Posted on December 23rd 2017
We've had some unfinished business with Eternal Sonata for a long time. Rosy originally was playing this game with her then-boyfriend, who had gotten this game because of it being a rare example of a local co-op JRPG. After one night of playing it together, Rosy woke up the next morning, and the game was gone. Her ex, rather than admit that he just didn't enjoy the game, lied. He said that he finished playing the game single-handedly overnight, and sold it before she woke up. (You can read between the lines why he is an ex).
In any case, Rosy took what he said at face value, assumed it was a very short game, and, years later, bought her own copy to go in her pile of impending PS3 games to play in the future someday, with someone better.
Denise and Rosy played the game together as a group activity. Rosy warned Denise that we must be getting close to the end... but somehow the game just kept going, and going. Hm.
In any case, we really enjoyed playing the game. The story was weird, and we weren't sure where the writing was going just yet, but we were enjoying it overall. Then, Rosy's PS3 died, taking the savefile with it.
It was some time before we got another PS3 and were ready to start over this game from the beginning. The second time around, since we had seen actually a good portion of the plot in our first playthrough, we began to realize just how... poorly written this all was, and the flaws started to become really glaring. Hence this article.
Welcome to our 20,000-word dissertation about Eternal Sonata.
Any discussion of Eternal Sonata needs to start with stating that the entire concept of the game is: what the actual fuck. The game is centered around Chopin. Yes, Frédéric François Chopin, the Polish composer and pianist (1810 - 1849).
And what is he doing in this game? Chopin is on his deathbed. Hallucinating. About... anime characters?
Yes, this is an anime game. So the game is centered around anime Chopin at that.
So yeah, anime Chopin is on his deathbed, hallucinating about other anime characters. In his fever dream, he has a top hat. At least he's got that. Since this is Chopin's fever dream, he's dreaming about music, so the other anime characters are musically-themed. In truth, it's mostly the names of the characters that are musically-themed; maybe some of them get some musically-themed details on their clothing, but that's pretty much it. Some characters are very loosely (but somehow also hamfistedly) allegorical for the events of Chopin's life, which the game does make a point of teaching you about in interludes between each chapter in which you get to hear his piano music and read a bit about his life. Mostly, there's Polka who is a reference to Chopin's sister Emilia, who died at age 14. And there's Jazz, who is a reference to the November 1830 Uprising in Poland. But that is roughly as deep as any of the allegories get.
The beginning of the plot is centered on a conspiracy involving a government-subsidized medicine known as mineral powder, which is supplanting the more traditional and organic medicines like floral powder.
Yeah, this game is notably about taxes. Lol.
The characters initially are concerned about the impact to small businesses, but they eventually learn that the intrigue goes much deeper than that. The mineral powder is actually a fake medicine and the people who take it become dependent upon it, start developing magical abilities, and lose their minds, making them into perfect zombie battle mages for Count Waltz's army, at least until they fully succumb to their illness and pass away. But the people of Forte are mere pawns to the evil Count Waltz, and there's always more people taking mineral powder to refill the ranks. In the meanwhile, a rebel force is wise to Waltz's schemes, and is trying to overthrow him.
On top of this, the plot features an annoying teen romance, involving the character who is the allegory for Chopin's dead sister. While Chopin is on his deathbed and his hallucinations don't have to make a lot of sense, it's still plenty weird that he would be dreaming about the love life of his long-dead sister. He also manages to foresee the emergence of jazz, which wouldn't exist for another 60 or so years. ✽ Anyway, Chopin is watching these events unfold. He is aware that he is dreaming, but he is interested to see how the story of this dream ends. But, most of all, Chopin spends the entirety of Eternal Sonata awaiting the sweet embrace of death, and honestly, so do we, when playing this game. The writing is pretty agonizing. We'll be discussing this at length in a little bit.
In this game, Chopin spends the majority of the plot... babysitting children. A surprising number of children.
Now you might be saying, yeah, yeah, it's a JRPG, of course there are children... but usually not so many of them! These games are marketed to teenagers, so usually most characters are teenagers, with maybe one little kid. In Eternal Sonata's case, so much of the cast is under 10 years old! Granted, they are pretty much adult mouth-pieces and aren't really believable as children, but that's another point.
Not that we are complaining or anything about the presence of so many children being main characters in this game, but remember that this is a game featuring Chopin and, well, the image it creates is rather odd. The romantic composer with a frail physique and a troubled love life etcetera etcetera, babysitting children.
But somehow, children or adults, as the plot progresses and we meet more characters and the party slots get filled in... nobody in the entire party has any reason to be there!
Polka and Allegretto
While the game is centered on Chopin, Chopin is notably not the main character. It's like they wanted to make a game about Chopin, but they were afraid it would be too weird and nobody would buy that game (even though that's also the main selling point of Eternal Sonata).
So, they decided to make the game be about the dead sister of Chopin, as mentioned before. They named her Polka, because everything needs to follow the musical theme, and Chopin is Polish.
Polka is suffering from a terminal illness that gives her magical healing powers. Throughout the plot, Polka has to deal with the fact that she is dying, and apparently resolves to use her remaining time for good. Does she though? We'll be discussing that later.
But, wait, the developers said, we can't have a gIIIRL be the main character, so we need something else. Hey, what about that Kalas guy from Baten Kaitos, the other game we made? Maybe we can gut him and reuse him here, as if he were an old couch that was being restuffed.
The main character of Eternal Sonata has a lot of superficial similarities with Kalas from Baten Kaitos. They even designed this character with a little tuft of white feathers on one sleeve, to harken back to Kalas's single wing. Personality-wise, he's a lot like Kalas, but somehow watered down. Perhaps the restuffing process is not quite perfect, and what's left of Kalas has gotten a bit worn out. This new character is a bit snarky and a bit disrespectful and he sometimes seems to consider himself above the law. The difference is, Kalas' personality was derived from his story, and there were clear reasons for his character being that way; there are no story-based reasons for the main character of Eternal Sonata to be this way. It's just because he is the reanimated shell of Kalas.
