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    dkirschner's Eternal Sonata (PS3)

    [May 23, 2014 07:28:11 PM]
    Ok, first off, the premise of this game is so incredibly unique. That drew me in 100%. I’ll talk about how great it is. But the premise is covered up with a layer of mediocre JRPG fare that I am not enamored with. I’ll talk about why this game should have been so much better too. Full disclosure: I quit after around 20 hours, probably near the end of Chapter 4. So if something amazing happened after that that made the game worth finishing, I don’t know about it.

    Here’s the premise. The game takes place inside Frederic Chopin’s mind as he lays on his deathbed. Chopin was a famous composer in Austria and France back in the day. Chopin is a playable character, and he meets people in this fantasy world he has created. Presumably, the fantasy world reflects some of his own struggles with life and death, his passion for music, his love life, the political situation in Europe at the time, and other aspects of his life and time.

    There are historical cut scenes every now and then with a slideshow of real paintings that tell the story of Chopin’s life. One I remember was about him running off with a woman, another about his breakup with the woman, one about his political views and so on. These cut scenes are an INCREDIBLE part of this game. They contextualize Chopin as a person, and they contextualize his compositions, one of which plays in the background of each scene. They also presumably have something to do with what is going on in the fantasy world of his deathbed dream. Presumably.

    I looked and looked and I can’t figure out the parallels between the compositions and these beautiful cut scenes and the rest of the game. This is where Eternal Sonata breaks down as a truly unique idea. The Chopin stuff is really just a thin coat of shine on an otherwise mediocre JRPG. You start to see through it and eventually it wears off and you realize that that was some cheap polish.

    The fantasy land in Chopin’s mind, although imbued with beautiful art and an excellent soundtrack, is drab. You follow a bunch of annoying kids around who get inexplicably and impossibly involved in world politics. When I knew it was headed for disaster was when a couple characters, who are upset over taxes on goods that they sell in the city, decide to travel to the king’s castle and complain. Right, like the king is going to entertain two kids who don’t understand how taxes work. The king, by the way, is the most obviously evil king stereotype. He reminds me of Joffrey Baratheon in A Song of Ice and Fire. He looks just like him, and he sits askance on his throne insulting his subordinates, speaking in a cruel and smartass manner, plotting, planning, and being generally bad. His master plan is to get people hooked on “mineral powder”, which turns people into mindless zombies after a while, so he can have a big army to invade another city. The whole mineral powder idea is explained to death when it really takes one sentence to understand. The characters are such idiots that they really just do not get it, they don’t understand taxes, they don’t understand why mineral powder is curiously the only good in the kingdom that isn’t taxed (to get people to buy it duh), they are just mentally useless characters.

    So there is another city and some rebels and yada yada, typical and simple JRPG political stuff. You might be asking yourself at this point what anything has to do with Chopin. The answer is “nothing.” Chopin is just dropped into the middle of an often childish fantasy JRPG. He’s just a character you can play as who occasionally gets a special pretty cut scene talking about his real life. It could have been Mr. T or President Obama or Doge and the effect would have been the same.

    All the standard JRPG elements are here: most of your characters are annoying kids, explore towns and click on everything hoping to find items, visit shops to upgrade equipment, requisite mediocre at best voice acting, lots of bumbling NPCs in villages who repeat two meaningless lines of dialogue, level up to increase stats and learn new skills, find treasure chests, go through big confusing dungeon areas, overly evil bad guy, and on and on and on. Unlike many JRPGs, this one is very linear. You can’t ever explore outside where you are supposed to be. There also aren’t any side quests.

    Another thing that should have been cooler are what’s called “scores.” Throughout the game, you find musical scores. Sometimes other NPCs will want to play a score with you. They play their score and you choose a score to accompany them. Some sound good together and some are dissonant. This was fun for a while, but I have like 15 scores now, so every NPC I see that wants to perform, I have to sit there and listen to all of my scores to see which one the NPC likes. You get a grade and get rewards if you match a score. The thing is, you can’t just tell by reading the music what the score will be. Some NPCs like crappy sounding scores so you really do have to sit and listen to them all. Really. Boring. Also, nothing to do with Chopin besides the fact that it’s music-related, and nothing to do with the game besides that it’s a little side activity in an RPG.

    To sum, story and fantasy world = inconsistent with Chopin and history lessons, overall disappointment.

