Eternal Sonata Reader Review
Eternal Sonata is a Japanese RPG developed by Tri-Crescendo, the company behind the Baten Kaitos series. Considering the fact that Tri-Crescendo has also worked on a lot of sound design the past, it comes as no surprise that Eternal Sonata is a game that's all about music. It sports a soothing piano soundtrack, cell shaded graphics and a turn-based combat system.
Also, it's a terrible game.
They're so many things the developers get wrong that I don't really know where to start. The story seems like a relatively good starting point:
The story opens with the famous composer Frederic Chopin lying on his deathbed, dying from tuberculosis. The doctor, instead of doing his job properly, enjoys a chat with Frederic's mother about alternate reality and the power of dreams. In other worlds: they believe Chopin's dreams may be more real then we may actually believe. Quite surprisingly, they're absolutely right. The entire game takes place in the mind of Frederic, a final dream Chopin has before he passes on. Oddly enough, the dream world actually looks very cheerful and happy. I was expecting something else from someone on his deathbed. In this dream-world, Chopin (sporting a high hat with a feather in his dream, oddly enough) joins up with Polka, a young girl afflicted by a deadly disease, and a band of young, albeit very well-meaning, rebels. Together they seek to rid the (dream)world of a corrupt government that actually uses healing powder to turn the population into an army of slaves. Also, taxes are way too high, and the party calls it bullshit.
Sounds good no? Not in the least…
The problem with the story is the approach the developers took towards it. If everyone of the team would have just admitted that the story was nothing more but a stupid way to send the party into some semi-fun battles, that would have been just fine by me. Unfortunately, the idiots who wrote the story actually thought they had something meaningful and deep to tell you. The result is one the most preachy games EVER made. The game is chock-full of overly long cut scenes where every characters goes on for ages and ages about how evil the enemy is, and how smart they actually are to realize this. Furthermore, the game treats you like an absolute child. Every time a plot development occurs, every character starts explaining in meticulous detail every aspect of the aforementioned twist. It's impossible the amount of times I came across the sequences and almost shouted 'Here we go again!' as one of the characters started on a lengthy rant about something that should be obvious even to a 8-year old. The fact that the game is as unsubtle as a dump truck driving through a nitro-glycerine plant doesn't really help in this department. But that's not all. This game is INSANELY offensive to the real-life character of Frederic Chopin. For some reason, Tri-Crescendo decided to portray the composer (which I assume they all admire) as an absolute douchebag. Chopin constantly wanders around, questioning the nature of reality and the most obvious of obvious ways. His favourite subject is stressing the fact that all the party members are just 'figments of his imagination'. Well, duh, it's a dream Chopin, you don't have to be such a douche about it. Every time this guy appears on stage he just takes off into an epic rant about himself and his solipsism. It will only take a few of these cutscenes to drive you absolutely insane. If you ever play the game, feel free to go to the fridge and make a sandwich. Or, you can just skip the entire thing. At the end of the game, I was desperately searching for a way to remove ol' Fred from my party, alas, to no avail. He just keeps going to the very last second. In fact, the developers have succeeded in smacking on just a LITTLE MORE childish philosophy AFTER THE CREDITS HAVE ROLLED! Impressive.
Oh, and the game is littered with cutscenes informing you about the real life of Chopin. While they're informative, they have absolutely NOTHING to do with the story (Come to think of it… Chopin himself has nothing to do with the story at all… Come to think of it… The story makes no sense at all and has no purpose), and you're probably so sickened by the in-game character of Chopin that you'll skip these outright. I know that's what I did after I ploughed my way through the first one.
So, after I finally got to do MY rant, let's move on to the gameplay shall we?