For the record, much of this game seems like some sort of strange recycled and re-blended version of Baten Kaitos. Notably the character of Lyude from Baten Kaitos was put through the grinder and sprinkled over the entirety of Eternal Sonata, and you can still hear him screaming.
Let us explain. In Baten Kaitos, a game that's otherwise not music-related, Lyude comes from Alfard, a place designed around brass instruments. One function of the brass pipes running everywhere in the city is to release a calming gas that keeps the population complacent, as the emperor does whatever the hell he's doing. This is very much like the mineral powder of Eternal Sonata. Actually, it's like all of Eternal Sonata grew out of ideas about Alfard.
Lyude himself has a brass trumpet-gun, and an outfit with brass bits in an universe where everything else is notably more colorful and fantasy rather than steampunk. Jazz's design in particular seems to be heavily based on Lyude's, as shown by his shoes and trombone-sword. Even Lyude's unique character-specific equipped item, the earrings, ended up on Jazz.
Characterization-wise, in Baten Kaitos Lyude went through a very tragic story. He manages to keep it together pretty well, despite so much hardship. It is only later, when the plot hits him with additional brutal plot-twists, that he ends up crying and depressed. This later aspect of his character is pasted onto Polka from Eternal Sonata, once again without the reasons. Polka is literally in the process of dying, but somehow her sadness doesn't inspire the sympathy from us that Lyude's did, and is not as believable. We guess that's because she's not really sad as a result of processing her grief, but as a result of generally whining about everything else. She's sad because floral powder manufacturers will go out of business, and there will go a traditional custom of her little village, replaced by newfangled artificial medicines. Yeah, Polka is notably crying about everything except for the things she should be crying about. She just stands there looking depressed always. If this was inspired by Lyude, it was very shallowly inspired by Lyude.
Anyway, as for what concerns the main character, the developers brought the zombie of Kalas to life, and they renamed him Allegretto. Retto for short.
Retto for short... uh... This is an extremely unfortunate choice, because Retto means Rectum in Italian.
Now, before you say, who cares, lots of things are coincidentally insults in other languages... the vast majority of the musical terms used throughout this music-themed game are in fact direct loan words from Italian. Andantino literally means "kind of going" in Italian, and, musically, it means a medium-slow tempo. Forte means "strong" in Italian, and, musically, it means to play loud. And Allegretto literally means "sort-of happy", and musically it means a pretty fast tempo or mood.
So, to have Italian words sprinkled generously throughout this game as the names of people, places, organizations, and creatures... to have the character's full name itself to be an Italian word... to then have the characters call him what is "Rectum" in Italian is terrible and hilarious. If it was an insulting term in Finnish, well, that's too bad. But considering the amount of intentional use of Italian throughout the game, they should have checked, and this is inexcusable. This fault is entirely on the dubbers, because that never happened in the Japanese at least. In Japanese, Beat calls Allegretto "nii-san", and the dubbers decided to make that be a nickname, and they unfortunately chose "Retto". Why not "bro" or "big brother" or even "Al". They had to pick Rectum. Sigh.
While we are on this subject, let us also mention that Retto is from the town of Ritardando. In Italian, it literally means "slowing", and musically it means to play slower. While this is unfortunately the established term for music, from an English-speaking perspective and even from an Italian-speaking perspective, this term sounds... very much like "retard." When picking the name of this town, couldn't they have picked any of the other abundant musical terms out there that don't sound like slurs?
Maybe the Japanese missed this unfortunate connection, but surely the dubbers should have known and made a change. It's not like they were afraid to change things. They notably changed Jitterbug to Jazz because what sort of name for a brave hero is "Jitterbug". At least let him sound like some cool Jazz. If they are going to change the character's name over something as minor and subjective as this, why not avoid the glaring slur?
Anyway, so, the developers created Allegretto through their necromantic powers and they shipped him hard with Chopin's dead sister, because that's what the game is about: pointless and undeveloped teen romance between Polka, who is annoying but a character, and Allegretto, who only exists in function of there needing to be a male avatar for the player. Because of course dudebro gamers must play as a male teenager and of course are the designated demographic for a JRPG about Chopin the composer. Yeah.
The characters of Polka and Allegretto barely speak to each other, and the game just starts teasing the two of them so much for being in love when there's no love established, and it is so forced (similar, but somehow even worse than the forced shipping between Kalas and Xelha in Baten Kaitos). Eternal Sonata is like your aunt that saw you talk with a boy once, and now is teasing you about that boy for every Thanksgiving dinner for the rest of your life, and doesn't believe you when you say that his parents were just giving you a ride home from school that one time and you haven't seen him in twenty years. So, for all the development that Allegretto and Polka's relationship have, you may as well be watching the developers putting the dolls together and going, now kiss (in fact, that is pretty much what happens, unfortunately, but wait for that).
In any case, you'll forget Retto is even a character like 80% of the time until he unfortunately starts talking.
It's Chopin's dream, shouldn't he be the main character? The interludes between each chapter give us information about the life and motivations of real-life historical Chopin. But... he's not the main character. Essentially, the progression of who the main character is is twice removed from who should have been the obvious choice.
Beat and the camera
The developers also clearly wanted to do the camera thingy that they did in Baten Kaitos, but better. So they made the entire character of Beat exist with his only function being to have the camera.
They did indeed make the photo idea much more sophisticated than what was in Baten Kaitos: now you actually aim the camera to take the picture, and the game grades your photos, and so it's kinda like Pokémon Snap... except there is no album to save the photos in. There is no Creaturedex keeping your best photos of each creature. You just, sell your photos for money. That's it. There's not much joy in taking a really nice photo of a particular monster because, even though you can see what is actually the photo you took -- this is not just a placeholder image or anything -- then you just sell it, and it is gone. There's no reason to take lots of different photos of lots of different enemies. You might as well just grind at snapping as many photos you can in each turn, and then sell away 3 or so identical photos of the same monster for whatever price. We wanted to care about the camera mechanic, but the game gave us no reward for caring at all.
