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Eternal Sonata


Having played both the Xbox 360 version of Eternal Sonata and the PlayStation 3 version of the game at length, portions of this review will be similar with regards to core components in the title.

It's kind of hard to deny that the PlayStation 2 was one of the penultimate role-playing game consoles of all time. So many great franchises got started there, or in the case of Final Fantasy, continued there, but doesn’t it seem strange that the PlayStation 3 just hasn't conquered the genre yet? The Xbox 360 has been heating up the charts with some impressive RPGs lately, but despite that fact, Sony still hasn't been picking up the licenses. Take Eternal Sonata for example.

Last year, the Xbox 360 received this whopper of a title from Namco Bandai, and for the time it was exclusive. PlayStation 3 owners hungered to play Eternal Sonata, but it wasn't until about two weeks ago that they finally got the chance.

To put it bluntly the story in Eternal Sonata is unlike any I have ever seen. It creates ties between the real world and a fantasy one through the dreams of a dying piano composer. Back in 1849 as Frederic Chopin lay on his deathbed, his physician muses that he seems at peace because he is having a calming dream. In fact, Chopin dreams himself into a fantasy world where there are plenty of mysterious events afoot. People who possess magic have actually gained the ability due to terminal illnesses and all is not as it seems.

The story introduces many characters, villains, and conflicts as you wander through this strange land inspired by music and the musings of Chopin. People have names like Polka, Beat, Jazz, Dolce, and even Falsetto; the list goes on and on. This carries through even into the many places you'll visit, items you'll find, and yes, even enemies you'll fight. It gives Eternal Sonata a lot of charm and will keep you guessing while you play as to whether or not this is truly a dream concocted by the composer. It's that compelling of a world.

Unfortunately some moments in the story's presentation falter and you may find yourself either confused or bored semi-frequently. As original as the concept is, the preachy manner with which it's presented does little to draw you in as you watch cut scenes and sit through conversations. The ironic part is that you probably won't care about the story, as original and charming as it is. The game is gorgeous to behold and listen to, and the combat is so fun that you'll be drawn in regardless.

Gameplay


When looking at any new RPG one looks for the familiar; that cliché inclusion that draws similarities to other games or reminds you of something. In the case of Eternal Sonata the only thing that comes to mind is Star Ocean. If you have never played that series, then you should know that it features an intense and enjoyable action role-playing combat system. Like Star Ocean, Eternal Sonata's battles have plenty to offer and its safe to say that you have to appreciate the genre in order to succeed.

Battles in Eternal Sonata are initiated when you walk into an enemy on the field or in a dungeon. You don't have to worry about random battles and it's very rare when a monster will get the jump on you. This isn't necessarily new to RPGs, but what's different here is just how enjoyable the combat system is compared to other entries in the genre. To be quite honest there are many things to talk about with regards to Eternal Sonata's combat. There are many subtleties that come into play here and things change as the game progresses. In addition to characters gaining experience points and leveling up, there are certain points within the game where your party's level will increase. There are a total of six levels and each of the drastically changes the tactics you use and how you approach a battle.

For starters there is a Tactical Time gauge that gives you time before battle to think things through. At first it's infinite but it will decrease and disappear altogether. Some of the same can be said for the Action Gauge because it starts out with five seconds but will eventually drop. The Action Gauge also changes to reflect your ability and party level so when you begin the game you can expect to not be penalized but as you near the end the clock starts ticking as soon as you enter a fight. The party levels more or less progress with your ability and even though they seem unfair when you start you'll soon appreciate the rewards you reap from the new level.

The party levels have a lot more to do with the flow of the gameplay than just your time gauges though. Normal (and special) attacks will eventually build up an Echo meter which serves as a way to make your special attacks do more damage. Later on in the game once you reach above a certain amount of Echoes your special attacks can be linked together with something called a Harmony Chain which will obliterate your foes. Mastering each of these skills is a blast and it's exploring the different combinations that keeps Eternal Sonata fresh and fun the entire way through.

The nice thing here is that even when your opponent's are on the offensive you still have some commands to implement. At the beginning of the game you can only guard on certain cues when facing an enemy. As your party level goes up you'll also be able to counter attack which nullifies the damage and gives you a window of opportunity to get some potshots in.

