Eternal Sonata is epic beyond the magnitude any role playing game has achieved in likely a decade. From the artistry of the graphics and sound to the intricacy of the character and plot development, Eternal Sonata succeeds in far surpassing everything else. When I first played the demo on Xbox Live I knew I had to have the game, but even so; I was still, with my jaw on the floor, blown away by how amazing a game it is when I finally got a hold of my own copy. I had intended on writing this review a few days ago, but I just couldn’t pull myself away from it. That’s how good it is; so good I played through it twice before managing to pry myself away from it for long enough to write a review.
The setting of Eternal Sonata is an imaginary world inside Frederick Chopin’s last dream before he dies. One would expect that such a game would feature various works of his, which it had an excellent selection of them. I very much liked how it included the pieces too; they were used as sort of interludes from the game every once in awhile backing text telling a bit about Chopin’s troubled life, being the physically ill man he was. The game also features it’s own music that is obviously written to sound very similar to Chopin’s work, and a great job was done of these imitations. If I can find a soundtrack I will buy it as soon as I can possibly afford to.
The graphical quality of the game is also very worthy of being called next-gen. Many have criticized it as “looking like PS2 graphics” because of it’s anime style making it relatively simplistic, however; the actual texture quality and polygon count on models is far higher than a PS2 could ever hope to push through it’s now dated graphics system. Having an HDTV does very much make the graphical difference much more noticeable, but it certainly isn’t required to enjoy this game. If you are buying RPGs exclusively for their graphics you might want to rethink your future purchases a little.
All of the characters, down to the town folk you only speak to once and never see again, are brimming with personality. It’s very easy to relate to the characters’ feelings and even become attached to them as people. The character development was excellently done to keep you wanting to see more of their fictitious lives. I was quite surprised with the English voice cast–as an anime fan I am all too familiar with poor dubs, but the voice acting in Eternal Sonata was actually quite good. My favorite villian; Fugue is voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch–the voice of Vash The Stampede from Trigun, Claus Valka from Last Exile, Gram River from Mars Daybreak, Renton Thurston from Eureka Seven and Ichigo Kurosaki from Bleach. If you know much about anime you can probably guess by that list that this guy is pretty big.
I have never seen a battle system this good in an RPG before. It evolves as you progress through the game; defeating bosses will increase your ‘party level’ which, each level, will change various aspects of battle such as changing from a single light and dark special attack to two of them each. These changes keep the gameplay fresh and interesting instead of just doing the same thing over and over again until everything is dead. You actually have to think about what you are going to do. It’s also very good how quickly it enters and exits encounters; many games have the annoyance of pulling you away from the gameplay for a few seconds every encounter to watch a repetitive cut scene before the battle starts. Eternal Sonata randomly picks a single character and focuses the camera on them as it dissolves the screen from the dungeon to reveal the battle screen behind it, all of this only taking a fraction of a second. Once it stops you are put into ‘Tactical Time’, which allows you to quickly analyze your present situation and decide what to do with your turn. The actual controls are rather basic, but in a good way; you have special attacks which are used by pressing the Y button. The way you change which special attack is used is by standing in light or shade to switch between light and dark types and pressing or holding the button to switch between primary or secondary special attacks.
This is a truly excellent addition to my RPG collection and is clearly a highly polished and well thought out role playing experience. If you are a fan of RPGs you will not be disappointed by this instant classic. I’d even go so far as to say this is as much a ‘system seller’ game as Halo 3. I will be keeping a close eye on any future projects from the development team that made this and I will quite likely buy all of them. This game is pure brilliance, plain and simple. Now, enjoy more screens;
Eternal Sonata (or Trusty Bell in Japan) is available online through our sponsor, Play-Asia.