Tuesday, November 06, 2007

VG REVIEW: Eternal Sonata

Bandai Namco, for the Xbox 360, rated T for Teen (fantasy vio­lence, mild language, use of alco­hol), $59.99.

OK, picture this: 19th-century composer Frederic Chopin is lying on his deathbed in Paris. While deep in a coma, he conjures up a rich fantasy world involving fabulous monsters, evil counts and Swiss Miss-type girls with healing powers and pigtails that go down past their elbows.

That’s the basic premise of “Eternal Sonata,” a new Japanese role-playing game from developers Tri-Crescendo. Sadly, the actual game doesn’t live up to anywhere near its gloriously nutty premise; it’s too mired in cliche to do that. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t offer its share of thrills.

Chopin isn’t the only character you’ll be controlling. Indeed the famed composer meets up with a number of traveling companions, most of them bearing a striking resemblance to characters you’ve seen in a number of other rpgs.

The plot isn’t terribly original either, as Chopin and his band of heroes attempt to stop an evil ruler who is using an addictive mineral powder to turn his populace into mindless slaves. Sandwiched in between are dry, informative segments about the real Chopin that bring the game to an almost screeching halt.

But if “Sonata’s” story is firmly entrenched in “super-happy Japanese rpg land,” the combat system at least offers enough of a challenge to make the game a satisfying experience.

A combination of turn-based and real-time mechanics, “Sonata” gives each fighter only a few seconds at a time to engage the enemy, which depending on where they’re located, could be spent just trying to get close to them.

Light and darkness play a huge role in the game as well, as your characters have different abilities according to whether they’re standing in sunshine or shadows.

Mention must be made of “Sonata’s” visuals, which are gorgeous. The candy-colored visuals and high attention to detail give the game a fairy-tale atmosphere that fits perfectly within its story.

As fun as “Eternal Sonata” can be when engaged in battle, I’m a little disappointed that Tri-Crescendo took such a safe route with this game. I would have liked, for example, to have seen music incorporated more into the game play. Apart from a rather uninteresting minigame, however, it never pops up.

Still, if “Sonata” is a bit too overly familiar for its own good, it serves up enough variety in its battles (the true meat of any rpg) to be worthy of merit.

And hey, if you’ve ever wanted to see Chopin, in a resplendent top hat, whaling repeatedly on a giant crab with a skinny baton, now’s your chance.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007



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