TOKYO--Trusty Bell (which will be known as Eternal Sonata when it hits American shores) is another in a seemingly strong line of Japanese role-playing games that will shortly be coming out for the Xbox 360 in Japan. It follows the adventures of the young composer Chopin, if the press materials are to be believed. We had an opportunity to go hands-on with a short demo of the game at Microsoft's booth at TGS today.
As is par for the course for Japanese RPGs here at TGS, plot details are a bit difficult to come by when it comes to the Japanese-language demos. The demo we played appeared to be from early on in the game, as you take control of a small party of three characters, including a young man (presumably Chopin) who wields a sword, a young woman who uses an umbrella in battle, and a boy who uses a combination of cane and gun. We managed to walk them through a bit of the overworld in the game, fought a few turnips, and came away with these impressions.
The graphical style of the game is heavily cel-shaded, to the point where it's difficult to notice any kind of 3D effects on the characters at all. Players of recent Wild Arms games on the Playstation 2 may see some similarity here, although everything is ridiculously high-detail for a cel-shaded game. The shadows on the character's faces are especially nice, and the character designs are bright and colorful--a perfect counterpart for the sylvan glade through which they travel in the demo.
The overland travel isn't anything exceptionally unique, although it is pretty. As your character wanders, there are apparently no special actions available to you, although you can open up chests that you come across to obtain items. Battles occur when you stumble across enemies on the overland map; they move about a bit but generally seem to be in places where you can't avoid them. There don't appear to be any random battles in the game, though, so you can steel yourself for battle before it becomes your turn.
Combat itself takes place in real time, with all of your characters appearing on the battlefield. There is an influence of turn-based combat systems, since each of your characters will take individual turns in battle. For instance, you'll usually start out with the sword-wielding character, who will have around five seconds in which to act; after he slashes away at his foe, the next character in your party will be able to move and attack, and so on, with your enemies taking turns as they pop up as well. The game lets you know whose turn is next. Although the Japanese text is difficult to decipher, it also appears that the game rewards you for landing large numbers of hits across the turns of multiple characters. Since we were playing an early section of the game, it wasn't possible to explore many of the intricacies of the system, but we're sure that later on in the game it'll be more important to emphasize teamwork.
That said, the demo we played was more of a button-mashing exercise than anything else. Each character can attack fairly rapidly, so after moving your character in close to enemies, you can simply tap away at the attack button, and they'll perform multiple attacks. Each character also has a special attack button; for the sword-wielding character, you can perform a string of normal attacks, then launch into your special attack to land multiple additional hits, which ends in an explosion centered on your enemy. The free movement system also lets you perform actions other than fighting; if a character is wounded, for instance, you may simply wish to take his five seconds and run him away from the enemy and hope the enemy doesn't follow.
The enemy design in the game thus far consists almost entirely of turnips, oddly enough, or some sort of tiny plant that would consistently attack our party. They're colorful starting enemies and not too difficult to defeat, although if they take enough damage they'll suddenly morph into much larger versions of themselves and become superpowered. At the end of the demo, there was a boss fight against a larger quadriped creature, which overpowered most of the players here at the demo booth because of its ability to attack multiple characters at once and its large health reserves.
Despite the fact that Trusty Bell still has a bit of development to undergo before it's ready for release, the game already looks fairly polished. We weren't able to see much of a musical inspiration in the brief demo we played, but we're sure it'll pop up as the game comes together. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more details as Trusty Bell approaches its eventual American release, where it'll be known under the title of Eternal Sonata.