Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Magic of Eternal Sonata

Beat, from Eternal Sonata
Eternal Sonata is one of those games that I felt was extremely under-rated and under-appreciated, receiving a rather low Metacritic score of 79, but nevertheless is one of my favorite RPGs. For me, the game is magic and has a lot of heart, and I'll try to explain why I feel that's the case. I loved this game so much that I believe I played the game at least 4 times through.

As a new gamer, I'm not sure how I found out about Eternal Sonata, since the usual games recommended tend to be the larger franchises, when I did research into what games are considered "acclaimed". I used the game consensus/lists of "top 100 games" as a guide to which games I should invest in. Eternal Sonata was never listed, unlike Final Fantasy VII, Ocarina of Time and so forth, sadly enough. It was out of sheer luck that I stumbled upon this game.

I believe I first played it on the PS3 as it was the definitive version that included new playable characters. I got the usual sad feeling when I complete one of my favorite games, that I was happy to see that the XBox 360 has achievements for the game, as there was no trophy support for the PS3. So I replayed the game again on the 360, and found the Xbox version easier in difficulty. I would recommend the PS3 version as it's a more challenging version that also includes 2 playable characters and 2 extra dungeons.

Polka
I was instantly hooked due to the presentation of the main protagonist, Polka, at the very start of the game. She's portrayed as an extremely sweet, compassionate, gentle soul, who's the dire opposite of a "bad-ass", so I laughed out loud when she so very violently whacked an enemy with her Umbrella (this is one of the types of weapons) as it was so out of character. I didn't expect such violence to come from such a kind character.

Aside from the hysterical levity of whacking enemies with a NON-bad ass Umbrella Weapon, the game-play has a challenging and unique system of being turn-based, but at the same time, having real-time elements. For instance, when it's your party's turn, your party member has a gauge that gives you so much time to make your move, which are attack, counterattack, guard, your special attack, and item use, that are keyed to your face buttons. After your move, your enemy attacks next, and so forth. You have up to 3 party members.

The game keeps you on your toes because as you gain Party Class Levels, which naturally progresses through gameplay, these increasing Levels give you more perks, but less time to input actions, so you have to get more skilled with timing your key combinations. If you build enough attacks in, you get harmony chains, in which you can unleash your art as the finisher. The levels go up to party level 5, in which the buttons for attack, counterattack and so forth actually change, which keeps you on your toes. It took me awhile to get used to the changing buttons, but once you reach level 5, you don't want to go back (you can lower your party level if you want to on NG+).

The other interesting game-play element is that certain special attacks can only be performed in shade or light, so there are accessories that you can wear that give you shade or light, so for Polka's incredibly overpowered healing art "Blossom Shower", she needs to be in the light, so I have the light accessory on her.

Because of the fun and varied gameplay mechanics that change through the course of the game, I do NOT run away from battles as they are fun mechanics which require mastery in timing, especially with the guard button. It's also addictive to build up harmony chains so you can unleash your special attacks, and I especially love Falsetto's poetic battle lines before she unleashes these strong attacks.

In addition to Polka, her party members are also very likable (except for Claves), my favorite being Beat, who's absolutely adorable and very earnest in his personality. I also found Falsetto to be an extremely compelling character as she owns up to her responsibility, and really chews out one of the villains in a heroic manner. I also appreciate how, despite practically all the women being in love with Jazz, they don't act "bitchy" or "catty" towards each other that gets tired and often repeated in these love triangles (in this case, love pentagrams?). The party members have great chemistry, one such example being Beat and Salsa's "rivalry" (this is all in Salsa's mind). Indeed, your party members have unique personalities, none of them are "bland".

The over-world is beautiful and colorful, and it doesn't drag out with long stretches of nothingness, as there's treasure tucked in, and you don't have to go far from dungeon to dungeon.  I don't appreciate RPGs where you have to travel very far through spaces of nothingness just to get to the next dungeon/point of interest. The dungeons have interesting and varied puzzle elements, that can be quite confusing and complex, especially the dreaded Fort Fermata. Except for that dungeon, they are well-designed and have impressive atmosphere. One such area was so atmospheric that it actually made my stomach turn and I felt nauseous (thankfully I didn't throw up) seeing my characters puke upon being poisoned.

The story is quite unique and deep; in fact, there are analyses written about the story plot. The story adds another compelling component to the game. Spoilers here.

The music is glorious. Since it features the music of Chopin, it appears that the acclaimed and prolific composer, Motoi Sakuraba, wanted to rise to the challenge of such a musical genius, and wrote what I feel is his best musical score--please note that the 1st track listed is probably the worst of the music, so please skip to the next tracks to get a better representation.

Captain Dolce
The villains are memorable, such as Captain Dolce, Tuba, Fugue, and the awful Rondo. I cheered when Falsetto blasted and chewed Rondo out. I know the critics mention that the villains are cliche, which doesn't make sense to me because they each have very different personalities. I especially love the interactions between Dolce and your party members, and how it's very easy for your party members to get on Dolce's nerves.

Finally, what adds to the magic and heart of the game is the beautiful and colorful artistic direction, with clear graphics.

I feel that Eternal Sonata's unique and compelling story-line that involves the composer Chopin, the dungeon design and atmosphere, the combat mechanics that keep challenging you throughout the game due to the Party Level system and timing required for guarding, the characters and how they have a lot of chemistry as a team, the humor, the incredible music and the whimsical, colorful art-direction, all add up to a magical experience.

Sadly, Eternal Sonata did not do well commercially, as Eternal Sonata 2 really needs to happen. In the meantime, if you love RPGs and want the "whole package", Eternal Sonata cannot be more highly recommended.

Now that I'm writing about the game, I'm thinking of holding off on finishing my Dark Souls 3 NG+7 run, digging out my PS3, and playing Eternal Sonata again!

If I do just that, I'll go more in-depth about the game, since I last played it was years ago, to further discuss why Eternal Sonata is so compelling.

Rating:  A+, Masterpiece.

5 comments:

  1. Epochal!! You really hit the nail on the head about how epic this game is!!

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  2. Thanks Theo, I may add onto the fact that your party members also have unique and colorful personalities. It's such a masterpiece, that I wonder if the critics even played the game?

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  4. Eternal Sonata, now there's a name I haven't heard in a long long time. I can hardly remember the game, I played it way back when on the xbox 360 I believe, so my memories a little fuzzy. But the game was good, I enjoyed it forever ago. You have to be careful revisiting old games, sometimes they aren't as great as you remember them, but this game I think was an exception.

    -CheesusAlmighty

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  5. I'm thinking of playing this game again, and with my renewed interest in note taking, really taking notes down to hone in on what makes this game so magical! It irks me when a game gets 10/10 but the reason is because the game has "soul" and has "magic" but the reviewer never explains WHY. However, my backlog of games is growing even more, given 2017's game releases.

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