xbox 360

Review: Eternal Sonata: The blue-haired poet of the piano

Years ago, before I had seen a bunch of weird games, if you had told me there was an RPG in a dream world of Frederic Francois Chopin, I would have called bullshit. I'm not so surprised about it anymore. So after a couple years of seeing cosplays from the game and noticing that fellow RPG fans had played it, I figured it was about time to learn about Chopin and his unrealistically blue hair.

All joking aside, Eternal Sonata taught me as much as a video game can about music history. But more than that, it inspired me to find parallels between the game and Chopin's life. It's amazing how video games can inspire you to learn more about a subject.

As you can see from the game's cover, this is a Namco game, and the English localized game has a lot of voice actors commonly found in another Namco franchise, the Tales series. I highly recommend this game to all Tales fans, especially ones who are interested in music. The game cover is also for the PlayStation 3 version; the game came out for the Xbox 360 first one year before the PS3 version. Eternal Sonata on the PS3 has additional content, a more fleshed out story (and apparently a more fleshed out Allegretto, one of the main characters), and a costume for each Allegretto, Beat, and Polka that you can find in-game. The PS3 cover features an angry Frederic Chopin and the other characters ready for battle whereas the Xbox 360 version's cover should prepare you more for the cheesiness of Eternal Sonata.

But even with the amount of friendship and happy themes, it's not a happy game overall. After all, this game reflects Chopin's life. Each chapter has a period of exposition where one of Chopin's pieces will play in the background as the narration informs you of when this piece was written, what it means, and how it may have spoken to Chopin. Thanks to Eternal Sonata, I learned about Chopin's Polish background, his relationship with George Sand, and why he couldn't return to his home in Poland all the while getting a crash course on the same pieces my sister was studying in her music classes!

The world in Eternal Sonata largely takes place within Chopin's dream as this is happening on his death bed. When he meets a young girl named Polka who reminds him of his deceased sister Emilia, he confesses to her that this is all his dream. She doesn't seem bothered by it, and we're led to believe that it's rather strange that her life and everyone else living in that world would be a product of his imagination.

This theory of escapism for Frederic makes sense at first, but as he becomes more attached to the characters -- primarily Polka -- and involved in saving their world from the stereotypically evil Count Waltz, it becomes harder to tell what's real and what's a dream. The ending of the game, unfortunately, does not wrap this up well. Instead of a well-written build-up to Chopin's decision to stay in this world or pass away, we get a sudden final fight and a character's suicide, except just kidding there's some weird time thing going on, so that character doesn't end up dying to save the world because that's no longer necessary. However, the final song, Heaven's Mirror, is a beautiful song -- and it's an original composition. If only the conclusion of the game had been less out of nowhere.

Eternal Sonata looks like it has a stereotypical world. It's got the trope of a young girl needing to sacrifice herself, magic, and an evil ruler trying to take over the world. It's a clear cut good vs. evil kind of game. However, the addition of magic was written into the most interesting use of magic I've seen so far. Only characters who are near death are able to use magic, so being able to use those powers is terrifying. More and more people are near death from the side effects of mineral powder, the only medicine Count Waltz allows his people to use. This powder has severe health and environmental problems, whereas the floral powder Polka tries to sell does not.

The majority of the characters meet up as a result of the different problems of mineral powder as they are united by their wish to speak to Count Waltz and appeal to his better nature. They'll soon find out that he has no better nature. He's not an interesting antagonist with few complexities, but Liam O'Brien gives him a fantastically nasty character in a great show of his voice acting. The voice acting is excellent. As I mentioned before, most of these voices will not sound strange to any JRPG fans. And here's a huge shout out to Cam Clarke for his role of Prince Crescendo! It has been far too long since I've heard his voice in an RPG.

Eternal Sonata is both a turn-based fighting game, but it also demands your full attention. Characters' turns occur depending on their speed stat. In the beginning of the game, you have tactical time, giving you a few seconds to figure out what you're going to do with your turn. You then have a few seconds to run around the field, attack, or use items. By attacking, you build up echoes, and once you have at least 24, you can use a powered up special attack. During the enemy's turn, you can guard when attacked. Guarding is essential for your survival, but you can't just hold down O and expect to take little damage. For your guard to be effective, you must do it at a precise time. A second too soon or too late, and you won't reduce any damage. Like playing music, you must be precise and on time.

And because this is a game about Chopin and music -- complete with musical terms and styles used for characters and dungeons -- this game just wouldn't be what it was if it weren't for the fantastic score by Motoi Sakuraba. As much as I love his work for Tales and Golden Sun, I don't think there's any game that's expressed his creativity more beautifully than Eternal Sonata.

The game's graphics are beautiful as well. They're sometimes hard to see as the camera is often zoomed out, but on close shots like the one above, it's easy to see how much detail went into the graphics. I wish there was an adjustable camera because I would have loved to see more of the world.

Eternal Sonata sparked my interest in a historical figure, plays beautiful and original music, and has a battle system I had not experienced before. (I became well-acquainted with that O button.) For that, I have to love it. The story was good, but could have been much better near the end, but the music is what made it a beautiful game. I wouldn't expect less from a great game loosely about Frederic Chopin.