Since the birth of the Xbox 360 there has been a distinct lack of Japanese Role-Playing-Games that are worth playing. Titles such as Enchanted Arms have tried to generate interest but have gone pretty much unnoticed. Recently, the release of Blue Dragon began to break the mould, but didnít receive the recognition it deserved. Fortunately, the arrival of Eternal Sonata looks to step up to the challenge with an intriguing formulaÖ
Every so often a game comes along that doesnít follow the trend. A game which laughs at the generic conventions of its particular genre with a hysterical chuckle of originality. This is exactly what Eternal Sonata does, producing a totally fresh and brand-new recipe that is certainly welcome amongst the current radar of releases.
Interview time!Check out our interview with Hiroya Hatsushiba (Scenario Creator and Director at Tri-Crescendo) about Eternal Sonata here.With this type of game, it is a must for the developers to create a compelling narrative that grips the players. Looking back in the gaming vault, RPG titles have provided players with the most appealing stories for a decade now. Titles such as Final Fantasy VII and Dragon Quest: The Journey of the Cursed King provided the player with a story worth telling. The creators of Eternal Sonata have taken notice of this, and have definitely crafted a tale worthy of our attention.
This game tries something a little bit different to what we have come to expect. Granted, the story still has the same foundations that we are used to in an RPG: love, betrayal and conflict. However, amongst this is an intelligent plot that has been nurtured from the most thoughtful minds that Tri-Crescendo has to offer.
On the evening famous composer Frederic Chopin heads towards his last few hours of life, he enters a dream world full of excitement and illustrious wonder. He lays on his deathbed without motion, creating a fantasy in which he lives out his final moments. This is where you come in, taking the role of two main characters: Polka and Allegretto. These protagonists are trying to track down the malicious Count Waltz in order to lower the price on the resourceful mineral powder littered throughout the world. Unfortunately, Count Waltz has been hitching a plan for sometime, which sees mineral powder turning the public into mindless mutants and, ultimately, the bulk of his fighting muscle.
The basic outline of the plot doesnít seem too exciting. However, once the journey is under way, it is a gripping tale to say the least. Along the way you will meet a number of characters that join in on your original gang. As the game mainly switches between Polka and Allegretto (who are making their way along different routes), the opportunity for a large cast is a ripe one. A few hours in, the two young characters will have crossed paths, making way for a storyline that will tug at the heartstrings towards the finale. It really is a roller coaster ride, as characters battle their personal demons in order to find their true selves and to make their world a better place for everyone.
The cast is an inspired one, as the characters are extremely likeable, and form intriguing relationships towards each other. The usual romance is apparent, and plot twists are littered throughout, making the story an unpredictable prospect. Chopin will follow you on your quest, as will many other quirky and likeable beings. Most of their names are in some way a reference to music, to carry the feeling of Chopinís amazing talent throughout the entire game. You will see a lot of each individual, as cut-scenes are a huge part of the storytelling. Expect to sit back for quite a while and take in the well-translated script which has been performed professionally by English voice talent. At times, the amount of cut-scenes does slow down the pace a bit too much. Every so often there is a cut-scene which unnecessarily stops you playing and gives a character some lines which don’t seem totally appropriate. Most of the cut-scenes are brilliant, and vital to the story, but there is a lot which the game could have been without. With a battle system that works so well, players will want to keep progressing through at an aggressive rate, causing slight frustration in this area.
This is where the title holds its biggest appeal. The new battle system is a mix of turn based and real time combat that has been combined together masterfully. Players will take three characters from their party onto the battlefield, facing a range of weird and wonderful creatures that inhabit the unfamiliar world. The concept is simple. Wait for your turn, just like any other RPG title, and then make your move. The difference is that you actually have to attack the enemy yourself. You will control where you move, how you fight and what items you want to initiate. No more grids that make you stay in line and within a square; you are free to roam the area the battle takes place in. Light and dark conditions vary the attacks that are made, meaning you really need to work out your strength before letting loose. Combining your normal attacks with special ones is the way forward, as you start to build the strength of your party up.
Once you have reached a certain level, you will begin to learn new ways of attacking, which will alter your tactics and the rate at which you strike. Mash X until you have built your special attack up, hit Y to begin your most outrageous move, and then keep hitting Y to absolutely slaughter your enemies by using your entire range of power attacks. This is known as a ďHarmony ChainĒ, and will be available to players later on in the game, once they have reached a higher party level. It sounds confusing, and maybe a little stale, but any form of description would do this set-up injustice. The system is so successful and simple to use that it really deserves a try by all RPG aficionados. Once youíve got the basics, the battle really begins. Furthermore, the chance to bring two friends into battle alongside you via co-op creates an opportunity for a truly team-based fight. As the entire story is so involving, having friends around kills the mood slightly. There is only one character to play as when not taking part in a battle, which gives the other two players a secondary role. Although the combat does work well with three players, it takes something away from how each individual player wants to explore different areas and how they view the narrative differently. A strange concept to grasp, but it isn’t implemented badly by all means.
“The system is so successful and simple to use that it really deserves a try by all RPG aficionados”You will experience a number of fearsome foes during the game, which are all designed in an interesting manner. The range is pretty good, but there could have been tougher enemies near the end, as it just seemed to be alternately coloured versions of enemies beaten before. There are a number of huge bosses to get past, which are definitely the best fights the game has to offer. In particular, taking on the corrupted Fugue. He is an enemy who will unfairly attack you early on and then re-appear for a showdown later in the game. You will have to use your tactics to huge effect in order to defeat him. Fugue is extremely tough, and utilising the different skills your party holds is a must for the latter stages of the game. By the time you meet him the second time, you will have figured out your favoured formation, and will be ready for what is the toughest test the game has to offer - bar the final boss.
