Review: Eternal Sonata

For years, gamers have wanted a title that really stands for what anime is all about and one game finally does that.

Japanese animation, also known as anime, has been giving us amazing feasts for our eyes for years now. Between Akira, Ghost In The Shell, Spirited Away, and many others, anime has been providing people with the Eastern outlook on how entertainment can be presented. But for years, gamers have wanted a title that really stands for what anime is all about and one game finally does that.

Eternal Sonata tells the story of a dying Frederic Chopin. Now if you know your music history, you might be thinking “wait, is that the same Chopin who wrote music ages ago?” The answer is yes and that’s where Eternal Sonata starts to change from your regular stock standard anime fantasy.

While you’re still in an unusual world filled with creatures bent on removing you from existence, this time you’re one of several characters inside Chopin’s mind. As Chopin is dying, you’ll battle the powers of evil with a cast of characters including the lovable Polka, the street smart Allegretto, Beat, and even Chopin himself. Taking it even further, Eternal Sonata changes the way video games look by actually pulling off a game that looks like an animated movie.

We’ve seen our fair share of 3D role-playing games this year including the highly anticipated Blue Dragon which took a 3D look at anime characters, but we think that the team at Eternal Sonata actually got the translation right. The game is simply beautiful and really reflects the quality that a highly regarded animated movie puts out. While still 3D, Eternal Sonata manages to find the balance between the real and the surreal by making the animation truly breathtaking.

Simply put, you’ve never seen anything quite like Eternal Sonata.

On the audio side of things, Eternal Sonata goes a long way to try and provide you with a great score and dialogue and for the most part, they succeed. Because it’s based in the mind of Chopin, his music is used in some of the sequences while most of the game is composed specifically for this game.

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The voice acting is a different story. Eternal Sonata comes with both the English and Japanese dialogue and you might be interested to know that while the Japanese version sounds like the actors are actually playing their parts, the English one is as cheesy as a badly dubbed film. If reading subtitles doesn’t bother you, we actually recommend playing it in Japanese with English subtitles.

With the look and sound of a true animated film, you might believe that you’ve come across one of the best games available for the Xbox 360.

Unfortunately, that’s where Eternal Sonata starts to lose momentum.

While the story is fun and the characters are quirky and have musical connections, it’s still ultimately very linear and simplistic. You don’t get a lot of choice and gameplay in Eternal Sonata is almost entirely limited to running around a forest, earning experience, and then killing opponents in order to gain experience so you can kill more opponents.

After you’ve gone through more experience gaining and opponent killing, you end up with a beautiful in-game cinematic going with more of the story.

While you can certainly give credit to the developers for making Eternal Sonata’s combat scenes more than a simple tactical selection combat system, it’s still repetitive.

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The other unfortunate problem with Eternal Sonata is the pace. It’s very slow and while you’ll probably fall in love with the scenes, you could also find yourself falling asleep as the back story often involves slow dialogue without any music. That’s ok as it really builds the story into something grander than that of a simple video game, but in the same respect it lessens the game to a certain extent.

With that in mind, we still loved Eternal Sonata. It really is a game you can turn on and show off how beautiful games can be. It’s quite possibly one of the most promising developments we’ve seen and while it contains some of the most quirky additions to a game, it’s definitely a game you should check out if you’re into either anime, RPG’s, or just interesting games in general.

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Developer: tri-Crescendo
Publisher: Atari
Classification: M
Formats: Xbox 360
URL: Eternal Sonata

Reviewed by Leigh D. Stark