Players celebrate music and the past in old game

Photo courtesy of Brandon Motz

“Eternal Sonata” was developed by tri-Crescendo and released on Xbox 360 in 2007. It was then rereleased with extra sections and additional playable characters a year later for PlayStation 3. Players can revisit an old game as they ring in the new year.

This RPG took its role playing genre seriously, as it focuses on the real life pianist and composer Frédéric François Chopin. The opening of the game shows Chopin sick in bed with a less than hopeful doctor. Throughout the game, this scene is revisited several times, but the majority of “Eternal Sonata” takes place in a world that Chopin is sure is merely a dream. Throughout the game, Chopin, who is one of ten (12 in the PS3 version) playable characters, continuously switches between trying to convince himself that this world is reality, that it is a dream and that it might not matter. He is rather confused most of the time, and many of the other character tend to disregard what he says.

At the beginning of the game, the player starts out with Polka, a young girl who can use magic, which, in this world, means she is terminally ill. She soon sets out on a quest to speak with Count Waltz and request the lowering of taxes on Floral Powder, the medicine that she sells since it is better than the untaxed Mineral Powder. Polka soon meets a well-dressed Frederic — the dream-world Chopin goes by his unaccented first name — who tells her that she is a figment of his imagination. The two continue on their way to Count Waltz, meeting Allegretto and Beat who also plan to ask for the lowering of taxes for their own reasons.

The story becomes more involved from here, eventually growing to include pirates, an underground revolutionary group, a goat herder who apparently had nothing better to do, several dragons and the forming of a mind-controlled army. Unfortunately, “Eternal Sonata” also saw fit to include historical asides where players are treated to slide shows of paintings and pictures with text overlays describing several points in Chopin’s life. While including history is not inherently bad, there are far more interesting ways to do so. As is, the average player would be bored by the overly slow text that interrupts gameplay and has no real bearing on the rest of the game. Also, since these asides are presented in no particular order, they are not particularly useful at teaching Chopin’s life.

The actual gameplay is turn-based combat. The player can choose which three characters will fight in each battle, instantly making several of the characters superfluous. Each of the three characters can be mapped to a different controller, adding an interesting take on co-op to the game. During enemies’ turns, the player is given a chance to block attacks, which improves greatly on the usual approach of just taking a beating until it is once again that character’s turn.

The fighting controls are simplistic, but logical, and make the combat an enjoyable part of “Eternal Sonata.” Whenever a character executes a powerful special attack, he or she will say something rather poetic such as Alegretto’s phrase, “Fall into the never-ending depths of night!”, before beating the enemy viciously with a music themed weapon or, in Polka’s case, an umbrella. This is interesting the first time a special attack is unlocked since the dialog will be new, but can get rather repetitive very quickly.

During combat, one of the special attacks is Beat’s ability to take pictures. This is extremely rewarding, since players can then sell the photos for exorbitant prices and will never want for gold. This aspect of the game seems to be slightly broken, though it was modified in the PS3 version to make it less so, since players can earn thousands of gold for a single picture and the price of new weapons, armor and items can be bought for considerably less.

Outside of combat, player one can wander the over world, leaving any who choose to play the game in co-op mode to sit and watch someone else play the game until the next fight. Fortunately, fights are frequent outside of cities, and in cities, cut scenes abound, so no one is playing.

A non-story related side quest in “Eternal Sonata” allows the player to find Score Pieces by inspecting various places and then play the found sheet music with NPCs to try making a decent sounding duet. This certainly fits the theme of the Chopin-centered game, but it is not a particularly rewarding endeavor unless, perhaps, the player knows music
well or is interested in a second play through.

“Eternal Sonata” is a fun game with good controls and, despite beating the players about the head with its philosophy and morality, has an interesting storyline and more characterization than most similar RPGs. Though the ending starts out strange, gets weirder and then travels to another dimension entirely composed of the bizarre, it is wholly worthwhile and is certainly memorable.