The first thing that come to mind when I think of the gameplay in Eternal Sonata is: 'Why is this called an RPG?'. Ok, I agree, the game's combat relies on stats and you have a party. It pretty much ends there. The game offers no freedom whatsoever in terms of character creation/developement (which, after all, is THE most essential element of an RPG, even if a lot of jRPGs outright ignore this). You just get a couple of characters in your party and they have fixed attributes. Whenever one levels up, they automatically get a few more points in those attributes. So you're character gets stronger, but you don't get to decide how exactly. They just get better 'overall'. The effect of levelling is totally negated by the fact that the game is as linear as f(x) = m x + b. That's right, this game is more linear then Super Mario. How are you supposed to feel more powerful if all you do in this game is walk down a path that leads to, well, stronger monsters? That's right: that's ALL you get to do in this game. You walk down linear paths (you can't even turn back… Can you imagine that?), and fight monsters. Granted, the combat is actually pretty fun for the first time around. The game starts with a turn based system that gives you a certain amount of points to spend on attacks and movement. However, the game slowly evolves into a more action based games, as it slowly begins to incorporate time into every turn. While it's nice idea to really mix up the combat as the game goes along, rest assured that in the end, it amounts to nothing more but a traditional buttonmash fest. Also, in traditional jRPG tradition, character eventually do about damage of about 19000 damage per turn. Letting It evolve from 10 to 200 might have done the trick as well, and may have made the combat less insane, with super high numbers flying all over the place. This results in you not even caring about how much damage you actually do. 8000? That's nice. 9000? Nice as well. 11000? Pretty neat. Why this is done beats me. Probably the game's only way to make your characters feel stronger.
To summarize I'll draw a little scheme of how the game is structured:
Cutscene – Linear Path - Cutscene – Linear Path - Cutscene – Linear Path - Cutscene – Linear Path - Cutscene – Linear Path - Cutscene – Linear Path - Cutscene – Linear Path - Cutscene – Linear Path - Cutscene – Linear Path - Cutscene – Linear Path…
When you're playing a Linear Path you just wish it was over, as the path is just so…. LINEAR. And the fights are just so… REPETITIVE and USELESS. So when the path is finally cleared of monsters (which are abundant, I assure you), you get to a cutscene. But what did I mention about these cutscenes above? That's right, they suck and are offensive to our intelligence. So you wish you finally got to that next Linear Path because the story is boring you. But then you realize that you've been there before. One nice touch however: you can plug in up to three controllers and let you're friends play alongside you in the battles.
So, what didn't we talk about yet? Ah yes: the presentation! To be honest, this really is the best part of the game. The game has fairly adequate graphics. Its cell shaded graphics are pretty good, but you'll come across some fairly ugly scenery. A forest early in the game could easily pass for previous generation for example. The good cell shaded graphics do come at a cost however: there's little variety in the monsters you encounter, and character appearances don't change according to your weapon. The camera is stuck in a specific angle all the time, making it feel like your playing a game with pre-rendered backgrounds. Furthermore, the art style and character designs are absolutely uninspired. The music in the game is also fairly strong. It features some nice set piece by the man himself, Frederic Chopin, and some original pieces which are also fairly moody. The voice acting is so-so. More irritating are the shouts during battle. All characters have to irresistible urge to shout out the name of the specific special attack whenever used. They'll likely drive you mad.
Oh, and it also doesn't help that the game has some of the worst Xbox 360 achievements ever made. I played through the entire freaking game, and got a few measly point for completing it. The rest of the points are to be found in a single side-dungeon which I didn't find and can be also be gained for collecting a bunch of idiotic score pieces. This made my entire playthrough feel even more like a waste of time.
So, if you've actually went and read through this entire review, do I really need to outline the conclusions for you? Ok, here goes;
Presentation: The game has a fairly handy interface and comes with a manual that explains pretty much everything you need to know. That's because there really isn't much to know at all. 8/10
Graphics: The cell shaded graphics are nice, but the art is uninspired, the variation is lacking, the scenery is often dull and the camera is always stuck in a specific position. 5/10
Sound: Solid music, irritating battle cries, and mixed voice acting. 5/10
Gameplay: As linear and repetitive as games possibly get. You'll be dodging enemies and running for the exits after only a few hours. 3/10
Story: The entire is an insult to the player's intelligence, it's loaded with cringe inducing dramatical moments, laugh-out-loud philosophical ramblings and childish themes the developers thought of as deep. If there's an 18+ sticker to protect kids from adults games, there should also be a 12- sticker to protect adults from this game. 1/10.
Value: While the game certainly is fairly lengthy compared to games of the other genres, it's fairly short by jRPG standards, and you'll like to be bored before the games 15-20 hours are over because it's mind-numbing repetitiveness. There's no reason to go through it again. 5/10
CONCLUSION: Do not buy, rent or play this game unless you want to gather a bunch of friends and spend a night laughing at the idiotic dialogue. 4/10.
P.S. I apologize for spelling/grammar errors or other inconsistencies. English is not my first language.