Now, in Baten Kaitos, the photo system had problems that made it way too hardcore. It had a Dex of every possible item ("magnus") in the game, including the photos of every enemy and including every boss. If you want to complete your Magnus Dex, you need to make sure to bring the camera to every boss battle, let the camera come up in your hand during the battle, take the photo, and then you don't necessarily have to keep the photo from the limited loot-pile, but it feels really bad to do all that work to then discard the photo of the boss. That was crappy and it made the photos really stressful, to the point where it was better to not care and not even try.
In Eternal Sonata, instead, the photos are so stress-free and meaningless, there is no reason to care. All the care got sapped out of us and we no longer tried. :(
Salsa and March
Salsa and March are twin eight-year-old faerie beings that live in and protect the magical forest. Salsa has red hair and a warm-toned outfit and focuses on offense and has a fiery personality and her moves are named after the sun. March has blue hair and a cool-toned outfit and focuses on defense and has a calm personality and her moves are named after the moon. We bet the developers were so proud of their cleverness.
Also, they are literal exposition fairies. Literal. Exposition. Fairies. Sigh.
Salsa and March may as well have been NPCs who showed up in the part of the game where they were relevant, and returned home afterwards. They have no reason to continue to follow the party or to even be playable characters at all.
The only function Salsa seems to serve after she is rescued from Count Waltz's dungeon is to be an in an equally unwritten and forced shipping with poor Beat, and for their childhood "crush" to somehow serve as comic? relief?
And then there's March, who exists in function of Salsa, who exists in function of Beat, who exists in function of the camera mechanic.
While we like March, she's so unwritten, that in the ending when all the characters are floating in a void repeating their most poignant lines of the game, discussing death and life and so on... all March said was, "I hope I can help".
All things considered, we don't hate either Salsa or March, but we wish they had the chance to be fully developed characters in some better-written story.
Jazz and the Love Polygon of Doom
Jazz is the leader of Andantino, the rebel forces of Forte seeking to overthrow the despotic rule of Count Waltz. And we can easily see how he got to be the leader. He is handsome and charismatic and pleasant and caring and cool and skilled and wields a trombone-sword so big, it makes Cloud Strife insecure. We couldn't restrain several sword-related jokes between ourselves as we played the game. We mean, check out his sword. It's just so big, he can handle hitting the sweet spot of two or even three enemies all at the same time. His sword is so long, it drags on the ground as he runs, impeding his movement (at least until you equip him with the Speed Shoes). In spite of his sword's massive size, he's able to control it with such finesse, even with just one hand. No wonder everyone wants a piece of him.
Sword jokes aside, while Jazz is fully introduced as a character, that's it. Just like everyone else, he also eventually ends up having no real reason to be continuing to follow the party. You'd imagine he has better things to do than follow these children. Isn't he the leader of the rebellion? Where is the rebellion? The plot forgets.
His entire backstory is half-alluded to, but never fully there. He was working in the mines with other people he cared about, who died. He knew Prince Crescendo, but we don't hear very much about their pasts, even though they seem to be very close friends (with something going on there).
Eventually, Jazz ends up just existing as the party member with the huge sword, and the fulcrum of some kind of love polygon.
As we said, he seems to have something going on with Prince Crescendo. He visited him regularly, and Prince Crescendo repeatedly took the very serious risk to secretly fund Jazz's rebellion (despite the country of Baroque's officially neutral stance). If Jazz says something, Prince Crescendo cares and listens to him.
However, officially, Jazz has a cover lover in Claves. They're dating. How dating? Dating to the point of having a secret cabin littered with empty bottles (of what we assume was surely grape juice). Mm hmmm. This game is rated T for Teen, and if it was any more risqué, we'd get the opening to Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines.
However... (Click to reveal spoilers)
As we will learn, Claves is a spy, and her relationship with Jazz is her own cover to get close to him and send information back to Waltz. However, the power of Jazz's love polygon is so strong that Claves develops true feelings for him, and she is plunged into angsty doubts. Once her conflicting motivations are discovered, Rondo, her comrade in subterfuge, is ordered to assassinate her, since Count Waltz is nothing if he is not ruthless.
On Jazz's other side is Falsetto, his childhood friend ✽ who has unconfessed feelings for him. While he is openly dating Claves, Falsetto is extremely nasty toward her, and... (Click to reveal spoilers)
After Claves' death, Falsetto's primary concern is the fact that she will never be able to compete with Jazz's idealized memory of Claves, and so she fears her chances of dating him are now zero. Which is fucking shitty of her, considering Claves is dead and her supposed best friend is grieving. If you ask us, she's never "winning" this relationship "war" because of her complete disregard for Jazz's emotional wellbeing, and nothing to do with this elaborate psychological conundrum she's made up. And it really is all made up. Throughout the game, Jazz says absolutely nothing to suggest that he will never love again. Actually, he says nothing one way or the other; following Claves' death, he notably is very quiet about it, and is presumably grieving silently. Meanwhile, in the time when her friend would most need her support, Falsetto leaves the party to scream in the rain about how unfair Claves was to have played the death card and taken away her chances of dating Jazz.
So, Falsetto is a female nice guy, clearly written by a male nice guy.
When she reunites with Jazz, she rants about all of this bullshit, and Jazz gives her the weakest little slap, and then hugs her. He was wrong to have slapped her (even if it was the wussiest slap ever), but he was also wrong to have hugged her. Really, Jazz, this is not someone you can call a friend or trust in any way ever again. He should cut her from his life, and grieve for having lost a girlfriend and learning that his childhood friend was so selfish and wasn't actually his friend.
And then, last, and definitely least, is poor Viola. While she's a nice person, she has no character and no clear motivations. She started out following the party on a whim, and then the developers realized she needed a reason to still be there, and so they tacked her somewhere in Jazz's love polygon. However, she pretty much gives up on that, once she realizes just how long the queue already is.
While never spelled out, you could also potentially ship Princess Serenade with Jazz (maybe as a threesome with Prince Crescendo). She seems to get along well enough with Jazz too. Canonically though, she obviously cares for the Prince. Her part of the plot centers on her conflicting motivations regarding her feelings for Prince Crescendo and her loyalty to her original homeland of Forte. However, this plotpoint is never developed. It is merely introduced, and she never has to actually, you know, make a decision or anything.
