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Back in the fall of 2007, the Microsoft Xbox 360 was starving for some good RPG action, and one of the original games to step up and fill the void was Namco Bandai’s Eternal Sonata. Eternal Sonata centers on real-life composer Frederic Chopin, a renowned Polish composer and pianist who lived from 1810 to 1849 before succumbing to tuberculosis. The game takes place during his final moments, as on his death bed he dreams a dream of a fantastic world filled with musically-named characters, many of whom parallel figures from Chopin’s own life. Chapters are named after different Chopin compositions, and are intermingled with slide-shows discussing the life of the composer, all of which relate to the events ahead.
Of course, it’s not all about Chopin. In fact, in the fantasy world, the Polish composer is but one of many characters involved, and each of the eventual members of his traveling party are dealing with various struggles of their own. There’s Polka, a young girl from a country village who is coming to terms with her own terminal illness; Allegretto and Beat, a pair of Robin Hood-esque bandits, who steal food in order to feed the poor orphaned children in their town; and a small band of freedom fighters working to overthrow an evil dictator and prevent a war from breaking out between rival nations. There are a few twists and turns, as well as some painfully over-dramatic moments and a love it or hate it ending sequence, but on the whole the plot is an enjoyable one.
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Eternal Sonata strives to be a work of art, sort of like the video game equivalent of a stage play, and to that end it looks and sounds beautiful. The visuals are crisp and clean, and very stylized. This being a Japanese-developed RPG, the characters have a certain anime-style flair to them, which won’t appeal to everyone, but the environments are simply gorgeous. As for the music, it is a mix between Chopin’s works, as performed by Russian pianist Stanislav Bunin, and original compositions Motoi Sakuraba, composer of many of the Star Ocean, Valkyrie Profile and Tales games. Needless to say, mixing the works of one of the greatest composers the world has ever known with the talents of one of the top musical talents in the video game world produces an absolutely top-notch effort. Eternal Sonata boasts one of the top RPG soundtracks of all time.
Combat is another high point. This Xbox 360 RPG features a time-limited turn-based system that changes over time. As the game progresses, the time limit lowers while new features are added to the mix. Players need to juggle enemies and skills that change based on whether they’re in light or shadow, as well as musical note-based special attack meters that increase with the number of hits and timed button-presses that cut damage when an enemy is on the offensive. It is refreshing to have an evolving battle system like this. It is unfortunate, then, that the rest of the game lacks such depth. Considering that this game was developed by tri-Crescendo, and many members of that studio’s staff have experience working on games like Star Ocean: The Second Story, it is truly surprising that this game has few side quests and lacks an item-crafting system.
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Eternal Sonata is strong RPG offering, albeit one with a handful of flaws. The game isn’t as deep or engrossing as one would hope, making for a short, roughly 20 hour experience (although after beating the game, players can replay it on the more difficult Encore mode). The plot is either spectacularly cerebral or ambitious rubbish, depending upon one’s point of view. Regardless, it is fun to play, and is definitely one of the better roleplaying games available on the Xbox 360. Pick it up used if at all possible, although gamers who also own a Playstation 3 might want to be on the lookout for the upcoming port of the title, which is scheduled for release in late October 2008 and will include additional content not found in the Xbox 360 version.
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Eternal Sonata (Microsoft Xbox 360)
- ESRB Rating: T for Teen
- Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
- Official Website: http://eternalsonata.namcobandaigames.com/
- Rating: Buy It Used (75/100)
Recommended if you Like: Baten Kaitos, the Star Ocean or Tales games