    Now, the battle system is pretty sweet! This is largely what kept me playing, that and seeing new areas because the art and music are so good. The battle system is a mix of real-time combat and turn-based combat. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s simple, yet strategic. Let me explain. First, there is a mechanic I’ll call “light and dark.” On any battlefield, there will be lit areas and areas in shadow. Sometimes these are static, sometimes they move (like a chandelier is swinging on the ceiling, or the sun moves across the field), and every character casts a shadow behind them. Depending on whether a character (you control all 3 of yours in turn) is standing in light or shadow, she has different attacks. You can set these, and right now I can set 2 light and 2 dark. So if I’m standing in light, then Light Attack A (or whatever it’s called) will trigger when I push triangle. If I’m standing in dark, then Dark Attack A will trigger. You can switch between sets (like A, A ; B, B) by holding R2. So standing in light and holding R2 and pressing triangle will trigger whatever is set for Light Attack B. It’s cool.

    You do have a certain amount of time in which to act. There is a Tactical Time gauge and an Action Time gauge. Tactical Time is how long you have to think about your movement and attack before the Action Time gauge begins. The Action Time gauge measures how long you have to actually act. As soon as you perform an action, or as soon as the Tactical Time gauge runs out, the Action Time gauge starts ticking. And both are real short. The gauges depend on something called “party level”, which increases at specific points in the game. I think I am party level 3 or 4. Party level changes some of the combat rules. So for example, in the beginning of the game, you have unlimited Tactical Time, so you can sit and think about attacking all day. Each level, Tactical Time decreases. I think I’m at like 5 seconds now. My Action Time is also down to 4 seconds, so I have 4 seconds to run around and attack stuff before my turn ends. I like these mechanics. They keep combat quick, intense and force you to be strategic.

    What I DON’T like about the battle system is that it devolves into a lot of button mashing. X is your regular attack and you build up strength to press triangle and unleash special attacks. So the vast majority of combat looks like this: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [next character] xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [next character] xxxxxxxxxxxtriangle. [next] xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [next] xxxxxxxxxxx [next] R2+triangle, triangle. TONS of button mashing x. It wears my thumbs out and makes me tired. There are reasons I’ve only put in about 20 hours over like…how long? A month? Jesus.

    The other lame thing about combat is blocking. Every enemy attack (from the front) gives you a chance to block by pressing circle, which reduces damage taken. This is usually fine, but it can feel extremely cheap. It basically turns every enemy attack into a quicktime event, *shudder*. On the one hand, it sort of encourages you to learn enemy attack patterns to block, but on the other hand, oftentimes with stronger enemies and definitely with bosses, it FORCES you to get the button presses just right or die. Bigger enemies hit real hard and if you don’t block their attacks, you will lose to the most basic of them. Blocking has been more or less optional for most of the game, but for the past few hours of gameplay, I seem to have encountered that point in time where I have to block the majority of attacks. Tedious.

    I’ve done the last two dungeons twice because of dying near the end of them to *drumroll* missing a couple blocks. Like I said, it feels extremely cheap to be able to do really well in combat, and be smart and all that, but die because you didn’t press circle in the 1/10th of a second that it gives you to press it. This is fine in an action game or something, but missing some blocks and then having to replay an hour-long dungeon is just lame.

    Speaking of dungeons, some of them are really linear and others are giant mazes that seem to exist for no purpose other than to make the game longer. Very few of the dungeons have actually been relevant to the story. This makes me sort of angry to spend so much time doing something so pointless to the big picture. Maybe they also serve just to level you up, because in the early part of the game I did have to grind levels. I was worried about that, but it turned out to not be a big deal, probably because I attacked every enemy on the map all the time. But the maze-like levels can be pretty tough to navigate. I had to use a walkthrough on the first or second one. Luckily that one was the worst so far, though I hear talk online of far more annoying mazes later in the game. No thanks. I like puzzle dungeons that I can think and solve, not eternal trial-and-error pits.

    Anyway. I’m glad I tried this game out because there is some cool stuff to experience. All in all though, I am frustrated by how mediocre it’s become when it should have been so much more enthralling. And ultimately, the battle system imploded on itself because the block mechanic feels so cheap and I’m tired of dying and having to redo dungeons.
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    dkirschner's Eternal Sonata (PS3)

    Current Status: Stopped playing - Got frustrated

    GameLog started on: Tuesday 1 April, 2014

    GameLog closed on: Saturday 26 April, 2014

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Not much idea what to expect. Hopefully it's a pretty story and excellent music. ----------- Story was lame, Chopin totally divorced from the story. Combat generally but, gets button mashy and blocking begins to feel cheap.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstar

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