Currently scheduled for release toward the end of this year, Eternal Sonata is a colorful role-playing game that takes place inside the head of famous composer Frederic Chopin as he lays on his deathbed. Quite how large a part that rather unique premise will play in the game's storyline remains to be seen because for the moment, it's really only apparent through the musical names of the main characters and by the fact that the terminal disease the characters all suffer from is what gives them special powers. Namco Bandai recently released a playable demo of Eternal Sonata on the Xbox Live Marketplace in Japan, and we've played through it a few times to bring you our impressions.
Eternal Sonata will feature a total of 10 playable characters, but for the duration of the demo, we were limited to playing as just three of them. Allagretto is a hip-looking guy who carries a sword, Polka is the same umbrella-wielding heroine that we've seen on previous occasions, and Beat is young boy who's armed with a versatile weapon that can be used for both melee and ranged attacks. Combat is clearly a big part of Eternal Sonata, and the XBL demo does a great job of familiarizing you with some of the game's unconventional gameplay mechanics. The most notable feature of Eternal Sonata's combat is the way that it's both turn-based and real-time combat. Characters have to wait their turn before they're able to perform an action of any kind, but when their turn comes, you'll control their movements, their attacks, and their item use. As far as we can tell, the only exception to this rule is when one of your characters is attacked by an enemy--provided the attack isn't coming from behind--you'll often have an opportunity to defend against most of the damage by hitting the block button at exactly the right moment.
Another interesting feature of Eternal Sonata's combat is the way that light and dark come into play. In addition to their basic attacks, each of your characters (and some of their enemies) has special attacks. These special attacks increase with power that is proportionate to the length of the combo that they're performed at the end of. They also come in both light and dark flavors. The attacks your character has access to at any given time will be determined by the attacks you've equipped ahead of the battle and by whether your character is standing in a sunlit area or a shaded one when you want to use them. It's clear after playing the demo that this feature has the potential to add a lot of depth to battles because you need to consider (and where possible, control) the position of both your party and its enemies at all times. For example, Polka has an "orange glow" short-range healing spell that can be used only when she stands in a light area, but when she is in the dark, she has access to one of two powerful offensive moves. Beat's default light and dark moves are also radically different; the former is a "fire blast" ranged attack, while the latter is a "night shot" move that lets him take photos of enemies that can be viewed and later sold to shops.
The enemies featured in the demo are a varied bunch that includes hopping root vegetables, huge walking treelike creatures known as "great coconuts," and weapon-carrying flamingo-like birds named "l'opera knights." The demo also features a boss encounter of sorts, against a giant creature that looks like the result of a dangerous liaison between a boar and a rhino. None of the enemies in the demo are particularly intelligent, but we have witnessed some of them healing each other and deliberately moving into the shadows where they occasionally become more powerful.
As you progress through the demo, you'll inevitably level up your characters a few times, which improves their health, attack, defense, magic, and speed attributes. You'll also find several items hidden in chests throughout the world. These items can be used to restore health, revive fallen comrades, poison enemies, and the like. In the finished game, we're told that in addition to your characters leveling up based on how many experience points they accrue, your party will level up depending on where you are in the game. We look forward to bringing you more information on that feature and other aspects of Eternal Sonata as soon as it becomes available.