We got our first look at Eternal Sonata during last year's Tokyo Game Show where the game was on display at the Namco and Microsoft booths. The third-person role-playing game features a slick cel-shaded look that shines in HD. The gameplay leans toward the action RPG spectrum; it has you running around exploring and fighting enemies as you encounter them. Back then, our time with the game didn't give us much insight into its story. However, a recent visit from Namco, with a work-in-progress, localized version of the game in tow, shed some light on its story.
The game's story is a dream that renowned composer Chopin is having in his sickbed during the last three hours of his life. Our demo opened in the real world to show his sister and doctor chatting around the ailing musician. The action then segued into his dream and put us in control of Polka, the young, umbrella-wielding heroine we played as in the TGS version. Polka, like just about all the characters in the game, has a moniker taken from musical terminology. The same holds true for many locations and items you'll encounter. During her adventuring through the level, we also got some insight into her background, which offered a rather unique twist to the standard RPG formula: terminal illness! It seems Polka, like several of the game's 10 playable characters, is dying of a terrible malady.
Bleak as that sounds, it's kind of a "bad news, good news" situation. The bad news is obviously that she's going to drop like a bad habit at some point in the future. The good news is that "terminal illness" also means, in the gameworld anyway, magical powers. The downside to this is that most people shun the terminally ill with special powers. But hey, magical powers, right? The core of the story follows a motley crew of individuals as they square off against an evil count who's making people insane with a mineral powder. Among that group of freedom fighters is a young man named Frederic, who is the embodiment of Chopin in the adventure. Though you'll start the game with Polka, you'll eventually come across the others as you progress and add them to your pool of selectable characters. When in combat, your party will be limited to three characters.
Speaking of combat, the game's combat system features a mix of real-time and turn-based elements. You'll move and attack in pseudo real time as your actions run down a meter that reflects how much action time you have during your phase of a fight. When the meter is up, you'll have to wait until it's your turn again. One of the interesting twists to combat is the light and dark system, which affects the magic attacks that certain characters can perform. When you're in direct light, you'll be able to cast certain types of spells, but when you're in shadow, those spells change. Each set of spells has different properties that you'll have to manage during battle to ensure you're being effective in your attacks against foes. Once you get the hang of it, you can chain together combos among your characters to max out the damage you deal in a fight. The system seems cool and has just enough depth to be interesting without being overwhelming.
The visuals in the game continue to impress us thanks to a clean art style, high resolution, and vivid color palette. The world features a straightforward design with set paths through lush environments and richly detailed cities. Shading is especially nice, which is significant given the light and dark mechanic in combat. The version we saw was a little rough in places but ran smoothly overall.
As far as the audio in the game goes, the version we saw already had English voices and sounded fine. The voice acting was solid and fit the game's look. Though there wasn't much music specific to Chopin in what we heard during the demo, reps on hand did mention that the game will contain a mix of tunes. Besides including some of Chopin's music, the game will feature an original soundtrack.
Based on what we played, Eternal Sonata is looking like an engaging bit of quirky fun for the Xbox 360 and a welcome addition to the system's skimpy RPG catalog. The story's unique twist looks like it's surely going to keep the narrative interesting. The combat looks like it's shaping up to offer some nice bits of depth, with the light and dark mechanic, which should keep it from being a basic button masher. The variety of playable characters is cool, and there seems to be a lot to explore in the game. Eternal Sonata is currently slated to ship later this year for the Xbox 360. Look for more on the game in the coming months.