VIDEO GAME REVIEW: Eternal Sonata

Hello, everyone! Once again, I apologize for my absence, but school is still keeping me busy. . .and I’ve also been trying to finish up this really cool video game in my free time! But now that I completed it, I will rant about it!

Eternal Sonata is a j-rpg for both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 developed by tri-Crescendo and published by Namco Bandai Games. I played the Xbox version and, according to online forums, there are some slight differences between the two games. This review will therefore only cover the Xbox 360 version.

e3e4(left: Xbox 360 cover, right: PS3 cover)

About the Game 

I originally learned about this game through an anime magazine a while back (I think Newtype?) and thought it sounded really cool, but I kinda forgot it existed until earlier this year when I found a used copy of it at GameStop. Basically, the game is about the pianist/composer Frederic Chopin, who is dying of tuberculosis on his deathbed. In his final slumber before his inevitable death, he finds himself in what he believes to be a dream world called Forte. There, he meets a young girl named Polka, who has magical powers – which means she will soon die of illness. Wanting to do something with the limited time she has left in her life, she wishes to speak to the king of Forte, Count Waltz, about mineral powder, as it has fatal side effect and its mining damages the forest. The story takes a twist when Polka and Chopin are mistaken as rebels and are imprisoned. Joined by a duo of thieves, the guardians of the forest, a shepherd, and a trio of rebels, Polka and Chopin find themselves on a magical journey to stop Count Waltz from using the mineral powder to aid his insurrection against Forte’s enemy, Baroque.

With all my level grinding, hunting for items, and getting lost, it took me a little over 35 hours to complete, which isn’t too bad for an rpg. That being said, I missed my opportunity to play through the secret dungeon before the final boss. From what I heard, it can be quite time consuming yet rewarding (more character development, cool boss fights, spiffy items). Since it’s a secret dungeon, it is not on the obvious path in the game, so if you choose to complete it, I would check a walkthrough when you make it to the last part of the game to make sure you don’t miss it like I did.

Review

As a pianist who’s favorite composer is Chopin, this game is perfect for me. The game is divided into 7 chapters (8 if you count the final scene), and you unlock a Chopin piece in each one, along with facts about the song and Chopin’s life. The game incorporates musical elements throughout, such as collecting score pieces (little phrases of music) that you can play with NPCs to receive cool items.

I also really liked the battle system. While you often have several members in your party, you play with three at a time, though the other members gain a reduced amount of experience points from every battle. It’s turn-based and you generally get a few seconds of tactical time before springing into action.

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Of course, you have your items, ability to block, physical attacks, and special attacks. The game also makes use of light and dark attacks, so depending on where you are standing on the battlefield will change your special attack moves, and can also transform the enemies, for better or for worse.

The plot is quite intriguing. It starts off with political drama with the whole mineral powder deal, the impending war between Baroque and Forte, rebellion, and political espionage. The characters are all unique, have their own little lovable quirks, and are honestly just tons of fun.

If the game was able to keep all this up in the last third or quarter of the game, it’d probably be the best game ever. [MODERATE SPOILERS AHEAD]

While the characters are cool, they could be developed so much more. There are so many hints of characters being romantically interested in each other, but it stays at that. It’ll be brought up in a cut scene or two, only to never be brought up again. We never really get much closure to the relationships between characters, and after 35 hours of gameplay, I’d kind of like to know if character A ever gets to be with character B, let alone confesses his/her feelings. Even the bad guys working for Count Waltz are really cool, but we hardly get to see them, except for maybe in an abrupt boss battle (and by abrupt I mean they will literally jump out of the bushes and be all like, “LET’S FIGHT!!”)

The plot gets lost. First, the mineral powder is important. Then it’s whatever the Baroque rebels are up to and we kind of just ignore Count Waltz and his cronies for a while. Then everything is just put on hold because a monster is made with the mineral powder and we gotta stop the monster. I honestly just seems like the characters are being dragged along with whatever is the current issue for the kings and princes of whatever land they’re on – and the issues are interesting, yeah, and if you are just paying attention to whatever is going on in the game at that particular moment, it all seems great. . .but then you can help remember but the incident that happened 10 hours ago and wonder if it’ll ever be revisited. There’s also this whole thing with these little glowing puff balls called agogos and they’re weirdly attracted to Polka, and for some reason Count Waltz seems to care about them, but we never really find out what the whole deal is with these agogo things…? I feel like adding a few more hours to explain it all and make it all connect wouldn’t make the game feel extremely long and would be totally doable. After all, most people are ready to make the time commitment when they play an rpg. I would rather have another 5 hours of gameplay than feel confused. Or they really could have cut or shortened some of the stages for more plot/character development. While most were relevant, a few felt a bit random, like they were trying to add more stages to make the story feel longer.

And most of this gets lost in Chopin’s existential rants about “Is this all a dream or is this reality?”

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I think the creators accidentally made a game about Edgar Allan Poe, not Chopin. The rants only increase throughout the story and you’ll end up feeling just as confused as poor Chopin, maybe even more. It’s extremely melodramatic, which is not unique to Eternal Sonata (don’t get me started on the Final Fantasy games), but I can’t be awed by flowery dialogue and existentialism if I don’t understand what’s going on. By the end of the game, everything just drowns in existential rants. I can’t even spoil the ending for you because I don’t know what happened. I was waiting for this big reveal where we find out if this world is just a dream or if it’s some other dimension between life and death, and how this ties into the war and agogo things. . .but that reveal never happened. Chopin just explodes into a huge rant at the end of the game and you are rewarded with a 45 minute cut scene of I don’t even know what. I could try to explain it, but I don’t want to totally spoil the ending. After playing such a magnificent game for so long, I felt robbed by the ending. I felt like there was a huge chunk of the plot missing.

At first I thought, “Maybe I’m just not smart enough to understand this game.” But then I googled “Eternal Sonata ending” and found tons of forums filled with people all like, “WTF did I just watch?!”

Also, when you finally think it’s over, you are rewarded with an even weirder short of a snail contemplating the shape of life.

From what I’ve heard, the PS3 ending makes a little more sense and adds more backstory throughout the game to tie loose ends together, but it isn’t THAT much clearer. But if you have the option of playing either the Xbox or PS3 versions, it sounds like the PS3 is a better choice.

Overall, the game is amazing and I totally recommend it! Just don’t think too hard when you’re playing it, or you might feel cheated by the lack of plot and character development.

Have you played Eternal Sonata? What did you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Thanks for reading~

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