Yet another big component of Eternal Sonata's gameplay is the presence of light and shadow. In a fighting area you'll notice many shadows and bits of light scattered around depending on the location. This is important to watch for because a character's special abilities will change depending on where they are standing. If you want to use Viola's heal spell "Healing Arrow" you'd better position her in a bright area. Enemies also change depending on whether or not they are standing in darkness and it's not uncommon to see a foe's body undergo drastic changes when transitioning in between.

Item management is simplistic enough and never grows too tedious. Weapons, armor, and accessories are equipped through the menu and you have to set healing items to a slot in order to use them in combat. Admittedly the item setting got kind of tedious but fortunately that too increases with your party level.

All in all, the combat system in Eternal Sonata is very addictive. It's fast-paced, frenetic, and unique from start to finish and you'll hardly ever get bored. That's quite the statement considering this is a Japanese RPG and you'll be fighting the same monsters over and over again. Enemy encounters are fun and boss battles trend towards epic. In between you'll be searching for Score Pieces, special equipment, swapping out characters, and seeing what the world has to offer.

The PlayStation 3 version is just as straightforward and linear as the Xbox 360 version was, but some improvements have been made to give Sony fans a treat for waiting so long. For starters the game is slightly more challenging, and if you found yourself breezing through the 360 version, then you'll notice this edition is slightly more difficult. Two more characters, Crescendo and Serenade, also become playable for the PS3 which is always a nice thing. In addition to that, there are some additional dungeons which definitely extend the play time. All in all, if you own a PS3 and haven't played this game on the 360 yet, then you're going to want to dig in. It's a great and unique RPG experience that will keep you glued for quite some time. However, if you played the 360 version and are wondering if the PS3 one is worth an upgrade, I'd have to say that the additions aren't substantial enough. It's still the same solid experience, but it's virtually identical despite some slight modifications.

Graphics


Eternal Sonata is still one of the prettiest games on the market. It makes the case for the videogames as art argument and in just about ever way it will take your breath away. The character designs are detailed and stunning with a wide range of emotion during cut scenes and the monsters are particularly appealing as well. Granted enemy variety is somewhat lacking but the ones that are here look fantastic. The animation is fluid as well and it hardly ever skips a beat.

In my opinion, the single biggest achievement that Eternal Sonata brings to the table is the quality of the environments. Sure you can't really explore them and yes, not being able to manually operate the camera is obnoxious, but who cares! Your surroundings are drop dead gorgeous and if you don't pause for a moment to take it all in you have a heart of stone. From the highly detailed towns to the way sunlight squeezes through a forest's canopy there are so many things to love about the way this game looks.

The PlayStation 3 version of the game is very comparable to the Xbox 360 one. The graphics appear to be slightly brighter here, and in all honesty I didn't think that was possible for Eternal Sonata. Unfortunately there's slightly more blur in the animation some times, but other than that things are just as crisp and beautiful as they were when the game was originally released.

Audio


Considering this entire game revolves around music it should be no surprise that the soundtrack is absolutely amazing. New and familiar pieces impress every time they come up and at no point did I find myself annoyed by these scores. The sound effects are presented like you'd expect them to be and the voice acting is very good as well. The English cast doesn't produce the best vocal track I have ever heard but it's more than adequate and you can select the original Japanese if it bothers you. Overall this game sounds almost as good as it looks.

Final Thoughts


If you are looking for a solid role-playing game for the PlayStation 3 then you definitely need to add Eternal Sonata to your list. The gameplay is fast and furious and the presentation is simply to die for. Don't be surprised if the story leaves you scratching your head at parts but that's a small price to pay when you look at the whole package.

The PS3 finally has a solid RPG and despite the fact that it is one that has been ported over from the 360 it's worth checking out. The additional content is a nice incentive for folks who never played the game the first time around, and it extends the experience somewhat. If you're wondering if the title is worth a double dip, I must say that it's really not. The overall experience, as great as it is, is still identical to the game that was released about a year ago. Despite that, this game is still highly recommended and is not to be missed for any RPG lovers.