Apr 13, 2011

[Games] Eternal Sonata (PS3)

Eternal Sonata (PS3)Like most other console geeks, I have a more than healthy respect for the RPG genre of titles. While not necessarily for everyone, RPGs continue to provide a fun marriage between gaming and classic storytelling in a nicely dynamic way. They are major time sucks of course, but what good game is't that way, right?

One of the bigger challenges with RPGs is the fact that they're single-player games that certainly strain shared console time for multi-user homes. In our case, we tend to favor local cooperative play games since it means both my partner and I get to play instead of the typical RPG scenario where either one ends up watching the other or each person plays the game independently. The second solution rarely works - more often than not one runs into spoilers because of the use of a single console and that ultimately ruins the game for one or more of the users.

So when we found out that this game offered a limited multiplayer option despite being an RPG, my partner and I couldn't quite resist satisfying our curiosity about the game. But beyond this little novelty to the game system, the whole experience turned out to be a lot more enjoyable that we expected.

Eternal Sonata was originally an XBox 360 game that was later ported to the PS3 with additional content. The game was developed by Tri-Crescendo primarily by Hiroya Hatsushiba.

The game was originally known as Trust Bell: Chopin's Dream when translated directly from the original Japanese name. That title better explains one of the quirkier aspects of the game's story - that this is all related to classical pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin. The whole game is crafted as the product of his fever dreams during his last year before he ultimately died of tuberculosis. Thus the story features a strong musical theme in all aspects of the game and a lot of historical information on Chopin and his life. Yes, this game is actually rather educational.

Our story starts with two protagonists. On the one hand, we have Polka, a young girl who has gained access to magic because she is terminally ill (I don't really get the connection - just accept this for now). She typically tries to make money for her family by selling floral powder in the city, but most citizens opt for the much cheaper mineral powder for their medicinal needs. One night, she eventually encounters a stranger named Frederic, who claims that this world is nothing but a dream of his. He joins her on her journey to Forte Castle to see if something can be done about the floral powder situation.

Frédéric Chopin 1846 or 1847 daguerreotypeImage via WikipediaThe other part of the story begins with a pair of young Robin Hood style themes named Allegretto and Beat. The pair steal bread to feed poor children who can't afford it given everything has been excessively taxed except for mineral powder. The two eventually cross paths with Polka and Frederic and they all journey together to Forte Castle to discover the truth behind the usually high taxes and the dire side effects of excessive mineral powder use. Cut scenes either show a little of what's going on at the castle but more often than not tell a part of Chopin's life to better explain who the real Chopin was for you less educated gamers. As far as educational games go, this really beats out a lot of the old Putt-Putt titles or whatever you liked wasting time on when CD-ROMs were brand new on the market.

The lifeblood of any RPG is its combat system and the game introduces a fairly interesting spin on the usual RPG staples. First, combat is a combination of turn-based actions per character involved in the battle with the actual movement and attacks relegated to a time meter that runs out the moment you start moving. Thus you can do any number of normal or special attacks (the game has no MP or other magical delimiter) within the allotted time. Actions use up a specific amount of time on your bar although normal attacks also give you some time back.

In addition, there are additional conditions that can affect your attacks. The most noticeable one is the fact that parts of the battlefield are either in light or in shadow. Depending on where your character is standing, this will affect what magical abilities you have access too. For creatures and monsters, this also affects them by changing the nature of their attacks from physical to magical and other things. Another fun element is how chaining normal attacks builds up what the game calls "echoes". Build up enough echoes before releasing a special attack and you'll dramatically increase the amount of damage dealt.

Better yet, the combat system does allow for up to three players to be involved in the battle with each of you controlling one or more of the maximum of three party members active in the battle at any one time. It's really more of a novelty and other players can only get involved during combat and not during the story segments of the game, but it is an added fun element. My partner and I actually enjoy this a lot and we actually discuss how to better coordinate battles during the "Tactical Time" at the start of each turn before any of us take actions and start the clock.

The game eventually allows you access to up to 12 playable characters with only three of them being actively in the battle at any one time. The game's novel party level system also adds additional benefits such as being able to utilize more than one light and/or dark power at a time but also adding additional constraints to the active time meter. In this respect, the combat system is pretty fun since it provides a continued level of challenge for players without getting impossibly hard.

Back to the story, well, the whole thing about the dream is a classic trope and it does get a bit stranger as things go on. Naturally given the set-up, you just know that there's going to be a rebellion of some sort that will become your allies. And you know that there's more to this whole mineral powder business than just taxes. And of course we're going to get even more characters that fit the theme of music whether as instruments, musical styles or just musical terms. Oh fun.

But beyond the tropes is a pretty good game experience. It's nothing very landmark in its approach and it is highly linear it is progression. But more importantly it's a lot of fun and doesn't try to become a lot more than what it actually is (Final Fantasy XIII anyone?) Simpler games like this can really pay off, plus being able to truly share the RPG experience with another person is the real fun here.

Eternal Sonata for the PS3 is a great addition to any RPG library and it should prove useful should you need to write a report about Chopin. It gets 4 crazy musically-themed names out of a possible 5.




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