Tactics play a large part in succeeding and failing, as you need to build up a way of taking on each enemy in an effective manner. This was most apparent in my battle with Fugue, as I had to completely sacrifice one characterís attacking ability in favour of her healing powers, meaning I was constantly topping up my other two fighterís lives. It is little aspects like this that make the combat thrilling, as a difference in approach certainly sees a difference in result. The combat is generally fast-paced, meaning that you will have to work out ways of defeating each enemy very quickly.
On the whole, the enemies you encounter could have been more challenging at times. You will rarely struggle to beat the games most common enemies, as they offer such little threat to your set of heroes. The only battle situations you will need to think about carefully are the boss situations later on in the game. Other than this, most players will find the combat a breeze after only an hour or so of play. This lack of overall challenge is a disappointment, as many experienced gamers will beat the game without testing their skills properly.
A positive aspect of the title is that you can see your enemy before you fight. As you travel around the world, they will appear along each route, meaning you can dodge them before the combat begins. This is a huge plus, as many of the non-hardcore players tend to find random battles completely annoying, as it breaks up the game so randomly. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the time, the game is way too linear to avoid conflict. There are usually a number of routes; itís just that there is little space to manoeuvre around the oncoming threat. This is a shame, as the game creates an illusion of a totally free-roaming world, but doesnít produce the goods in that department.
Along with this fantastic battle system, there are many other things you will be asked to complete. As with all RPGs, the classic puzzle structure remains here, with a few testing sections. An example would be when you enter a daunting graveyard, and begin searching for coloured candles. These candles open doors, depending on what specific colour you have. You will have to traverse the entire graveyard in order to mix and match the correct combinations, meaning you will need your wit when deciding which direction to go in. The puzzles arenít particularly hard, but do offer a slight challenge, breaking up the combat and giving the game some positive variation.
In keeping with the musical based theme, players will collect Score Pieces. These come in handy when you meet someone else who also possesses one, as you perform together in a mini-concert. You need to listen to their piece and then create a tune by putting your most appropriate sound to it. It is a quick affair, and doesn’t add much to the gameplay. The concept is good, and certainly not unwelcome, but it doesn’t do enough to make it a must in the game. If you do manage to get a good grade out of it, characters will reward you with a rare item or something useful.
Later on in the game you will begin your descent up the Xylophone Tower. In order to make it to the next level, players will be asked to memorise a piano piece and then perform it back to the towerís guards. This is good fun, and a test of how well you know your notes. It also links back to the gameís main inspiration well, as players truly have to embrace the class of piano playing in order to succeed.
Recently, the graphical stakes of the Xbox 360ís top games have gone to the next level. Eternal Sonata doesnít disappoint either. The animation and graphical style of the entire title is absolutely stunning. I can honestly say I havenít sat back to take in the visual side of a game this much since the first time I saw that water in Bioshock. The use of colours is astounding, and totally obliterates the competition that we have seen on the console so far. The next generation has worn out the now generic setting of a third-world that has been engulfed by an obvious apocalypse. Eternal Sonata makes fun of this and creates a charm that is second to none. There are so many little touches, clever use of colours, and amazing buildings that you cannot help but to sit back and let your jaw hit the floor. Even the sewers are completely full of life, as they quickly offer players the kind of style the game will hold up throughout. The best-looking locations include the under ground cave town Andante, the castle of Baroque, and the final stage (of which I am going to keep quiet!).
“The animation and graphical style of the entire title is absolutely stunning”Character design also doesnít disappoint, filling the title with a totally believable, and oh so loveably quirky cast. They all look as if care was taken over their appearance, a feeling that is echoed throughout the entire game. At times, they come out with excellent one-liners that give the dialogue a sense of wit that is easy to forget in a game like this. The dialogue has been written with a lot of morals making the final script. At times, it is a little overworked, as players donít particularly want a lesson on how to live their lives, although the good intention is there to see.
Of course, being a game based on one of the worldís best-loved composerís means that the musical score should be something special. By and large, it really is. The game is set up into eight main chapters, each entitled as one of Chopinís masterworks. When the chapter is complete, the player will be shown a slideshow presentation about his life (again, slowing play down a bit too much). Recreating the songs is pianist Stanislav Bunin, bringing an absolute touch of class to the music that backs these presentations up. Chopinís pieces are recreated beautifully to say the least.
“Recreating the songs is pianist Stanislav Bunin, bringing an absolute touch of class to the music”The rest of the musical score has also been produced wonderfully, with sounds mimicking the feel of the location that the player is in. It is clear that care has been taken to give the title a soundtrack that is worthy of Chopinís name; although at times during play it does become repetitive. In a battle for example, you will quickly recognise that the same piece is playing all the time. A little disappointing that there wasnít more to listen to, but that must be a testimony for the rest of the Score’s supreme quality.
Now comes crunch time. Does Eternal Sonata break the mould that is currently disposing of next generation RPGís? Yes, it does. After finishing the game I find myself wanting to tell everyone to leave Master Chief alone for a while and try out something different. Of course, many will look at me as if I am a lunatic. However, for those who take the chance, you have yourself a true gem. It is a shame that such an intelligent narrative which is entirely character driven will be overlooked by the majority of gamers. This unpredictable tale will have players engaged until the excellent finale. It is time to put down the plastic Guitar you received with Legends of Rock, and time to embrace an entirely new musical adventure.
Eight out of ten
- Excellent story
- Superb graphical style, totally charming
- Intuitive and well thought out battle system
- Likeable characters
- Musical score is wonderful
- Lacks variation at times
- Too linear
- Play is slowed down immensely by so many cut-scenes
- Isnít particularly challenging for hardened gamers