LEIPZIG, Germany--Earlier today, during a visit to Atari's business area at the 2007 Games Convention, we had an opportunity to meet with key members of the Tri-Crescendo development team and take a look at some previously unseen areas of Eternal Sonata. We're no strangers to the game--which is being published by Namco Bandai in North America--but after today's meeting it's clear that there will still be plenty of surprises in store for us when we get our hands on the retail version.
Our presentation got underway in the beautiful city of Ritardando, which we were told is the home of playable characters Beat and his older brother Allegretto. This was the first time we'd seen any area in Eternal Sonata where there weren't monsters waiting to fight us at almost every turn, and the lack of combat meant that we had plenty of time to take in the city's quite elegant architecture. Practically every structure in the city appeared to be white with a hint of blue, and if we were talking about a more conventional fantasy game, we'd have guessed that the whole place was designed by and for elves.
While exploring the city and interacting with numerous non-player characters along the way, our presenter wandered into the city's Mandolin Church. Inside the church there was a stairway leading down to some catacombs that, although much darker than the city above, were still far more aesthetically pleasing than we've come to expect from any video game locale with "catacomb" in its name. There were a handful of monsters to battle beneath the church, but the only thing that really distinguished those encounters from the numerous others that we've played and reported on previously was that, because the catacombs' only sources of light were small torches positioned on the walls and in the middle of the floor, almost the entire combat area was in darkness. That's worthy of note, because it makes it very difficult to use any of your characters' light abilities.
The Ritardando portion of our demo came to an end after a couple of fights down in the catacombs. Next up was another new area, the Celesta Forest. Covered in snow, the forest was every bit as easy on the eyes as the city we'd just left and, given the design of nearby fences and such, we're guessing that the two locations aren't too far apart. The presenter fought with a number of relatively small enemies in a clearing but, when crossing a bridge, took great care not to get into a fight with any of the large, fishlike enemies that were patrolling it.
At the end of our session we were given a few minutes to pose questions to the Tri-Crescendo staffers, and here's what we learned:
* When playing as Beat and taking photos of enemies, the value of the photos is determined by a number of different factors. The criteria include how close you were to the enemy at the time, whether or not the whole enemy is visible in the shot, and if you were unlucky enough to catch them blinking.
* You definitely won't be able to play through the entire game stuck with the same party of three characters. Your party will be divided at certain points in the story, and you'll also find that certain battlegrounds and enemies encourage you to give each character some time in the spotlight.
* Your first play-through of Eternal Sonata will purportedly take around 30 hours. It's impossible to see everything the first time, though, because there are a number of features that only become available after you've beaten the game.
* Like their counterparts in North America, European players will have the option to play Eternal Sonata with the original Japanese voice acting intact. The European game will also be localized in French, Italian, Spanish, and German.
* Eternal Sonata Xbox 360 faceplates like those released in Japan and headed to North America are currently being considered for Europe.
Eternal Sonata is currently scheduled for release in North America on September 17 and in Europe on November 9. Expect a full review of the game next month.