TGS 2008: Eternal Sonata Impressions

The soulful strains of this music-themed RPG float onto the PlayStation 3 later this month, and we take a look at some of this version's exclusive features.

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TOKYO--The title "Trusty Bell" doesn't have quite the ring that "Eternal Sonata" has, so it's perhaps just as well that the US release of Namco Bandai's role-playing game had a bit of a makeover before coming ashore on the Xbox 360 last year. But no matter what you call it, Eternal Sonata made quite a splash in both Japan and in North America, thanks to its beautiful, vibrant art design, memorable soundtrack, and unique battle system that keeps combat moving at an ever-brisk pace. And soon, PlayStation 3 owners will also get to explore this wonderfully dreamy RPG: On October 21, the PS3 version of Eternal Sonata ships to retail outlets, complete with some new, platform-exclusive content. We got a close look at some of these new features during a visit to the publisher's Tokyo office this week, and we're glad to see that the same loving care that went into the original creation is being lavished on these additional elements.

Serenade and Crescendo lead the charge.
Serenade and Crescendo lead the charge.

Of course, the story remains the same as in the Xbox 360 version. Famed Polish composer Frederic Chopin has but a few hours left to live--yet as he lies on his deathbed, he enters a dream state that is as real as anything he's ever experienced. This fantasy world is named from musical terms: characters include Alegretto and Viola; Castle Forte looms in the distance; and Chopin visits a number of singular locales, such as Baroque. You can read GameSpot's review of the Xbox 360 version to catch up on story specifics and other odds and ends, but suffice it so say, Eternal Sonata's story is unusual and a bit hallucinogenic, and on the PlayStation 3, you can expect even more exposition to further flesh out the characters and their relationships.

One of the ways Eternal Sonata will do this is through new scenes and playable characters. We saw a new cutscene in which ill magic user Polka collapses in the snow, and her companions rush to her aid. While this was a relatively short bit, it further expands an important story point (in order to avoid spoilers for newcomers to the game, we don't want to get too specific). Based on this scene, it appears that all of the voice actors have reprised their roles, and the character models and backgrounds were all as lushly colored and detailed as fans would expect. More importantly, two characters from the original release will be returning--but this time they will be joining your adventuring party. These additions are the princely Crescendo, and his fiance, the beautiful and stalwart Serenade.

In battle, these two characters bring important techniques. One of Eternal Sonata's most compelling features is its light/dark mechanic: The special powers of your party members change depending on whether they are standing in light or in shadows, and monsters may even transform based on the same criteria. Crescendo is an honorable, Paladin-esque addition who prefers to unleash his noble battle skills at close range. Serenade, on the other hand, has a long-ranged magical attack when she's standing in the light. When she's lurking in the shadows, however, she casts an ever-helpful group heal that harnesses the powers of the wind itself.

Polka contemplates the future.
Polka contemplates the future.

We saw these new characters, and others, battle some new foes in Eternal Sonata's two new dungeons. The party enters the first of these areas, Lament, through a looking glass. Here, the friends fight off brightly-hued scorpions and hovering fiends as they make their way through the labyrinth. As in the Xbox 360 version, your party accumulates echoes as they land attacks, which in turn adds power to their special abilities. If you accumulate enough echoes, the combatants can perform a powerful harmonic chain, which not only does a lot of damage to your target, but lights up the screen with a flurry of particles and other effects. We saw one of these chains in a battle that took place in the second of the two new dungeons, The Church of EZI. Here, the party hammered on a variety of cackling enemies while exploring what may be one of the most visually rich (and odd) environments in the game. It's worth mentioning, however, that this dungeon is only accessible once you've fully completed the game at least once. You encounter Lament, however, about halfway through Eternal Sonata on your first play-through.

Some new music (three additional tracks, according to Namco Bandai) rounds out the new content PlayStation 3 enthusiasts can look forward to in their own edition of Chopin's journey. Whether you're a fan of the earlier Xbox 360 release or new to Eternal Sonata's swooning universe, this is certainly an RPG you'll want to keep an eye on. We'll bring you a full review of Eternal Sonata on the PS3 later this month.

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