So, in summary, Claves, Falsetto, Viola, and even Prince Crescendo only exist in the party because of their position in Jazz's love polygon. And Princess Serenade exists in function of the Prince.
For the record, we believe that the only reason why Jazz's love polygon doesn't get any more complicated than this is simply because the rest of the party is made up of children. If the writers could have used Jazz's love polygon for the explanation for every single character's motivation, we are sure they would have.
Prince Crescendo and Princess Serenade, while being characters that should exist in the plot, have no reason to actually be party members. After their part is done, they are no longer relevant, don't appear in any more cutscenes or have any additional dialogue, but they are somehow still following the party around as the least fleshed-out and least equipped playable characters. They are clearly an afterthought and only available again at the end of the game, just in case you preferred using them, we guess. We find that somewhat unlikely, considering that, by when we beat the game, even though we made a point of leveling them up so that they stayed on par with the rest of the party, they still didn't even have full move rosters (Prince Crescendo notably only had one dark move, while he could have equipped two, and most characters have several possibilities). ✽
It's sad, because there is a lot of promise in their characters, which goes nowhere, and is overlooked because of the huge party of mostly children and teenagers. The plot could have focused on the kingdoms and the rebellion. That would have made a good story, but Eternal Sonata can't just do one thing right, it has to do fifteen things terribly. If only Prince Crescendo, Princess Serenade, and Jazz had their own game, without all these children, and even without Chopin.
The cute critters
Viola has a cute critter as mandated by the Disney movie rules, but he only serves the purpose to sit on her shoulder, almost invisibly. We aren't even sure what species he is, where she met him, and so on. We only know his name: Arco. Get it? Because she's Viola, and Arco is the bow. And she's an archer who uses a bow. Honestly, the most developed part of either of their characters is this pun. We complained about Corrine in Tales of Symphonia, we complained about Hans the flying pig of Valkyria Chronicles, but even those pointless critters have at least one moment of relevance to the plot, while Arco has none at all.
Princess Serenade also has a cute critter: her pet dog Minuet, as a reference to Chopin's "Little Dog Waltz". Minuet ends up being slightly more relevant than Arco, because rescuing Minuet is the party's motivation for entering a particular dungeon. But after we do all the work of saving this yippy dog, it doesn't look like Serenade even brings her along for the rest of the quest. You know what, that's just fine. Good. ✽
So, Minuet exists as a McGuffin for one dungeon, and Arco barely exists, as a pun.
The whole party
Putting this all together, somehow in Eternal Sonata, THE ENTIRE PARTY is a bunch of people with no clear motivations, existing only in vague function of other characters. Wasn't the point of this game to be about Chopin, and Polka if you really want? How did things get so off track?
It's like they had four or so unfinished drafts for different game plots, and just put them together without bothering to give each sub-group of characters a reason for interacting with the others, and without worrying about wrapping up whatever was going to be the main arc of each of the combined stories.
But before we delve too deeply into the writing of this game, let's talk more about what is more readily apparent as you first start playing.
We are really impressed at Eternal Sonata's artistic rendering. At the time, it was probably the best at achieving this anime look in 3D in a game.
However, all of this effort is wasted by the animation of the characters. Everyone stands in a half-T pose, with their arms awkwardly to the side, which is obviously only to avoid collisions with their clothing. This is especially evident in the characters who have a bell shape to their outfits: Polka, Beat, Salsa and March.
Even if we excuse that, the acting of the animation is TERRIBLE. They are always gesturing pointlessly with gestures that don't even really match what they're saying. The animations are used on all characters without any concern for their personality, so somehow everyone walks with the same gait, everyone tilts their head just so, everyone gestures with their arms in the same way. The result is that it feels like we're looking at finely rendered broken marionettes, and the puppeteer sucks ass.
In this art style, also, the kid characters have really creepy eyes. Especially Beat. Please don't ever wink again.
Then there's the problem of the direction of the cutscenes. Everything is the same repetitive cuts of: showing the characters from torso up; showing the character in profile as they walk into the shot; starting with a close up of the shoe when a character is introduced before panning up to reveal the whole character; panning out to show the whole party standing like it's for the poster whenever they say something "meaningful"... It's always the same cliches all over. The result is that all of these cutscenes are really stale and unimaginative.
Making matters worse is that these cutscenes are very long, and they mostly involve characters just talking to each other! In this case, it would be important to change the angles to keep visuals fresh, and instead it's essentially 30 minutes of the same repetitive, cliched shots.
These visual cliches are unbearable. For a specific example, when the characters go to the Aria Temple, Polka sees in the distance (the shoe of) A MYSTERIOUS WOMAN! The camera then immediately pans over Jazz's face, because at that moment, the only character whose whereabouts are unknown is Falsetto, so, by showing his face, we know that he's wondering if it could be Falsetto and... the writers obviously think it's clever, but it's not. The result is that the direction of the cutscenes telegraphs the plot. It's not even foreshadowing, it's more like Jazz read ahead in the script and knows what is about to happen.
Cutscene direction aside, the world around the characters is gorgeous. Like with Baten Kaitos, all the NPCs are fully designed with buttons on their clothing and all, and the backgrounds of towns and so on are finely rendered and colorful and really pretty.
They even did a good job with the problem of limited camera angles. In this game, the shift from one angle to another usually moves in a good way, so it gets past the pre-rendered problem that Baten Kaitos had. It more often feels more like we're moving in a 3D space, rather than moving the speck of Kalas around on an image.
However, one of the major problems is the visual cues for what is explorable and what is not. While it looks like there's a wide open field to explore, there's invisible barriers everywhere, and the result is that, of the entire screen that you can see, you're actually confined to a narrow path which is the only way you can go. The only indications of where the barriers are might be things like a tiny rock on the ground, which any of the party members could just easily step over, but it somehow forms an impenetrable barrier. And sometimes the developers didn't even bother with putting even the rock. At one point we noticed a fence with a conspicuous gap, but that turned out to be only cosmetic. We couldn't get Allegretto to pass through this three-person wide open gap that the game seems to be pointing at as concealing some secret... why couldn't they have just continued the fence the whole way instead of putting an invisible barrier between the pieces of the fence?
