Have you ever wanted to play an RPG that takes place inside of a dead pianists head, playing out his final moments inside of his own mind? Where all characters are based on music?
Ughh…trust me on this one. Let me explain.
Eternal Sonata is a JRPG, a one that rarely ever gets any attention when put up against heavy hitters such as Final Fantasy and…anything else from Square Enix. It was published by Tri-Crescendo, a game company that doesn’t really have all that much under their belt. The most exciting thing that I’ve seen them make was co-developing Super Smash Bros 3Ds, and that isn’t even all of their work.
But is this game truly a song that must be heard by everyone? Or is it a guitar that has corroded strings? Enough exposition, let’s compose this review of Eternal Sonata!
Eternal Sonata takes place inside the mind of a real life pianist Frédéric François Chopin, who died of tuberculosis. You play while he is on his deathbed, inside a sorta comatose state where the only way for him to survive is to realize the world he’s in is not reality.
Lucky for you, because we get to play in his dream world!
Welcome to the land of Forte, a country inside of the unnamed world that Chopin has created in mind. Forte is run by a little brat named Count Waltz, who taxes pretty much everything except for a medicine called Mineral Powder, which causes everyone to buy it since it’s so cheap. Since Mineral Powder is so cheap, people neglect another medicine called Floral Powder, which is developed by Tenuto village, where one of our main characters Polka lives.
Polka is a girl who has an incurable illness which will kill her eventually, but allows her to use magic. People think that this disease is contagious when she uses her magic, so they avoid her like the plague…see what I did there? But since Floral Powder is the main income for Tenuto village, Polka sets out on a journey to get Count Waltz to do something to the prices of Mineral Powder to make people want to buy Floral Powder.
Meanwhile, the other main character, Allegretto, is what you would call a ‘street rat’ of the nearby town of Ritardando, stealing bread and other necessities to feed and keep the kids of the streets healthy. Eventually fed up with having to live like that, Allegretto takes his friend Beat on pretty much the same journey as Polka to get Waltz to lower taxes on the basic necessities.
Eternal Sonata plays like your typical turn based RPG: You level up by killing monsters, you take the money earned from killing those monsters and upgrade your character’s equipment, which you use to grind some more until you’re able to kill the level boss.
However, Eternal Sonata has one of the most unique turn based battle systems I’ve ever seen. During each of your turns, you have a certain amount of time to do all of your actions, whether it be attacking, special attacking, running, or using items. Attacking, which is by default the X/A button (depending on which console you’re using), is just you using your weapon. In essence, during your turn, you spam this button as much as humanly possible on the enemies.
The interesting part of this game, surprisingly, is the blocking system. When the enemy is attacking you, you press your guard button, which is defaulted to the circle/B button. You’ll hear a little ‘ding’ sound, which means you can block. Pressing guard at the right time will lesson the damage you take from the attack, block yourself from getting knocked down, and I think block any status effects (been a while since I’ve played Eternal Sonata). It might not sound interesting, but it ends up fitting the music theme of the game. Each enemy, especially bosses, has their own little rhythm to their attacks, and that’s not even including their special attacks. Think of it as a lethal version of Parappa the Rapper.
Finally, there are the special attacks. They’re attacks that do something awesome, whether it be a huge amount of damage, an area of effect, healing, ranged damage, the list goes on. Even though special attacks cost nothing, there is a strategy to save them. You see, as you attack enemies, you build up what are called echoes, which appear as a gauge on the the side of the screen. When you use a special attack, you spend all of your echoes which increases the damage/healing of your spells. If you have a large amount of echoes, though, at later times in the game, you can use what are called ‘harmony chains,’ which allows you to chain special attacks if you’re able to press the special attack button at the right time.. They’re the bread and butter that makes the fighting system as in depth as it is, as it brings a strategy to conserving echoes and using them to do as much damage as possible in as little time as you can. Even when the enemies use special attacks, it’s to break up the rhythm of their regular attacks, which usually end with you taking a huge amount of damage.
