Eternal Sonata Xbox 360 Review

May 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

World under threat, boy and oddball cast of characters save it. This scenario is all too familiar to avid RPG fans, but Eternal Sonata is different. The idea is that non fictional and world famous composer “the poet of the piano” Frederic Chopin is on his deathbed, dying from tuberculosis with the majority of the events of the game taking place inside Chopin’s dream, well it’s something different to say the very least and as a plot device it does actually work.

Whilst this premise is both bizarre and intriguing in equal measure, the games plot still relies heavily on typical RPG themes and characters, but it was still satisfying and interesting enough (though at times a bit too preachy for its own good) to drive us forward, even when the game was beginning to grow a mite repetitive from time to time. It may have many RPG mainstays featured, but even some of these have some interesting touches, such as the fact that magic in Eternal Sonata’s world can only be utilized by those suffering from terminal illness.

As we said, the characters of this tale are largely RPG stereotypes, but most at the very least are reasonably likable. With Allegretto we have the typical kind hearted teenage hero, Polka is the usual meek love interest etc. Chopin himself is a playable character and fittingly, he’s one of the most interesting of personalities that the game has to offer, both in and outside of battle.

Occasionally, a segment will come along that will educate you on the life of Chopin. Such moments are accompanied by pieces of his music and photos of real life locations. Provided it’s your sort of thing, it’s pretty interesting stuff, but also a bit of a strange transition to see doe eyed characters and cartoon environments for a while, to suddenly find yourself looking at real photos. Perhaps, because of this these sections would have better served as bonus material.

Moving away from its slightly out of the ordinary narrative, the game in Eternal Sonata is of the traditional mould, which is to say, monster bludgeoning, treasure seeking and exploration are the order of the day.

As is all too often the case these days with RPGS, Eternal Sonata is linear, meaning your travels are largely limited to where the plot takes you and there’s an absence of a world map to explore. At least the dungeons are sizable (though on occasion also confusing) with plenty of treasure boxes to discover and whatnot.

The combat system is reminiscent of Namco Bandai’s own Tales series in the way that it melds turn based with real time action and just like that game, it’s hugely enjoyable. Standing in light or darkness will determine the skills your current character will use, which grants a pleasant layer of subtle strategy to skirmishes, whilst the damage from enemies can be reduced with skilful pressing of the B button, yes skilful, the gaming sin of button bashing will be punished here.

As you advance through the game, the combat system will become trickier, which doesn’t necessarily mean the beasties will become tougher, but that your party level will rise, reducing your tactical time (which is essentially time to strategize before your turn truly begins) and bringing in some new facets into combat such as counters and harmony strings (which in case you were wondering, allows you to string magical abilities together). It’s a nice idea that keeps fighting interesting, which is fantastic as fighting is easily one of Eternal Sonata’s greatest of strengths.

Another highlight of the game is its beautiful cel-shaded visual style, which is without doubt one of the most impressive uses of the technique that we’ve yet seen and makes for a charming cartoon world that is a pleasure and on occasion, even relaxing to traverse, the situation is dire, but we don’t care, as we just want to take our time absorbing all the pleasant sights of this magical universe.

But as much as we hate to say so about a game that makes us so warm and fuzzy, Eternal Sonata still has its problems. For starters each area largely only has just a couple of monsters to beat down, and there’s not much in the way of challenge here, save for perhaps the occasional boss encounter. The game can also be done and dusted in twenty-five to thirty hours, which won’t appease those who seek a forty-five to fifty hour epic from their RPGS.

Eternal Sonata’s story (or at least its premise) is genuinely fresh and interesting, whilst the combat system is immensely enjoyable, and the visuals are hugely attractive. It all comes together rather nicely, resulting in a high quality title, that without its various niggles could have easily reached the lofty classic status.