What was going through the mind of Frédéric Chopin in his final hours? If we're to believe Tri-Crescendo, his waning moments would seem to have been spent traveling a colorful storybook world, his companions with names like Viola and Jazza. It's actually an idea that's loaded with potential and one that perhaps could have been masterful in the right hands. It's the kind of premise that screams for the sure hand of someone like animation master Miyazaki Hayao — someone who could have lifted it to the next level.
As it is, it still sports visuals that make it an even match for the very best looking RPGs of this generation, and is actually rather reminiscent of another Namco Bandai published RPG — Tales of Vesperia. It never quite reaches that game's heights, but Eternal Sonata does manage to separate itself somewhat with not only its feeling of wandering through a storybook, but with its outstanding music. Composer Motoi Sakuraba (you may know him from Valkyrie Profile) manages to outdo himself for this title, and Chopin's work is more than welcome when it puts in its obligatory appearances.All as it should be, of course. After all, it is based on the fevered dreams of a dying composer.
It would make for a great ode to a composer who died too young, if only that were what it turned out to be in the end. Weirdly enough though, Chopin ends up playing second fiddle in a story replete with your average anime tropes, trapped in a story that shuns true introspection for faux politics. Shame really, because done right, the story could have been intensely personal masterpiece. Instead, the story is intensely average, even slightly dull. This, in case you were wondering, is where Miyazaki's touch would have done wonders.
That doesn't make Eternal Sonata a bad RPG or anything. It's still sublimely beautiful, and made even better on the PlayStation 3 thanks to a host of new features. The action-oriented combat system will immediately bring to mind Tales, Star Ocean or Valkyrie Profile, which is never a bad thing. Given a chance to live up to its premise, it could have been a game that resonated with its audience into the next generation and beyond. As it is, it's merely a nutritious snack, the sort of thing that will keep you going until the PS3's theoretical RPG feast. It's a shame it couldn't have been more, but hey, it's tasty right?
When Eternal Sonata first appeared on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 owners gnashed their teeth in frustration and jealousy. It was true that it didn't measure up to expectation, but it was a JRPG, it was something. So it was with great relief that PS3 fans received their own version of Eternal Sonata, several months late but well worth the wait. The PS3 edition of Eternal Sonata is without a doubt the definitive version of the game.
Among other things, it features new dungeons, new characters, new cutscenes and new character costumes. It also lets you play the game in French, which is either a concession to the small community of French-Americans, or a means by which to improve the game's authenticity (Chopin was Polish, but lived in Paris). Those looking for more authenticity might be better served checking out the new Chopin tracks that are included though.
As for the game itself, there's plenty to recommend it aside from the colorful graphics. In particular, the fact that monsters hiding in the dark often become much stronger (but also yield far better prizes), which lends the combat a bit more depth. There's also the outstanding soundtrack, which should be expected in a game like this. And finally, there's the fact that when you have such a small list of RPGs to choose from, Eternal Sonata stands out as at least being attractive and competent. At times, you can even catch flashes of how great this game could have been thanks to the musical and the autobiographical interludes scattered throughout.
In the end, Eternal Sonata's mediocrity is disappointing when compared to what it could have been, but look at it this way. When you're trapped in the desert that is the PS3's RPG lineup, even competence can make for a refreshing oasis. And that's one thing at least that Eternal Sonata has in spades — beautiful, beautiful competence.