All the characters have their own story, and it’s very hard to choose just one that stands out. Throughout the story you meet Allegretto, a 14 year old boy that has to assort to stealing bread with his younger brother Beat to help the orphan children living in the city sewers. You also have young Polka, a young girl who everyone is afraid off because she can use magic due to the fact terminally ill and dying. Many other characters like Jazz, Salsa and more join you on your quest to fight the evil Count Waltz, which with the help of magic powder is killing the forests and people in the kingdom, and it’s up to you and your team to put a stop to his evil ways.
Eternal Sonata, like I said before, is not your usual game, and the graphics continue the theme. Unlike your usual 3D modeled characters and scenery, Eternal Sonata is completely cel shaded, and it works a charm. The characters all stand out with their bright hair and colorful clothes. The scenery is very bright, colorful and has the fantastical flair that makes you just want to stop and look at the beautiful world all day long. It does sometimes go a little plain, but that’s what you get when you set out with this artistic view. What I did find disappointing is that when you equip different weapons and clothes the characters stay in there original clothes and attack with their original weapons. Unfortunately, Eternal Sonata’s downfall is in fact that it lacks the depth that usually comes with an RPG.
One of Eternal Sonata’s standout features, and probably one of its weaknesses as well, is its fighting system. We will start out with the good points. It still has the Japanese traditional turn-based battles, but it adds its very own twist. Each character has a tactical time and attack gauge. When you party level is at 1, you have infinite amount of time to think about what move you want to do while in battle, this is before you make your first move. Once you start leveling the party up the Tactical time gauge will have a set amount of time you can think before your attack gauge starts to run out.
As soon as you have moved a character around the battlefield or struck an opponent the attack gauge will start to decrease. This signals the amount of time you have left using that particular character in that particular turn, a wonderful feature that gives you that extra bit of freedom to attack the way you want. You can rack up some serious combos while fighting, and with your special attacks unique to each character you really have that feeling that you are delivering some powerful hits. As well as the tactical time gauge and attack gauge comes another neat feature while in battle. Depending if you’re in the light or in the shadow, characters special moves will vary thus adding that extra bit of tactical thinking to make sure you come out on top at the end of the battle.
As well as your special moves changing depending if your standing in Light or Dark, enemies also change in appearance depending where they stand or move, thus making which attack you choose and your own personal formation more important. Despite all these good features they added, it doesn’t hide the fact that for some reason you can only have three characters fighting at the same time, thus limiting character use. Another feature which is common in all RPG’s now is the ability to use party magic, e.g. healing magic, while not in battle. Sadly for some reason Eternal Sonata does not allow you to do this, if you run out of healing items and you just got into a battle with low health you’re pretty screwed to say the least.
More of Eternal Sonata’s downfalls include the lack of monster variant while in certain areas; there will be from 2 to 3 different kinds of monsters in each section making each battle have a similar feel to it. Dungeons can become very boring after a while as they keep going and going with overly similar layouts. In addition, cutscenes sometimes go on for a long period with no real plot advancement. However, what is most arguably Eternal Sonata’s biggest downfall is the fact that it is very linear with hardly any side missions and basically focusing solely on the plot at hand. Eternal Sonata has the quality but its defiantly lacking the depth and quantity of most RPG’s.
Overall Eternal Sonata is a beautiful JRPG, with excellent characters, a decent storyline, incredible music and excellent fighting mechanics but with its lack of depth means it fails to measure up as an outstanding game. The good news is that it is truly magical at times, and easily a game you can go back to over and over again just for the relaxing music and gorgeous graphics. If you can look past its shortcomings, be sure to check this out.