Friday, November 2, 2007

Review: "Eternal Sonata" hits the right note

What do you get when you combine a legendary composer, breath-taking scenery and beautiful music? A masterpiece called "Eternal Sonata."

Bandai Namco's "Eternal Sonata" is an RPG video game that features classical music legend Frederic Chopin. Wow ... video game based on a famous composer and pianist. Sweet.

Our hero, Chopin, is on his deathbed in this Paris apartment, dreams his last dream. In his dream, he encounters a young girl facing a terrible future and a boy will fight to save her. At first, he thinks the vivid world around him is a just a fantasy, but he realizes it's more than a fantasy.

You start out playing as Polka, the young girl Chopin befriends. It is styled around the standard RPG fighting system where you attack and the enemy attacks next. You earn experience points and can add fighting abilities as you continue playing.

Along the way, you meet a few more companions, but by far the coolest are Allegretto and Beat. Yes, you can laugh. The musical theme runs throughout the game. Allegretto and Beat steal bread for the poor but Allegretto wants to confront the powers that be about lowering the costly taxes. Other characters you'll meet in the game include Viola, Falsetto, Salsa and Jazz (no, not the hella cool AutoBot on "Transformers"). I just love the musical tie-ins.

So starts the adventure. Though it is an RPG, it is linear. You have to stick to the script - which isn't bad in this case. You do have a few choices, but not many. You can access stores in town, go to church, explore forests, dungeons, sewers and caves - all beautiful scenery. The character cell-shading is impressive. The characters look like they are straight out of a graphic novel.

As you journey the world, you will encounter treasure chests - which can contain food, score pieces (more on that later), and other trinkets. The score pieces can be used in "sessions." Certain individuals in towns or dungeons you come in contact with can perform with. You will be evaluated on how your piece fits into the session. If it fits, you can win rare items.

To the battle ...

Combat is pretty simple. If you hit your enemy from the back, you have a two-hit advantage over them. You can wipe the floor with smaller characters - big tough ones? Not so much.

We start off with some tools you'll need to know before you get down. First, there's Tactical Time. It allows you to strategize your next action before you actually attack. Next is the action gauge. It's starts moving once Tactical Time runs out (which happens when you start moving). The next character's attack time begins with the action gauge hits zero. The Hits and Character HP show how many hit points the character has. You also can use regular strikes or use a special strike - you can have several - but only can select from two moves in fights. However, the coolest fighting feature has to be the echo meter. As you fight, the more combos you run up, the more echoes you store in the meter. It is shared by everyone in your immediate party. If you get alot of echo in the echo meter, when you do a special move, it increases the strength of special attacks. Sweet, huh? And yes, Chopin can open a can on enemies too. He has mad fighting skills.

The more enemies you kill, especially with tons of combos, levels your character up. You can earn special abilities by increasing your experience points.

Control is pretty tight, though the one real gripe I have is the inability of panning the game camera. You can't look around to see enemies or paths until you are right up on them.

Sound is a real treat. The in-game sounds are cool, but pause the game to get a personal concert. By far, this game has the best soundtrack I have ever heard in a game. If there was a CD out with this music, I'd buy it for my children.

Bandai Namco has scored a hit with "Eternal Sonata." I didn't know a lot about Chopin before this game. Now? I feel compelled to listen to his music.


Why should I care: "Eternal Sonata" combines pretty scenery, soothing Chopin and roll it into an RPG.

The good: By far, the music of Mr. Chopin - even for someone who loves R&B - beautiful landscapes loaded with rich colors, great-looking anime characters - and the list goes on

The bad: Absolutely no camera controls - it would be nice to pan the camera to see what else is going on.

The ugly: Not a single thing.

Overall: 9.25 (out of 10):
This game rocks. I am not into RPGs that have the stand-while-I-attack you combat system, but this changed my mind - on a lot of things. And I have a new appreciation for frail Mr. Chopin. Not only was he a whiz on the piano, but he can bring it in a fight like Mike Tyson.

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