I was never a big fan of music history when I was growing up. I remember sitting in 7th grade music class when the teacher babbled on about famous composers and whatnot, and me not really giving a damn. When I learned a few years ago that there was an RPG called Eternal Sonata that centered around Frédéric Chopin – a famous composer from the 19th century, I thought to myself “Meh, that can’t possibly be interesting.” But it was an RPG, and since I’m a sucker for RPGs, in addition to the generally positive reviews the game received, I decided to give it a try.
Upon playing Eternal Sonata, it quickly became one of my all-time favorite RPGs. Although a bit weak in terms of story, the game excels in its graphics, gameplay, and characters.
The game starts out with Chopin suffering from a fatal illness on his death bed. With death looming just around the corner, he falls into a deep sleep and dreams himself into a fantasy world. This is the world of Eternal Sonata. The events that take place in this world are loosely related to actual events that occurred throughout Chopin’s life. In the dream world, a product known as floral powder is used in everyday life to cure any illness. For some reason, the government has recently placed a hefty tax on this product and instead is encouraging people to use mineral powder, another product that seemingly has the same effect. Chopin, along with some friends he meets along the way, set out to investigate the mystery behind this mineral powder, only to discover that its continued use could pose a threat not only to those who use it, but to the entire world.
On occasion, the game breaks out of the fantasy world to provide some educational background about Chopin’s history, accompanied by actual musical pieces by the famous composer. These parts help the player understand the relevance between Chopin’s life and the events in the dream world, and is also a great way to learn a bit of history without sitting in a tedious class.
The greatest quality of Eternal Sonata, however, is its gameplay. The battle system takes many turn-based and real-time RPG elements and blends them together to create what is easily my favorite RPG battle system of all time. Battles take place on a separate screen, and your characters take turns. However, unlike many turn-based battle systems, you can freely move a character during their turn. When your character comes close to an enemy, you can perform various attacks depending on the buttons you press and even do combos. All of your character’s actions must take place within a certain time limit, and once that time runs out, that character’s turn is over. This battle system keeps the player constantly engaged in what’s going on, and rarely gets boring. You’ll need to make split decisions and even learn to plan your strategies ahead of time in order to get by in this game, adding a layer of challenge not seen in many RPGs.
As you progress through the story, the battle system gradually changes until it eventually becomes almost completely real-time. Other tweaks are made as well, giving you greater movement speed, the ability to combine characters’ moves, and allowing you to bring more items into battle. The battle system never gets old because of how it evolves.
Being a music-themed game, it should be expected that Eternal Sonata has a noteworthy soundtrack — and that it does. The voice acting in the game is done primarily by anime dub voice actors including Patrick Seitz, Erin Fitzgerald, Tara Platt, and Stephanie Sheh. There is also the ability to switch to Japanese audio for those who wish to do so. Anime fans may care to know that Polka, one of the story’s main characters, is voiced by Aya Hirano of Haruhi and Lucky Star fame.
Eternal Sonata is a must play game for any fan of today’s generation of RPGs. The game makes excellent use of the console’s graphic capabilities, making some sights absolutely breathtaking to look at. The game was originally released for the Xbox 360 in 2007, and in 2008, a PS3 version with extra content and a higher difficulty level was released. Having heard many complaints that the Xbox 360 version is too easy, I would recommend the PlayStation 3 version. The challenge does get frustrating at times, but it’s very satisfying in the end. Eternal Sonata‘s beautiful sights, innovative gameplay, and rewarding difficulty level make playing this game a worthwhile experience.
Eternal Sonata, originally on the Microsoft Xbox 360, is also available on the Sony PlayStation 3.