Before playing this game together, Rosy told Denise the music in this game was really pretty. We started playing it, and then Denise said, IT'S BATEN KAITOS! IT'S THE MUSIC FROM BATEN KAITOS! IT'S LITERALLY THE SAME MUSIC!
Before we finished playing Eternal Sonata, we finished Baten Kaitos together, and yep. Except for Chopin's pieces and a few other things, the entire soundtrack of Eternal Sonata is recycled music from Baten Kaitos. Down to the theme of Baten Kaitos, which plays sometimes during the battles. And even the dramatic music box from the end credits of Baten Kaitos is reused multiple times in Eternal Sonata, whenever they want to amp up the drama.
Like, ok, we get that Baten Kaitos didn't do that well and with this the developers were hoping to get their work more heard, and it's sad that few people got to appreciate it the first time, but... you don't recycle the main theme of your other game at random. You can use it if, say, a character from Baten Kaitos showed up in Eternal Sonata as a cameo or something, but not as general boss battle music... Show some respect to your other creation...
We began this article by explaining that one of Rosy's initial draws to this game was its potential for co-op gameplay. The battles can be played with up to three players, and it is super fun. It's got a slightly rhythm-based attacking and defending system, and it lets us work together to win the battles. Attacks can be "charged" through repeatedly attacking, and then that stored power can be used to unleash special moves. This power is called "Echoes", and it is shared by all the players, so, if you're playing this game in co-op, it requires coordination and strategizing between the players. Overall, this battle system is stimulating and rewarding and very well done.
The various playable characters have some radically different capabilities in battle, so it is worth it to switch through the many playable characters of this game. For example, Jazz, as we've mentioned, is slow, but swings a giant sword around super powerfully, letting him hit several nearby enemies for massive damage. Then Falsetto attacks with rapid-fire kicks and punches, which is very effective at building up the echo-meter; she's speedy and needs to be up close and personal. Viola plays completely differently from anyone else, since she uses a bow and has to aim her shots in first-person view, and the further away she is from her target, the more damage she does.
Then there is the role of...
Light and darkness
During a fight, there are areas in the light and areas in the darkness across the battlefield. Being in the light or being in the shadow impacts what special moves the characters or the enemies can use, and some enemies can even completely change their form depending on the lighting conditions around them.
When this was introduced, we thought this was a very neat idea, and gave us something important to consider during the battles. However, somehow, later in the game, the developers managed to mess it up. Let us explain.
For example, Beat starts out with a special move called "Vivid Shot". If he is standing in the light, he is able to use this move to take a photo. So, early in the game, we had to pay a lot of attention to where Beat was standing. We need him to move close enough to the enemy that he can snap a good close-up of them, but make sure he doesn't wind up standing in any shadows.
However, it won't be too long before Beat learns "Night Shot", a move that lets him take photos while standing in the darkness; we guess he later gets a lens for night-time photos as well. Once Beat knows both moves, he can then use "Vivid Shot" for taking a photo in the light, or "Night Shot" for taking a photo in the darkness, and so the light and darkness become meaningless as far as taking a photo is concerned (especially if you set the moves to work with exactly the same button combination).
This doesn't just happen with regard to Beat's camera, but, as the game goes on, pretty much every character will have access to a light version and a dark version of all of their moves. Relatively few moves don't get an alternate version for the opposite lighting conditions, and so, as the game progresses, this light and dark mechanic is essentially rendered meaningless.
Now, we also mentioned that some monsters change form in the light or in the darkness. For example, the weak little pumpkins can go into the shadow and become coconut palm elephants of defensive and offensive doom. There's strategery in wanting them to move into the light, where they become much more harmless and easily defeatable.
But this mechanic also quickly loses all meaning as we are introduced to more creatures that morph into other creatures we have already seen, and in ways that become increasingly less understandable. We've seen one version of the narwhal turn into a fish, and we've seen another version of the narwhal turn into a golem. So you're not going to know if this is the narwhal that turns into what, and the strategery is completely lost.
There's apparently a mechanic that some weapons or some abilities are stronger against monsters that are more aligned with the Light or with the Dark, but we have no idea how this works - the alignment apparently does not necessarily match the Light or Dark forms of the monster, but the one flip-flopping monster itself is either Light or Dark aligned. We have zero interest in attempting to memorize any of this, and either one of Falsetto's kicks seems to work well enough, so who cares. This mechanic is a failure.
While fighting the battles themselves is fun, the monsters you end up fighting have boring designs, and the rate at which you encounter what is essentially the same monster is really repetitive. Really really repetitive. Each area has like only four enemies to be encountered, and, there are like maybe twenty-ish unique designs in total throughout this 40-hour-long game.
We've seen plenty of other games recycling creature designs into recolored versions before (it's kind of a staple of JRPGs), but we've never seen it happen quite as much as in Eternal Sonata. Plus, we see the same creatures repeat even more frequently because of the light-and-dark mechanic; the monsters changing form effectively cuts the roster in half. However, the developers seemed to treat the fish-narwhal as a completely different creature than the golem-narwhal, and so used this trick to increase the "variety" of monsters in the game, even though we got totally, totally sick of the narwhal and the fish and the golem, all of them, as the game kept remixing and rehashing them.
Even worse yet, this game has to win a prize for managing to recycle unique bosses for no explainable reason.
For example, at the beginning of the game, one of the first bosses is a baby dragon. Then, towards the end of the game, the baby dragon is fought again... and then the game has the gall to follow the battle with a cutscene of March picking up the scales and going, wait, this baby dragon just looks like the one from the beginning of the game, but is quite definitely totally different, and not a recycled design because the developers ran out of time and care!
