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Eternal Sonata (PlayStation 3) artwork

Eternal Sonata (PlayStation 3) review

"Eternal Sonata should in fact be one of the select games in your RPG collection."

JRPG's are underrated. Sure, their majority usually contains highly cryptic plot devices (like Midgar disasters and Darcen menaces) and androgynous men with big swords and emotional problems... that's fact, one that is in all fairness, a small but highly brought-up subject when underscoring just how hard the genre has had in this generation of games since the mainstream inception. Seriously, when someone brings up say, Eternal Sonata to a newcoming gamer, it's not the battle system that usually bugs them but the stigma that many companies have to put up with when creating RPG's this decade: "Oh, I don't feel like sitting through the tutorials of the battle system and actually LEARNING how this game works. So I'll just take a jab of this guy who looks like a girl, the story that I'm not really listening to and just put Eternal Sonata in the 'JRPG's-suck-as-a-whole' box".
This is false, very much so. Eternal Sonata should in fact be one of the select games in your RPG collection.

Let me get this out the way first. MANY JRPG titles are doing the whole "Let's make our games look and sound like mainstream Anime now that technology can handle it" shtick. Suffice it say, Eternal Sonata uses a cell-shaded porcelain doll modeling scheme to create a gentle appeal for it's characters. In some cases the movements of the characters overall will look stiff, but there's not a lot of extreme animations happening. But that's the theme of Eternal Sonata: it's gentle, it's poetic; don't expect fast-paced, bullet-time action sequences in the game's cut-scenes, rather expect them in the real-time battles you'll be having.

All battles happen in real-time with all the enemies appearing on the field outside of battle, which is most welcome these days. Players have the ability to run around on the battlefield, use attacks and powerful specials whenever they like without any regard to standard MP's that most RPG's utilize. Players are even prompted to press certain buttons during battles to block and counterattack as the game progressives. That is, after each chapter of the story is completed, the battle scenarios change subtly to provide even more of a challenge.

Players can find enemies range from laughably weak to incredibly difficult even with the added element of having characters who use long-range attacks (I myself have a particular bias to a character named Viola who can be both vital to battles and just adorable in the story). Being able to interchange strategies in mid-battle while making sure to press the right button on command keeps players on their toes. The game even provides players with the option of bringing in two other players to join the battle which is both fun and beneficial.

The main problem with Eternal Sonata though is indeed it's character models and dungeon presentation which, while they all look very pretty, can come across as stale. With the battle system being as deep as it is, it's a wonder why the characters themselves do not have deep expressions even during the story's most conflicting moments. It's nice that the cut-scenes can be skipped at any moment but it's hard to fall in love with a majority of them when quite frankly, they all wear the same blank expression. While the environments look amazing, a majority of them provide nothing more than "open this door over there", "light this candle to open this path", yadda-yadda; it's not entirely bland but it would've nice to see some platforming elements instead of a "feed this goat" scenario in order to progress from level to level honestly.

While it's not an inspiring game-changer for RPG's, Eternal Sonata is certainly one to take note of. Style-wise, Sonata's music themes stick out the as the best features of the game. The classical arrangements inspired by some of music's most influential composers range from relaxed to intense; all are worth a listen. Personally, the boss-battle track "I Bet My Belief" runs on my CD mix whenever I'm driving. That said, the soundtrack is amazing and the game itself is well aware of it; so much so that everything, from the characters' weapons to the worlds' names themselves are inspired musically.

So yes, if you're looking for a solid and challenging RPG experience, by all means, Eternal Sonata is worth your time. It starts slow, the characters aren't generally amazing... (why hasn't Beat smacked Salsa yet?) but the battle-system and the game's music-themed setting are greatly entertaining. It's questionable why Eternal Sonata wasn't pitched as an animated series in Japan (where is was originally titled Trusty Bell: Chopin's Dream). The anime concept may turn off some players but it's nonetheless a very good game with interesting story elements and even some optional historical factoids in between chapters. Give it shot!


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Community review by Sparkflowstudios (April 15, 2012)

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zippdementia posted April 16, 2012:

I will say that Eternal Sonata had a great idea for a story and a vibrant world to carry that story. The way they chose to present it otherwise, however, completely bored me and was so full of anime (and, subsequently, JRPG) cliches that I couldn't make it very far in. The battle system was a nice play on the "Tales" system, but those damn characters were so uninteresting to me that watching them fight was not an entertaining prospect.
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zippdementia posted April 16, 2012:

Oh, geez, I didn't even tell you that I liked the review, though I disagree with it's final conclusions. I've got seven documents to edit and send in the next hour, otherwise I'd sit down and give you a solid feedback. For now, just know that I think you are in need of some grammar work but you have a strongly developed engaging voice which could take you far if you decide to keep writing!
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Sparkflowstudios posted April 17, 2012:

The problem with JRPG's today is that you'll be hard-pressed to find one that isn't based on or looks like some kind of Anime which, thanks to mainstream popularity and anime's own gimmicks have caused the medium to be looked down upon. Sonata definitely has its own style that sets it apart from other anime-esque games like final fantasy 13-2 for instance, which is why personally I still play Sonata on occasion probably more so than other JRPG in my collection probably more so than final fantasy 13 or its sequel.

To be fair though, it's still a solid game otherwise. Anime is still very popular here in the states so the appeal in the game plays to that audience. Feel free to throw your comments my way and p.m. me about grammatical errors. Looking forward to the feedback.

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