Eternal Sonata is a Junior RPG about Chopin, the famous 19th century Frensh pianist and composer. This game is one of the first in its kind and tries to combine learning with playing, but in an all new fashion compared to standard edu-games… No more boring talks of “click the correct answer”. Here the entire educational ingredient is poured into a solid story and level after level you’ll become wiser. For instance, I now know Chopin created one of his greatest composures in Mallorca while he was terribly ill and I wasn’t even playing the game with the intention of actually learning something new. Is this the new way to teach kids new things?
In the beginning you don’t have the slightest clue this game is build around the composer. You start playing as Polka, a girl in her early teens who has healing powers. Sadly, the possession of magical talents also means you’re fatally ill… The local population wants to avoid Polka at any cost because of the fear of contamination and possibly suffering the same faith as the little girl. Before she leaves the world, she wants to prove to the world she’s just as much human and good as any of them. She decides to liberate the people of the evil Count Waltz’s grasp who makes it impossible for pour people to live in his realm.
Where is the link to Chopin? Well, the first thing is the entire story. It all takes place in his last, feverish dream while he’s sleeping on his death-bed. Apart from that, the mastermind is also the first character who joins Polka in her fight against Waltz. After him, other figures like Bear, Jazz and Allegretto join the gang. The entire story is put together in a fashion rarely seen in a junior RPG. Every scene is woven together beautifully through highly detailed cut scenes and rather long dialogues. During the actual storyline, there’s not much information you get on Chopin himself. The real information-treasure is found in between chapters. There you get to hear some of his most important creations and while you’re listening you can also read some text about the grandmasters life.
As I have mentioned a couple of time, Eternal Sonata is a JRPG (in other words, meant for children ). In any normal situation the average gamer older than 14 would find this game a total waste of money, but it has proven that this doesn’t always have to be the case. The developers have tried to walk somewhere in the middle of it all and appear to have managed to reach their goal. The gameplay is simple enough for the smallest amongst us, yet it does offer enough depth to be an interesting thing to look at for older gamers.
In the field of gaming, this is the ideal RPG to get to know the genre. It contains a turn-based fighting system completed with a couple of less conventional elements like a move- and turn timer and the different effects of light and dark. This latter has an impact on the kind of special attack you can use and because of this it has a strategic impact on your game, a big plus for more experienced players. The progress of the fights themselves changes over time! They get harder the further you get in the game. At first the move timer will only move when you actually make a move, but later in the game it keeps on running even when you stop moving. This offers the ideal environment to get to know the entire concept step by step which yet again offers an advantage for new players. Another interesting point for children (from a parental perspective), but also for other people with a real interest in music, is the additional knowledge you’ll get by playing. Het fact that the “subject material” isn’t that profound, but nice to know at the same time, means that you can learn while you’re lying in your couch, regardless your age!
Graphically Eternal Sonata is a true wonder for the eye. Going from fairytale-like forests to the darkest corners of the empire, immersed in a sensational atmosphere of butterflies, glimmering water drops, enchanting sunsets, creepy shadows and ghostly ruins. Although everything is being shown in a very anime-fashion, the level of detail is dazzling. The game confirms the reasons why you bought a HDTV. It had been some time since I personally experienced a game where the graphics and surrounding contributed to the atmosphere of a game.
Of course a game about one of the world’s biggest figures in musical history has to have one killer soundtrack. The symphonies you get to hear in-game are more than clearly inspired by the work of Chopin himself. A magnificent piano guides you through the story, perfectly reflecting every given situation through the music. During combat you’ll notice a series of dramatic notes entering your ear while the music during a happy walk through the forest offers a state of “inner peace” flowing through your speakers. In between chapters you get to hear, as I mentioned before, the real Chopin music, combined with a slideshow of pictures fitting the given tunes and some text to explain it all. Not everything is perfect. The beautiful music is sometimes interrupted by somewhat weak voice acting. For example, our lovely Polka has an incredible “crybaby voice” which does get very annoying during a five minute conversation. Another one of those whining voices was given to Beat, the little boy clearly has some problems with his throat. Too bad, because the music really is great!
Although Eternal Sonata lacks a multiplayer for instance, it does remain a great game. Namco has passed the test, of creating an atmospheric game where you can find old-fashioned entertainment combined with education, with more than flying colors. This IS the future of educational games. It offers a relaxing form of learning, I would even dare to say you barely know you’re actually being taught something.