The dungeon in question has four boss battles, and, since we happened to fight the baby dragon first, we thought that all the bosses would be previously seen bosses that are returning for some meaningful reason. But no. Just the baby dragon was recycled in this case, making it stand out all the more as some sort of fuck up.(Click to reveal spoilers)
The most egregious reused boss is with Legato who has turned into a monster. He's the penultimate boss of the game; you beat him up, then Count Waltz commands him to explode and destroy the whole world. This event allows you to access the Mysterious Unison, an optional dungeon where the final boss... is a recolored version of Legato that we just fought and saw explode. There's no reason for there to be another version of him, because he was a unique person and a unique monster.
We wondered if maybe, since we were in Purgatory at the time, we were fighting Legato's soul in Purgatory, but the party members don't talk about this at all, and the creature has a different name. So, it's a recolor.
There's also the problem of why are we fighting any of these creatures. While this is a common problem in games in general (maybe we'll write more about this), most games at least have the hand-wavy excuse of, "oh no, monsters are appearing and are overrunning the area!" or, the enemies are things that we can understand why we are fighting, like thieves that presumably are trying to rob us, or enemy soldiers that are attacking us, or a wild werecat that is on the prowl. But in Eternal Sonata... what did this floppy fish ever do to any of us? Why is Polka beating the shit out of a sentient pumpkin with her umbrella? Do we really need to obliterate this scorpion, or couldn't we just fight it off and run away? These random battles feel unnecessary and cruel.
Highlighting this strange cruelty of fighting these enemies is one part of the game you might unlock where you bring water to a floppy fish that has dried out on land. You might not realize that this floppy fish is an NPC because there are plenty of enemy floppy fish flopping around. If you try to talk with any of the other floppy fish, the party attacks them until they all die. If you talk with this floppy fish, however, Allegretto is for some reason concerned that it is drying out, and if we've been managing to do the trading sequence right so far and if we choose to backtrack a little bit later, we can dump water on this floppy fish to save it! What makes this floppy fish any more worthy of our pity and what makes the other floppy fish any more worthy of our wrath? Who knows!
The only random enemies that are in any way plot-important are the mindless wizards affected by the mineral powder. And the game eventually forgets about those entirely.
Game Design and "Side-Quests"
In the first part of the game, there is an elaborate trading sequence spanning across the first several chapters of the plot. The first time we started playing the game together, we encountered a few parts of the trading sequence, but somehow never seemed to have the right items even though we didn't feel like we were doing a poor job of finding things. Oh well, maybe this is something where we need to come back later.
However, this game, in general, is very brutal about, if you do one thing before the other, the characters then leave the area, and there is no way to go back and do the other thing that you fully intended to do but didn't realize that you were accidentally leaving behind forever. One example that really upset us the first time around was, Allegretto pointedly says that he would like to visit the orphans before he leaves town. Allegretto also pointedly says that there's something going on in this cave, and maybe we should check it out. We had no idea that by going to check out the cave first that we would then leave the area and never be able to visit the orphans again. But the orphans! Nooo!
This is not a poignant message about the lasting ramifications of every decision, and how every choice for something is inevitably a choice against the opposite, and so we should be deliberating over every decision we make, a la The Witcher. No, it was perfectly possible for us to both go visit the orphans and to check out the cave, but the game expects us to be psychic about the order that we should do the events, and it is needlessly unforgiving about whisking us about from place to place.
Denise was a little bit savvy about this at this point, as she had already seen this happen in Baten Kaitos: during the first half of that game, the party is forced to move along a set path from this island to that island according to the game's plot, even though there is nothing to suggest that characters couldn't just pilot the ferry pretty much anywhere they wished (which is especially frustrating since the NPC on this island is asking for the clouds that you know could have easily been obtained on the last island if only you had been psychic and known to bring some along in your very limited magnus inventory). However, in the second half of the game, you can finally make your own decisions about where the ferry takes you, letting you finally satisfy all the side quests that have been taunting you since the beginning of the game (here, take your fucking clouds, oh, and thank you for your level-one healing item that is no longer even remotely useful, thanks).
So, we were expecting Eternal Sonata to do something similar and let us go back to places we visited before to do the things we had accidentally missed out on.
It turns out, this is both true and not true. You can revisit other locations at your own discretion later... after you beat the entire game not just once, not just once you start up New Game+, but deep into the plot of New Game+. Only then will the game give you access to a teleportation system that will let you travel from place to place as you please. If you play the game so much that you unlock the teleportation system, you probably know it so well that you will almost not even need the teleportation system (except where it is absolutely required).
So, after our save file was unfortunately lost so close to the end of the game, we eventually started a regular old New Game- from the very beginning. This time around, we made sure to prioritize visiting the orphans at every opportunity (we're sorry, you poor orphans, we're so sorry). We also looked up what was the deal with that trading sequence, and we realized our problem. First of all, one of the crucial items of this trading sequence is obtained by visiting the orphans, and secondly, in order to trade away an item, you can't have it equipped. The first few items of the trading sequence are not things you can equip, they are just special key items, so we didn't even realize equippable items were also potentially tradeable. So, there had even been a case the first time around where we had exactly the item needed in order to make the trade, but the game made no indication that we did have the necessary item for the trade, just because it was equipped. Couldn't the NPC in question tell us, "Hey! I see you have the Speed Shoes! Would you be willing to unequip them and make a trade?" What would have been so hard about that? We even joked the first time around that, hey, we have shoes, the Speed Shoes, lol, but where are we going to find the special key item shoes? Argh.
And you know what really pisses us off about this? That this does happen later at some point! When later in the game the professor in Castle Baroque needs a Spell Book, we had the item equipped, and he did remark on the fact that we need to unequip it before giving it to him! Why did they do it right here, but not anywhere else?!
Then there is the worst offender of all: Score Sessions.
Throughout the game, you will find items known as Score Pieces. These are short little snippets of music that you collect and listen to. When you encounter certain characters, they will ask you if you'd like to "perform a session". This is essentially a duet in which the NPC will play some music, and you can choose one of your Score Pieces to play with that NPC. If the two pieces of music match each other, you'll receive an item.
This, however, usually doesn't result in a wonderful improvisation, but rather in the death of the ears.
