After the disappointment that was Blue Dragon, Eternal Sonata was the next game I pinned my hopes on for a superlative JRPG experience on the Xbox 360. Unfortunately, after playing it, I am left still waiting for that experience. Eternal Sonata is only suited for a novice RPG gamer, and will leave veterans craving a lot more.
Of course, the game does have redeeming features. Its cel shaded graphics are, in my opinion, the single best use of that particular visual style in any game thus far. Characters and environments pop out with vibrant colors, and the enemies have a whimsical charm to them. Genre newcomers won't be intimidated by hulking men wielding giant swords and scantily-clad battle goddesses. The game has a clean, wholesome feel. The music is equally captivating. Composed by veteran Motoi Sakuraba and featuring works by Frederic Francois Chopin (who is also a character in the game), the soundtrack is a wonderful blend of the modern and the classical. The music is pumping during battles, serene or adventurous when exploring, and interludes featuring Chopin's compositions round out the aural package.
Unfortunately, the two elements most crucial to an RPG are sorely lacking; the battle system and the story. The battle system is extremely basic, and centers on stringing together light attacks before transitioning to a stronger finishing move. As the game progresses, twists are added to the simple formula, such as the ability to string together chains between multiple characters or being able to build up the power of your special moves by performing more basic attacks. However, every battle invariably degenerates into the same repetitive actions. An interesting light/dark mechanic (which can cause enemies to change forms and determines what special moves you have access to, depending on whether you stand in light or shadow) livens things up, but remains underutilized. Again, the simplicity of the system and relative lack of difficulty should appeal to newcomers, but few others.
The story is Eternal Sonata's biggest downfall. The game opens on Chopin lying on his deathbed, and the majority of the game takes place in his dream world, as he lays dying. The tale starts off very simple, and never changes. Enemies are unambiguously evil, your allies are completely pure of heart. By the end, what story there is degenerates into an impenetrable mess of exposition and nonsensical babbling.
Were I to describe Eternal Sonata in a single word, it would be "superficial." The game is undeniably beautiful to look at and listen to, but upon closer examination the experience feels woefully hollow. Unless you are looking for an RPG to ease you into the genre, or are purchasing the game for a child, this is one sonata not worth listening to.