Friday, June 3, 2011

Eternal Sonata

You know how games come out and we get the artbooks later on? We buy them getting lush environment pre-conceptualization, character designs, and officially never released artwork. Well, with Eternal Sonata they scratched that idea and made the game from the artbook. Honestly, this game is one of the most beautiful JRPG's I've ever seen.

Eternal Sonata, also known as Trusty Bell: Chopin's Dream, was developed by Tri-Crescendo and published by Namco Bandai in mid 2007. At the time it was built up to be the 360's response for a great JRPG. Blue Dragon came out before Eternal Sonata to a low reaction in reviews, but did Eternal Sonata live up to the hype? Back then it did pretty well, but after just completing the game myself I was left a little disappointed.

My disappointment doesn't stretch far though, with excellent backdrops and gazing landscapes with a nice soundtrack to boot keeping me drawn in. The story is lackluster and doesn't seem to really go anywhere, while character development is a rarity. I still cared about the overall goal of the characters, even if it was botched by the end.

Eternal Sonata has an incredible concept. Polish composer and pianist Frederic Chopin is on his death bed in 1849. In his last hours of life he dreams a fantasy world that creates the setting for the game. I have no clue what this world is called, but it's freakin' beautiful. Alright I'll stop mentioning the game's art for now.

We meet a range of characters along the way, some a little cliche but not too bad. There's the magic-using Polka and the cool, rebellious Allegretto. Beat's the annoying one in the same age range as Salsa and March, and then we have the strong-willed Viola who... raises goats. There's also the resistance group made up of Jazz, Claves, and Falsetto. But of course we can't forget about Frederic Chopin himself. That's right, Chopin's a playable character too!

Eternal Sonata's overall themes revolve around Chopin's death and if the world he's in is reality or not. But he knows it's a dream... mostly. And then the dream's storyline has something to do with the addicting "mineral powder" and its negative effects on human beings. The evil Count Waltz, who's maybe a 15-year old kid, gives everyone in Forte mineral powder. For a time it makes them feel better until they're addicted and can suddenly use magic. People who use magic in Eternal Sonata are "bad" people, basically because it means they're going to die soon. You use magic and you die. Great! Although it's pointed out that Polka's a magic user and should die sometime soon from the very beginning, my whole party's probably not doing too well since they all use magic. A great ending to look forward to, right?!

Anyways, the mineral powder story leads our band of characters to the city of Forte where they want to meet with Count Waltz. Things go wrong and they're seen as rebels, thus getting them thrown in jail. They meet up with a resistance group from Andantino where we're introduced to Jazz, Claves, and Falsetto. The developers could have taken this trio's story so much further, but instead gave us a love triangle that didn't really go anywhere. Anywho, the story pushes on until you finally meet up with Count Waltz for maybe five minutes and push forward to the ending.

Eternal Sonata is burdened by slow-paced cutscenes with a slow-moving story that pushes you on to the next location. The game lacks a world map, something it really needed. You go here, and here, and then here. You go back here and then go the other way to get here. The locations are usually interesting but they're certainly repetitive. It's completely linear, and I don't really mind that. But it comes to the point where the story needs to pick up but that never happens.

About 15 hours into the game I started to care about what was going on, especially with the possibility for more quality-oriented story with the city of Baroque. And although that was kind of cool, sending me out to some tower to do stuff while Prince Crescendo "thinks about things" is complete filler and a waste of my time.

Some more interesting elements of Eternal Sonata are its battle system, real-world history lessons, and beautiful soundtrack and use of music within the game.

I'm more of a fan of ATB and turn-based battle systems, but Eternal Sonata switches it up with some excitement. You have three characters in your party where each can attack, use an item, guard, or use a special attack. The more consecutive attacks you build are called echoes, and the more echoes you have the more damage you will do. Getting up to 24 or 32 echoes makes your special attacks even stronger, and that's always a plus. Your party and the enemy takes turns as you control each member one at a time. You get a few seconds of tactical time to think about where you want to move to, and then an action meter goes down detailing how much longer you can keep whacking the enemy.

The battle system is cool and intense at times, but even this mechanic has its faults. If you thought FFXIII was bad with its "6-hour battle tutorial", Eternal Sonata is worse. As you progress through the game you unlock up to 6 battle levels. Each battle level makes combat a bit more difficult than the previous level by taking a way tactical time and such. You have to think on your toes and pay attention to who's moving next. You only have 4 seconds to get damage in and that can be rough. I got angry more than once because I wasn't standing close enough to an obscured enemy, most of my attacks missing in the meantime.

As your battle level increases you can hold more items in battle. You have to set the items you want to use in battle from the main menu. I would rather have access to my items all at once all the time, but that's not the case. And apparently I wasn't even battling monsters correctly by the end of the game. I didn't know how to combo special attacks and although I knew I could counterattack, I never did because it never worked for me. Oh well? I still kicked ass.

The game is set into 7 chapters, and between each chapter there's a unique element I've never seen in a game before. A famous song written by Chopin is played to a background of real-life images of historical monuments and pianos and such. You're then given a history lesson about Chopin, Germany, France, Poland, and what was going on in those countries during the 1800's. You also get information about Chopin's love life and how he lived his life and what likely influenced his music. Sometimes it's a little boring but cool nonetheless.

Along with beautiful art direction, Eternal Sonata is centered around music. Every character and location is named after an instrument or something music related. From Mount Rock to Baroque Castle, there's music everywhere. The soundtrack is nicely done, featuring pieces of Chopin throughout. There's a mini-game where you collect musical note scores and play them with NPC's. If the songs match up and sound good you'll get a good ranking with a special item. These scores were in musical notation, meaning I had no clue what I was doing. So I would just play every song until something matched up. That's definitely not the way to play since I think you're supposed to get it right the first time but oh well. Even some of the gameplay incorporated music, but in my opinion the game needed more of this.

And like I've mentioned throughout this writing, the art direction was simply astounding and the best thing about Eternal Sonata. Lush colors are everywhere, the fields look beautiful and the city and castle of Baroque are just incredible.

I've read other sites that say this and I will say it too. The art is absolutely astounding and just may be the most beautiful game I've ever seen. Eternal Sonata truly defines a video game as art.

I recommend this Eternal Sonata to anyone, with its art being at the forefront for why it should be played. The battle system and lukewarm story is enough to push you through the game. Anyone with an interest in music, especially Chopin, will love it. I mean c'mon, you fight as a classical pianist in battle! How cool is that?

Note: Eternal Sonata came out on the PS3 in 2008 with more playable characters (Prince Crescendo and Princess Serenade), extra dungeons, and other features.

Title: Eternal Sonata

Developer: Tri- Crescendo

Genre - Japanese Role-Playing Game

Year: 2007

Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3

Completion: Played through Eternal Sonata in a short 25 hours. Main party of Frederic Chopin, March, and Falsetto were leveled to 50. Did not finish extra sidequests or attempt new game plus.

-Jared C.

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