Eternal Sonata (PS3)

Frederick Chopin, musician, genius and now character in a JRPG.

Now that it has arrived on the PS3, I was asked to review it for Square Go.
Read my uncanny thinks here.

Eternal Sonata

4/5
Eternal Sonata

You’d be forgiven if you thought that the combination of a famous 19th century composer and spiky haired anime characters wouldn’t really work but oddly, it actually does. Eternal Sonata plocks us down in the midst of the 19th century, where a terribly ill Frédéric François Chopin lies in a coma, surrounded by his family and his doctor. Meanwhile deep inside his head lies a world of dreams, music and adventure in which magic is a fatal illness and weapons are built out of guitars, trumpets and clarinets.

Despite the occasional flits into the real world, the meat of the game is set in his dream land of Forte, where a young girl named Polka is setting out to rid the world of injustice. Along the way she meets up with honorable young beggarmen-thieves Allegretto and Beat, and the adult Chopin (who comes across as some sort of grooming paedophile). The adventurers all set out to meet Count Forte to impress upon him their ideas to better the kingdom, but it’s never that easy in a JRPG, and before you know it, they’ve been imbroiled in political intrigue, revolutions and even take time to battle pirates along the way.

Which is why Eternal Sonata is a bit of a paradox.  It has all the staples of your standard JRPG but implemented through a semi-educational story of Chopin’s life. At the end of each chapter, theres a lengthy cut-scene set to a musical piece he composed, giving the real-life reasons behind it.  While not essential to the story, it’s precisely these touches that make the game stand out.

It doesn’t hurt it either that it’s gorgeous to look at, with dazzling vistas stretching out all around, and a running motif of everything being related to music. Also the intermingling of new music with the classical pieces make it one of the better game soundtracks of the year.

The game plays in a more linear fashion than most JRPGs but this is fine as the story is compelling enough to keep it interesting. The combat system is also a relief as encounters can be avoided entirely by running around the enemies, if you’re fast enough.  It’s a clever twist which can also let you sneak attack by approaching from behind, giving you the crucial upper hand in the turn-based rounds. It also makes it equally possible they’ll try to do the same, meaning often it’s better to take them on head-first.

Not that it’s without flaws. There are far too few save points, often interspersed between more than one Boss fight and several long cut-scenes in between, meaning that you can get caught having to plod through huge swathes of the game if you die unexpectedly. Also by rights you should get an achievement trophy for having sat through all these lengthy cinematics, as the drawn out and impossibly slow intro sequence is right up there with Metal Gear Solid 4.  However you’re never entirely sure as to whether the invalid is the young Chopin or the old, as the game helpfully informs us that he survived a bout of the illness early in his life. The bed-ridden version looks like a teenager, which is in stark contrast to the dream-world Chopin who is obviously a grown man.

Despite these cribs, the ever present looming threat of death, and the undercurrents of suicide and xenophobia make this a game with far more than normal going on under the surface.

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