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Monday, June 30, 2008

Review: Eternal Sonata

When I mentioned that I was close to finishing off Eternal Sonata the other day, I had no idea just how close I truly was at the time. I sat down to play Eternal Sonata on Friday evening at 11 PM; I was finished at 11:15 PM. Of course, I'm not counting the 45 minutes worth of cut-scene cinematics that follow the boss fight at the end of the game.

What did I think of the game? Hit the jump for my full review.

Graphics:
Graphics play a large role in my overall enjoyment of a game. You'd be hard-pressed to find a game that looks quite as pretty as Eternal Sonata. The colour palette, art design, character design, and scenery are all top-notch and breath-taking. Whereas Gears of War redefined the graphics of a gritty, realistic shooter, Eternal Sonata shows us what can be done with the hand-draw and heavily stylized look of a game.

Sound:
With few notable exceptions, voice acting tends to be pretty awful in J-RPGs. Thankfully, Eternal Sonata's VO work is top notch. Some of the characters sound better than others - Jazz and Chopin both sounded quite good even if the steady stream of self-righteous, verbal excrement was a little much at times.

Sound effects for the game were pretty standard for an RPG.

But when it comes to musical score, there are few games better than Eternal Sonata. From some of Chopin's best works to the solid in-game song loops, Eternal Sonata sounds very good. I was quite surprised at the number of Chopin pieces that I was already familiar with as they played over the course of the game. I can say that I have a much greater appreciation of Chopin's true talent after having played through Eternal Sonata.

Story:
Eternal Sonata's story is quite average for a J-RPG. An evil Count is doing something that is slowly destroying millions of people. Only a little girl, a famous composer, and a rag-tag bunch of misfits and rebels can put an end to his plans. The dialogue that takes place in the game is overly verbose and flowery at times. And while I agreed with some of the messages coming across, it all became a little too much towards the end. Eternal Sonata's writing team tackled everything from war to technology to the evironment to death.

In the end, Eternal Sonata's story is definitely the weak link in the chain. I might have felt differently had the game's ending been a little more clear and a little less preachy.

Gameplay:
This is where Eternal Sonata shines. The light/dark dynamics that take place on the battlefield are very well done. The use of party levels keep players on their toes as they progress through the game. Just when you get used to fighting enemies a certain way, your party level increases and everything changes.

I really liked the concept of Echoes and Harmony Chains. You build up Echoes by hitting enemies with an incessant barrage of attacks. The Echoes earned are used to increase the effectiveness of any character's special attacks. Once you're able to collect 24 or more Echoes, your characters can pull of a Harmony Chain: an absolutely devastating string of 2-6 special attacks against a single enemy. It may sound confusing but it's quite easy to understand once you've played the game.

All in all, Eternal Sonata's gameplay was a surprisingly strong element of the game.

In the end, I recommend buying Eternal Sonata if you're an RPG or J-RPG fan; this is an easy "pass" for the rest of you. The graphics and gameplay make Eternal Sonata an unforgettable experience. And despite my criticisms of the game's story and message, Eternal Sonata is one of the best RPGs that I've played in recent years.



If you would like to buy Eternal Sonata, feel free to bid on my used copy available for purchase on eBay until Monday July 7th.

You can also purchase a new copy of Eternal Sonata by clicking on the image or links below.


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