You'd think that here is where Eternal Sonata being a game about music would come into play, and where Rosy's musical training will come in handy. But which score piece matches which other score piece is a complete mystery. Rosy can read sheet music, and so tried to guess which of our score pieces looked most complementary to the NPC's score piece before having to play it. In actuality, there is no way to guess.
For starters, there is no indication about which instrument will play which score piece, so what seemed like a matching piece turns out to be an electric guitar riff that you're trying to pair with an oboe. Even if you knew that, whichever is the correct answer is completely up to the taste of the developers, which is sometimes mystifying. We've played sessions where we were sure that this would be the matching piece, only to be met at the end with a resounding BOO!. And we've played sessions where the result sounded vile, only to be met at the end by applause.
Besides, who's booing? Who's applauding? Who's playing the music in the first place? Is it Allegretto? With what? His sword? Are the bystanders the audience? Are the party members the audience? Is Polka waiting for Allegretto to be done playing the fiddle just so she can boo him? (She should).
So, this entire mechanic is just trial and error. You go through the entire list of your score pieces, choose one, wait for it to be done playing, and see if it was a boo or a clap. If it was a boo, you move on to the next one. If it was a clap, you get your fucking floral powder and move on with your life.
Most of the time, we didn't bother. We have better things to do than listen to nasty duets. We can make our own. While we were playing, we would in fact joke that we could do this ourselves with much of the same result:
Denise: Would you like to have a session?
Rosy: Okay. Three, two, one...
Denise and Rosy: (random discordant sounds)
You can try it too with a friend! Isn't this fun?
It's more fun than in the game.
In general, the level design of most of the dungeons is really bad. In most cases, there is really one path with a few short dead end branches with chests here and there.
In part because you can't do anything in the dungeons but walk, to attempt to spice things up a bit, they introduce bullshit rules like, if you defeat all the enemies on this one floor, something may happen, if you did it in the right order. This happens in the Aria Temple, for example. Of course, the game never even mentions this mechanic. While the game's plot is delivered with the hammiest fist who ever hammed, game mechanics are left almost completely unexplained. We only discovered this case because the dungeon seemed to end very quickly. We wondered, are we missing something, how do we get to that chest behind the bars? It turns out that we didn't fight the enemies in the right order, so, no goodies for us. Screw you, game.
Fort Fermata at the beginning of the game is probably the most designed of all of the dungeons. It's also huge and time-wasting and requires so much backtracking... and then somehow later dungeons are just one path.
Our favorite dungeon was the Lento Cemetery, which had! An! Actual! PUZZLE!!
The way this dungeon was set up was that there were doors that required flames of a certain color combination to be unlocked. You'd need, say, two blue flames to get past one door, and then a blue flame and a red flame to get past another door. You can only carry so many flames at once, so you need to open the doors in a certain order to have access to the right color flames to open the next door. Part of the puzzle is to remember where the candles are and to remember what the requirements for the necessary doors are, so that you can figure out the necessary path. There was even an extra door where you could see a treasure chest behind it, so if you cared (and we did, since we were enjoying this puzzle so much), you could do the extra tricky solution to solve this harder door and get the prize, additionally to solving the base puzzle that was needed to progress.
This dungeon was fun. It had a bit of backtracking, but not too much, so it didn't feel like an endurance marathon like Fort Fermata and several other dungeons of this game did. The rules were actually clear, unlike the secret requirements of the Aria Temple. There was a sense of purpose to what we were doing, and we weren't just blindly going into teleporters like in the Fields of Whatever.
Then there started being really shitty dungeons, with the lowest point being...
The Xylophone Tower
First of all, nothing about this dungeon looks like a xylophone. The stairs look very clearly like piano keys. And the flat areas look maybe the neck of a guitar, or sheet music. But certainly not a xylophone.
Then you meet one of the guardians of this mystical tower and... it's a stick. It's a talking stick who makes all sorts of stupid wisecracks, which honestly are not in the right mood for the rest of the game. And none of the characters address the fact that this stick sticking out of the floor is wisecracking at them.
But anyway, this is where the game throws a music-based challenge at you. But, don't you worry, the stick says. If you are not musically inclined, you can just treat this as a memory game, and watch as the keys light up. Good. (Denise for one, is absolutely NOT musically inclined, and in any game with a musical puzzle, Rosy gets the control at that point, because if you are waiting on Denise to solve the musical puzzle, that's the part of the game where she gets stuck forever and decides that she's beaten the game and moves on).
So, the piano keys light up in a sequence, and you need to get Allegretto to stand with his awkward feet on the right little piano keys to trigger the right sequence of sounds. We've played many games involving repeating a sequence of sounds, but, here, the main problem was not memorizing the sounds, but the awkwardness of the controls. Also, the game makes you wait a long time between playing the sample version and letting you manage to reach the piano, so good luck.
Anyway, once you do it, the stupid stick unlocks the spiral staircase to the next level. The staircase is also made of piano keys, which make sounds as Allegretto runs on them. They were clearly going for the Shepard Tone to make the staircase seem infinite, as previously seen in Super Mario 64, but they somehow messed it up, and it doesn't sound right at all. It just sounds like a cacophony. Also, notice that, if you run back down the stairs, you don't hear the sounds go down, no, they keep continuing going up. The stair itself is not associated with any particular note, but rather, every time you step on a stair, any stair, you get the next note in the sequence. That's crap. How did they make it so wrong? If you're not going to do it, don't half-ass it like this.
Anyway, you make it up the stairs, get to the next stick, and you have to do another musical puzzle (or memory test, depending on your approach). It's the same series of notes as the previous puzzle, but four-ish more notes have been added onto the end.
Once you get done with that, it's another staircase of shit, and across another floor, and there is a handy save point. We were tired, so we saved for the night and went to sleep.
The next day, we start playing, and we arrive at the next stick. This stick tells us, HA, this time around, I am not going to light up the keys for you as I play the older part of the sequence. I am just expecting you to have it memorized from last time for this challenge.