A problem with the combat system is that it quickly gets boring when you’re grinding. Against a boss with equal or greater strength then you, it’s heart pounding and intense. However, when you’re trying to face an enemy you can obviously run circles around that you want to beat so you have a chance against the previously mentioned bosses, it gets extremely monotonous. Although, this is a problem more to the RPG genre that stops you from going anyway to make you battle then to Eternal Sonata.
Speaking of monotonous, there’s nothing to really do as far as side quests and such. In most RPG’s you can talk to random people to get those retrieval, kill a monster, or find someone quests that usually give you experience or money. It’s a staple of the franchise. In Eternal Sonata, there’s really nothing there aside from a few cryptic things you can do to fight optional fights, which are also just bosses that you’ve already faced in the main story. In the PS3 version, there is an entirely new bonus dungeon with a boss that you’ve haven’t seen before in the game…so the lesson here is buy the PS3 version, I guess?
As is a common theme to RPG’s, a lot of enemy models are reused , which I’m okay with. But aside from bosses, I think there’s like 10-15 enemy models in all, which is kinda depressing for an RPG. You end up fighting a lot of the same enemies, just recolored and re-balanced.
Now, a really good/bad part to the game is it’s characters. I’m not talking about how the characters are written, but I’m also talking about what they bring to the gameplay. Most of the characters are useful, some because of the sheer amount of variety they have in their kit, some because of how much damage they do, some by how fast they can attack (which brings up more echoes), or some because of how much health they bring to the team.
The downside of this are the characters that are pretty much useless or are overshadowed by other characters (Beat, I’m looking at you.)
The Animation and Soundtrack
Eternal Sonata is one of the most beautifully animated games I’ve ever played in recent memories. I’d hate to be blunt, but it is! I mean, look at the screen shots in this article! It actually reminds me of a more refined and grown of version of “The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker,” which is one of my favorite games of all time. The light always perfectly reflects onto the characters, making them lit enough to be the center of our attention and to give you a sense that they’re actually there on that plane of existence, but at the same time make them fit into the scene. You never really have a character too brightly lit when they’re in the night, unless they’re standing right next to a light.
All of the character designs are beautiful and pretty detailed in their own right, yet simple at the same time. They had pretty spectacular details about them, such as Allegretto’s shoulder feathers, but then they have these area of grey that are there to make you look at those interesting pieces…like Allegretto’s blue tunic that highlights his shoulder feathers.
The way the game is animated makes it feel dream like, which is exactly what they should’ve done with this kind of a story. They are literally inside a dream, one where Chopin is living his last days inside of. They have moments of whimsy, like the Tenuto flower fields, or nightmarish moments such as inside the graveyard.
And the soundtrack…oh my god, the soundtrack. The entire OST to Eternal Sonata is nothing except classical music, with emphasize on pianos…because Chopin was a pianist. But if you thought it was going to be as depressing as sitting through a Bach concert, then you’d be horribly mistaken. Go to youtube and listen to the main battle theme, “Leap the Precipice.”
You back yet? Great.
This is the theme you’ll be hearing the most throughout the entire game, and it’s classical. Amazing how they’re able to make an exciting battle theme with just classic, right? And there’s tons more where that came from. It’s by far my favorite OST of any game ever.
Final Thoughts and Rating
Eternal Sonata is a beautiful game with it’s simple but enjoyable story, pretty lovable cast of characters, animation and sound, and battle system. It’s a great time to play, but it does has its shares of flaws.
The game is really short for what it really is. If you’re really efficient in your grinding, and you’re really good at the game, you can probably beat the game in about 6-7 hours if you skip cutscenes. Some moments can get monotonous, especially if you’re trying to grind for a boss that you’ve been stuck on for 2 days. There is also a lot missing, such as side bosses and side quests, which are always staples in the RPG genre.
Now, after compiling the pros and the cons, I can safely award Eternal Sonata and 8/10, with a certified ‘Recommendation’ rating from me.
The game was well done, but was missing a few things to make it the absolute masterpiece it could have been.
If you haven’t played Eternal Sonata, I suggest you go out and try it. If you have, then I’m always willing to talk about it in the comment section below. But until next time, this has been the Anime Analyst. Zachary, out.
The pictures used in this article are all from Eternal Sonata, which is owned by Tri-Crescendo. Please don’t sue us.