|System: X360, PS3||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Tri-Crescendo||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Namco Bandai||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 21, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-3||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Joseph Catalanotto
RPGs, at least those on home consoles, are slowly being phased out. It seems that we're getting fewer and fewer true role-playing games, and while the two dominant portable systems on the market provide plenty of role-playing fun, the dearth of such games on the Xbox 360, Wii, and PS3 is certainly disappointing. When we do get quality RPGs, it's a big deal; no huge surprise, then, that Eternal Sonata, previously released on the Xbox 360, has found a second home on the PS3. While it's been out for quite some time on the 360, Eternal Sonata is still a fantastic JRPG, and if you're a fan of the genre, you owe it to yourself to check this game out.
The story starts out strangely: Frederick Chopin is dying, and you're transported to an alternate reality that exists within his head. In typical RPG fashion, you'll join up with a variety of unique characters in your quest to defeat an evil force. It's not a great story, but what it lacks in any originality it makes up with charm and personality. Every character is named after some aspect of classical music; for example, the villain of the game is Count Waltz. Additionally, the character development is phenomenal and more than makes up for any problems with the story itself. You'll find yourself growing very attached to all the characters you encounter throughout your journey, and the development team has accomplished something truly impressive with the individuality that each character seems to possess.
There are a few quirks along the way, however; for example, you may have heard about the historical narration that's injected in the game's story. Tying in the title's plot with Chopin's life might seem interesting, but it only serves to mess up the game's pacing and end up being more boring than anything else. That said, the themes the game touches on are startlingly relevant, which, combined with the wonderful character development, negates any storytelling problems that may pop up.
Eternal Sonata plays out in fairly straightforward RPG fashion: you control a party of characters and travel from location to location, interacting with NPCs, exploring the environment, and engaging in battles. Eternal Sonata sports a battle system that makes me believe the RPG genre has a lot of life left in it; far from implementing simple turn-based combat or a more real-time system (such as the Tales series of games), Eternal Sonata combines the two for what ends up being an incredibly frantic yet surprisingly deep battle system.
Each battle participant, from your party and the opposing one, takes turns during battle. When it's one character's turn, you control that character and have the option of moving, attacking, and performing a variety of other actions. Everything you do depletes the character's action bar, so the strategy during battles is in deciding how best to utilize each character's action bar. Careful positioning of characters is important, and the real-time attacking is great. There's also a real-time defend move, which is great for keeping you on your toes during potentially drawn-out enemy sequences. But this move can be so difficult to pull off that you can't consistently count on it; this becomes a bit annoying during tough battles, where your victory or defeat could depend on successfully pulling off a block.
The game then complicates things even more by mixing in the light/dark theme into the battle mechanic. Each character -- including foes -- have two sets of abilities: one when they're in the light, and another when they're in the dark. These ability sets can be drastically different, and you'll find your characters changing significantly in usefulness depending on if they're in the light or not. Taking advantage of the light and dark is an effective and surprisingly deep battle strategy, and while it might seem a little gimmicky, it actually works quite well.