Eternal Sonata Preview
Last year, Xbox 360 owners were treated to a relatively original and very musical RPG known as Eternal Sonata. For months after the release, rumors began to spread that Namco Bandai would bring the solid melodic adventure to the PlayStation 3, and, thankfully, those rumors proved true. The PS3 version will launch in North America on October 21 – adding to an already impressive October lineup – and for PS3 owners, this should be one of the very first role-playing titles worth buying for Sony’s next-gen machine. The good news is that although it’s about a year late, this new version will feature plenty of additions and enhancements, and in that way, it reminds us of the upcoming Bioshock PS3 version. Translation: Eternal Sonata PS3 will be the best version of the two, and if you didn’t play it on the 360, it’s a must-consider for the fall. The gameplay isn’t entirely original but it is intriguing, and the foundation built around legendary composer Frederic Chopin will appeal to true music lovers. Check it out.
The developers must’ve obtained a special license or two to use the composer’s life as the basis for this game, as many of your adventures will actually take place inside Chopin’s dreams. In fact, Chopin is on his deathbed and you will adopt the role of the “virtual” Chopin in his own dreams, and there you will battle all kinds of enemies that are hell-bent on…well, we’re not entirely sure. But they certainly pose a problem, and by utilizing a battle system that features both real-time and traditional turn-based elements, you and your friends will soldier through the talented pianist’s dreams and nightmares. Some of the characters you will encounter in your travels are the colorful Polka, the cocky Allegretto, and of course, good ol’ Beat (are we spotting a trend, here?). You’ll actually start the game with Polka, but much like the old Wild ARMs RPGs the whole crew will soon come together and – hopefully – stay together for the remainder of the quest. Obviously, music plays a tremendous role in Eternal Sonata, and we have to assume Chopin’s wonderful compositions will be included.
Now, about that combat. Perhaps it’s best to compare it to something like Valkyrie Profile 2; the only difference is that while the exploration in the latter was 2D, the entire world of Sonata is three-dimensional. However, the battlefields in both games are 3D, and you move your characters in real-time with only a few simple restrictions. You can assign commands to your team at any time, but there is no turn-based attack system, despite the fact you are fighting on a battlefield that is separate from the landscape you explore. One of the more unique aspects of the combat is how light and dark directly impacts how you approach your foes; when in the dark, enemies can morph and change into more damaging forms so watch your step! Those who enjoy a hybrid fighting system that may remind you of games like Star Ocean: ‘Til the End of Time should be right at home when crossing swords with enemies in Eternal Sonata. The only question we really have is this: how complex is the interaction between our allies? Can we set them up for devastating combo attacks?
Also, we’d like to know how well the AI functions, especially when it comes to our CPU-controlled characters. We’ll be able to set the commands appropriately, depending on the situation, but let’s hope they can handle their business without the player being forced to constantly intervene. Now, as for the new additions to the PS3 version: one of the most significant is the inclusion of two new playable characters, called Crescendo and Serenade respectively. They were part of the story in the 360 version, but they’re actually playable in the PS3 version, so that’s a big bonus. PS3 owners will also get the benefit of three new quests and two new dungeons, which are called Lament and the Church of the EZI. Sadly, only one of them will be open during your first playthrough; the second won’t open unless you decide to go back through the game again. The last bit of bonus material – not surprisingly – revolves around the soundtrack; tri-Crescendo has added six new tracks for your listening pleasure. All this being considered, it seems clear that PS3 owners are going to get the superior version in this instance, even though we had to wait a lot longer to get it.
The lack of PlayStation 3 RPGs so far this generation has been most distressing; just ask any fan of the genre. However, Eternal Sonata should be a breath of fresh air; it’s colorful, engaging, musically superb, and with all that extra content, it means we won’t be playing an exact replica of the 360 version. The realm of the Japanese RPG has become significantly smaller over the past few years, but publishers like Bandai and Atlus will continue to deliver titles to hardcore followers of such games. This is one game that ought to satisfy such fans, what with its semi-traditional format, hybrid combat, and anime-style art. Obviously, there are a great many big games coming out in October, but RPG lovers really have no other recourse: Eternal Sonata is the best choice, and well worth the price of admission. Just remember, it is geared towards the RPG buffs, so steer clear if you’re not amongst that crowd.
9/25/2008 Ben Dutka