I have been playing through Eternal Sonata for the past few weeks and wanted to reserve judgment until I had a good chunk of the game completed. I had been watching this games development for several months before its release, and I bought it the week it came out. I really liked the demo, and the full version is even better. I will even go so far as to say this is one of my favorite Xbox 360 games.
This game is all about the art, music, and story. Although I have not finished it yet, I am totally immersed. Be warned though, this game may not be for all, there is a lot of level grinding, and combat can become repetitive at times, so can the sound effects. There are also some puzzle type dungeons that require a lot of backtracking which can become frustrating. That said, this game is amazing. I think game play is far more important than graphics, but this game has the best cell shaded animation I’ve ever seen in a game to date.
Eternal Sonata is one of the few Japanese RPGs available for the 360 along with Blue Dragon. While no veteran in this genre, the fighting battles in Eternal Sonata are unique. They blend a combination of turn based strategy with real time hack and slash. Basically you have your three characters. Each one has their turn in which you have a few seconds of tactical time to decide what you will do. Once you start your turn or tactical time runs out, the remainder of the turn is real time, usually about 3 to 5 seconds. You run toward your enemy, and start slashing as the timer bar counts down. You can also build up hits each time you attack. The longer you attack the more hits you build up which can then be used for a super powerful attack. This can be done by any character at any time throughout the battle. These are very useful against bosses.
In each battle field there are also light and dark places. These will affect the attacks of each character, allowing them to use their dark attack or light skill. This adds a lot of strategy to the game, as one character may be used to heal others while in light, and another one may have a very powerful magic in the dark. There is a surprising amount of depth to this real-time aspect of the game, but it can also grow frustrating as you waste turns and run out of time while changing items. Items are found throughout the game and can be used in battle. These are mostly modifiers, like light spells, darks spells, poisons, health etc.
Another interesting angle to this game is the score pieces. These are musical pieces you collect throughout the game. When you find other characters that have them you can play together. You will then be marked on how well the session went and possibly get an item. This is a small part of the game, but adds a little extra.
The whole game is based on music. Weapons look like instruments, names and places are musical terms, everything in the game is musical. Without giving too much away, the game is about Frédéric Chopin on his death bed having a dream. Whether it is a dream or not is part of the mystery. The story is actually quite deep, and cut scenes can last for 10 minutes at times, but they are never boring, in fact they are one of the reasons I find myself pushing ahead to see more of the story unfold. As you play you will unlock real Chopin pieces which will play while showing pictures and giving real history about Chopin. The Anime story so far seems to be loosely connected to the real history of Chopin. The songs that you unlock are performed by renowned pianist, Stanislav Bunin. These songs are the most powerful in the game, but even the game music is quite good.
Although the game does have its flaws, its presentation and music blow away any faults. This game is a must for any RPG fan, or Anime fan. The art direction is just stunning and awe inspiring. The detail is unmatched. Everything from tiny sparkling flowers to giant cliffs and trees is rendered in matriculate detail. I find myself stopping and looking around for minutes at a time. The characters are all beautifully rendered and very memorable. If you do buy this game, expect a wonderful journey into a fantasy world that will take you away from the real world for many, many hours.
View my updated post and screenshots on Eternal Sonta