Happy All-Hallows Eve! (Almost) Last week saw us shoot our way through an adrenaline-fueled fragfest.
Today, we'll calm things down a bit with a JRPG starring...legendary composer Frederic Chopin.
Eternal Sonata was developed by Tri-Crescendo and released by Bandai Namco in 2007. Originally, it was an Xbox 360 exclusive, though a PS3 version would follow about a year later. You play as a cast of characters including, of course, Chopin. See, the game takes place inside the dying dream of Chopin, as he lies on his death bed.
Sounds weird, and in fact, it is. In a good way, though. Throughout the story, Chopin will come across a variety of characters that form your eventual party. All of them are named musically. For example, there's Polka, a young girl with magical powers who is also one of the de facto main characters. There's Allegretto and Beat, two boys who live on the streets, and who's paths cross with Polka and Chopin. Characters like Viola, Salsa, and Crescendo round out a somewhat cliche but likeable cast.
As mentioned, ES is a JRPG, and as such, conforms to many JRPG traditions. You explore a field, talk to NPC's, and battle when you touch an enemy (no random encounters here). The combat is a bit interesting. Anyone who's played a Star Ocean title will see at least some similarities. Upon entering combat, you're whisked away to a battle arena, where your position, as well as the enemy's, will be randomized. How it works is, basically you have only a certain amount of time to act per character, represented by a bar on the side of the screen. At first, the bar drains only when you move or attack, giving you time to carefully plan your attacks. As you progress through the game, the battle system will "level up", that is, upon reaching level two, the time will drain as soon as you move. Level three means the time drains as soon as your character's turn comes up. And so on. This causes you to think on your feet, and keeps the battles from getting stale.
During battles, you'll regularly run up to an enemy and repeatedly hammer the attack button, causing damage and increasing your combo meter, which in turn, increases the power of your special attack. You can also defend from enemy attacks with a well-timed button press. So it's kind of an action-based battle system.
When not in combat, you'll be doing pretty typical JRPG things, like shopping for stronger gear and restoratives, and following the plot, which is a big part of the game. As usual, I won't spoil anything, but while the story is mostly standard JRPG fare at first, it eventually goes to places you don't expect, and ends with...well, you won't see it coming.
Interspersed throughout the story are snippets of Chopin's life, told via text over live photographs. Admittedly, these are a bit jarring, but they allow you to learn about the man you're playing as, in addition to hearing pieces of the legendary pianist's music. So it's not really a bad thing, despite clashing somewhat with the anime-art style of the game.
And what an art style it is. Lush, vibrant colors surround you in ES, leaving you wondering just how many colors they could come up with. The game has a "soft" look to it. I don't mean blurry, I just mean it's aesthetically pleasing...
In short, it's beautiful.
Audio is more of a mixed bag. You have Chopin's music, of course, but it only plays through the flashbacks. The game's music, itself, is the stuff you'd expect from the people who did the music for a lot of tri-Ace games, like Valkyrie Profile. By which I mean it's great. Voice acting is a little iffy. What is it with Japanese games and annoying child voices? Mostly it's okay, though. You'll definitely recognize most of the voices if you're an anime fan.
All in all, Eternal Sonata is a game you should browse your local game store for, if you don't have it already. It's hard to put it into words, but it's a rare kind of game that's more than the sum of its parts. And it's one of the most beautiful games you'll play.
Thanks to Wikipedia and IGN for the images.
Hit the comments to chat and suggest future Games of the Week!
Next week, we'll take another colorful, wacky trip as a musician. Armed with a guitar this time.