Eternal Sonata Review
Role playing games are played out. After just that statement, you are either thinking, "He's crazy!" or "He's crazy to say that… the Square-Enix fanboys will surely burn down his house before the sun comes up!" No matter what you thought, you're probably right. Actually, I think I heard somewhere that the villager assault scene from Resident Evil 4 (you know, the one with Leon, Luis and Ashley in the cabin) was based on what happened when a reviewer wrote that Final Fantasy X was little more than a CG movie with a few well-placed button presses.
Either way, RPGs just aren't fun like they used to be. Square-Enix has been shameless in beating the Final Fantasy franchise beyond recognition with spin-offs, remakes and remakes of remakes. New RPG franchises have, at least recently, been mostly dead on arrival. Huge hype for games like Two Worlds and Blue Dragon has been smashed by the games themselves; as soon as people get their hands on them, they realize that the new adventures just aren't very good. Things are about to get much worse for the flagging genre; with huge games like Halo 3, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Bioshock redefining just what great games should be, is there really any room left for organizing parties, equipping armor and dealing with long-winded, preachy stories featuring characters so one-dimensional that they could only have jumped from the files on Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay's Powerbook?
Bandai's new foray into the quickly decaying world of RPGs, Eternal Sonata, seeks to change the genre from the ground up. Even the most jaded of RPG fans should give them credit - they have literally rebuilt what a modern RPG should be. Does it work? Yes, but only sort of. In scrapping some of the staples of the genre, they've made other, lamer aspects even more pronounced and noticeable. At this point, you probably aren't following my train of thought. Trust me, reading this review should sort it all out. By actually playing the game yourself, you'll see exactly what I mean.
For a lot of RPG fans, and especially western RPG fans, these games live and die by their stories. Graphics, sound, play control, length, entertainment value - all these can be sub-par if the RPG in question just has a good story. The most fondly remembered RPGs in history, namely Final Fantasy III (VI in Japan), Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII were all about as pretty as a fork in the eye, and not much more fun than one, but the stories made fans out of entire generations of gamers. Even the most hardcore of bleary-eyed Halo nuts can still be reduced to blubbering girls with just the mention of the name "Aeris."
The story, probably the most important aspect of the modern RPG, is one of the things Eternal Sonata does right. Instead of going the route of most RPGs and sticking with the "lowly hero saves world from terrible bad guy… with crystals" story, Eternal Sonata goes someplace the RPG hasn't been before - real life. The story revolves around Frederic Chopin, an actual European composer from early in the 20th century. It seems that right before he died of tuberculosis, Chopin slipped into a dreamlike coma state, where the real world of his life and his musically inspired dreams merged into a vibrant, beautiful reality of his own making. This reality is where the game takes place. From the very beginning of the game to the very end, you'll be constantly looking for places where Chopin's life and the lives of these imagined characters intersect. It all makes for a shockingly different and wonderfully refreshing take on a genre so plagued by sameness and repetition.