|Publisher:||Namco Bandai Games|
|Official Website:||Japanese Site|
On May 23, a small Namco Bandai event occurred in New York City to promote an upcoming Xbox 360 RPG: Eternal Sonata (known as Trusty Bell: Chopin's Dream in Japan). It was developed by Tri-Cresendo who was involved in Monolith Software's Baten Kaitos series. We at RPGFan got to try out this title and learn a few things about it.
The game tells the story of composer Fryderek Franciszek Chopin or just Chopin for short. At age 39, whilst lying on his death bed with an incurable disease, he has a dream about a fairy-tale world where those with incurable diseases obtain strong magical powers. In this fantasy world, he meets a little girl named Polka who also has an incurable disease. They decide to travel together and along the way meet more people to accompany them on their suspenseful and wonderful journey.
The gameplay is traditional at its core, but it has a few tweaks and innovations to make it interesting. As you gain levels, automatically gaining stats and abilities. You can equip abilities on a character and each ability powers up the more it's used. There is a fair amount of inventory management as you buy new and improved gear and items every once in a while. You can see encounters so you can contact the enemy or avoid them like the plague.
The combat utilizes elements from turn-based and action RPGs. When it's your turn, you can control a character in real time, but there is a timer indicating how long you can control a character during his or her turn. The game provides quick shortcuts where you attack, use a special ability and use an item. When an enemy attacks, you can guard to greatly reduce damage when indicated. Position is key as you can't block if an enemy attacks from behind or the side and vise versa. When you pull off a combo, sometimes the timer is restored and you can build up musical notes to make your special attack much more powerful upon activation. You can only have up to three party members in a battle, some of whom have long range abilities; and those who don't participate in battles get zero exp.
The main twist in battles comes from the dark/light system. Some enemies change shape and get much stronger when they go to a shaded area or are in a nocturnal environment. Your characters abilities also changes if they are in a dark or light area, giving the game a new degree of strategy.
As you level up, you unlock a "Party Level" where you can change the battle settings for your benefit. Your party can get stronger and faster in higher party levels, but at the expense of the timer being much shorter during your turn. You have the option to switch to whatever party level you find most suitable for you.
The graphics don't make the most of what the 360 can do, but it's beautiful in its own right. The game utilizes a cel-shaded style with a pastel approach to keep it simple and smooth. The world itself is lush and vibrant with a lot of color in each area to keep it lighthearted. The characters are anime styled, minus the big eyes, and they all look unique, sporting some interesting designs.
Being a game about an actual composer, there are many of Chopin's composition's featured in the game, performed by Russian pianist Stanislav Bunin. There is also a lot of original compositions by Motoi Sakuraba, who has scored many Tri-Ace games along with Namco's "Tales of" games. The game also features a dual language option where you can switch between Japanese and English voices at any time.
It's nice to see an American console releasing many Japanese RPG and having more in development. Eternal Sonata provides immense potential and claims a 40+ hour play time. Stay tuned for a review when it reaches US shores around September.