BUT WAIT. There was the save point and we saved and we went to sleep and a whole day has passed since we last did the other puzzle. And we were just lucky that we played this game two nights in a row. The day before that, we hadn't played the game for about a year. Who knows when we last did Puzzle #2, and now Puzzle #3 is expecting us to do it either by a long ago memory, or by ear, which is extra crappy after they made the whole reassurance that it's okay if you are not musically inclined and Denise was banking on not needing to solve anything by ear.
Luckily, Rosy kinda remembered the sequence from the night before (and she can use her ears well too).
When she first tried to do it, she didn't quite have it remembered right, and so she made a mistake. Before you can try again, the game forces you to go talk with the stick, who makes fun of you with its wisecracks before forcing you to hear the song again and then finally letting you try again.
Then, Rosy almost finished, but then on like the last note, she had a problem aiming Allegretto. She wanted him to step on the flat key, but he stepped on the regular key accidentally.
So then we have to go hear the stick berate us again before Rosy can start over, and this time, the stick says it will be merciful and will let all the keys light up again.
First you take the lights away after you promised to make this okay for every player, and then, when we didn't even need them, you give them back with a bunch of insults? Rosy was about to solve it herself, once she got Allegretto's feet in the right place, and it wasn't even the first part of the sequence that was giving us trouble. How dare you, you irritating stick!
Then we finally get to the roof, and the sentinels over the tower are: a dragon warrior and a living cocktail. They are recycled from earlier bosses, and they don't look in any way connected to each other. How randumb.
So overall, this dungeon was terrible. It was the final straw as to why we put the game down the first time we tried to play this game (in the interim before we had regained the motivation to continue, Rosy's PS3 died and we lost the save file). And we think knowing that this part was approaching in our second attempt was part of why we set the game down for a year.
The Mysterious Unison
And then there is the Mysterious Unison. Oh my God.
After beating the penultimate boss, all the characters talk about how we must hurry through the portal to reach the end of the game before everything is destroyed, and we're also given a key to a door located somewhere in the previous area, the Noise Dunes. If you just go through the portal, you won't get to use this key (unless you reach this far into the game again in New Game+). If you instead go backwards to the desert and wander around there for awhile, you will eventually end up in an oasis which contains the super secret optional dungeon.(Click to reveal spoilers)
In there, you'll find... Claves. Who's dead. Considering we're in Purgatory, this kinda makes sense. Except that, unlike all the other souls of Purgatory, she has a body, and she tells you that she'll be fully revived if you can find seven shards of her soul through this maze. Alright. Weird, but okay. We'll do it for you, Claves.
The dungeon that follows is super hard, and super confusing. This game does not have an in-game map, and how anyone can navigate this without any walkthrough is beyond our comprehension. We started trying to play it, already aware of maps that exist online, but thinking that we can do this ourselves, like we've done with the rest of the game.
Within a few minutes, we realized that the map was going to be necessary. On the one hand, we want to give the developers credit for the idea of purgatory as an endless maze of identical corridors of increasing darkness. It was a lot like the deepest level of the sewers in Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, which was brilliant and one of the best dungeons we've ever played. In this case, the feeling of this dungeon was perfect, but spending the next three months of our lives wandering this purgatory without hope... is not something we wanted to do.
In the set-up of this dungeon, we saw that there was a save point at the very entrance, and no more save points from then on. We saw that the warps between one floor and the next had the options of "Continue to next floor" or "Quit". We thought that "Quit" meant "Give up on this dungeon and exit, and next time you'll need to start over from the beginning". After all, this is the optional dungeon of hard. We've seen things like this in Tales of Symphonia, with Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones's Tower of Valni, all over. So we continue bravely, even though we're getting tired.
After reaching the 11th floor in one fell swoop without saving, we were too tired to continue, and who knows how deep this goes since we've just passed into the double digits. So we decide to try backtracking to save. Stepping on the warp tile at the beginning of the floor, we saw that the options were now "Return to previous floor", "Return to entrance", and "Quit". So we realized that, any time you exit from a warp tile, you can go back to the entrance and save, if necessary, and that "Quit" just means "Cancel this menu", even though everywhere else in the game it says "Cancel" without this ambiguity. So we went back to the beginning and saved, but we still assumed that we'd have to get all the way back to 11 again tomorrow.
The next day when we started playing, we went to the first warp tile... to see that now it gave us an entire list of all the floors we'd already visited, that we could now warp right back to.
While we are really glad that this dungeon is much more forgiving in this regard than we'd previously imagined, couldn't someone have said something about the rules of this dungeon instead of making us go through 11 floors fearing for our lives and our wasted hours before realizing that we could have gone back and saved our progress at any time without detriment?
One of the other sick twists of this dungeon is that, on the sixth floor, there is a lost soul named Mute who does talk (???), and gives you the creepy option of Shower or Eat. If you choose Shower, she wants to be paid 10,000 gold to heal your party. Eesh. That's expensive. But then again, this is the optional dungeon of hard.
If you choose Eat, however, you learn that she has one of Claves' soul shards, which she will sell to you for... 99,999,999 gold. That is the maximum gold, and doesn't even look like a real number when you see it in the interface. This can't be true. This has to be a joke. This has to be like the bicycle in Pokémon Red and Blue, which you can't actually buy and is given to you for free. This has to be like the Slowpoketail in Pokémon Gold and Silver, equally unbuyable and just a plotpoint. There has to be some other way to do this. Or maybe this is only possible in the New Game+, and you must save all of your money through all of the game and finally manage to buy the last piece of Claves' soul. My God, we're probably never gonna be able to buy that piece. We're just going to finish this dungeon and sorry, Claves, but we're not rich enough to put you back together. We only have 50,000 gold right now.
We had given up all hope to actually finish this as we continued through the dungeon when, on the 11th floor, we happened to fight these enemies that give us an inordinate amount of prize money per battle. So much money that, as we fought them on our path, we realized we'll surely be able to get to the maximum money without much trouble. The monsters themselves were not even the hardest to fight in this dungeon.
Before we finished the 11th floor, we'd gotten to maximum money. We managed to dodge enemies until we got to the warp back, we went back to the sixth floor, and there we go, we can buy the Soul Shard from creepy Mute.
Why did it have to be this way? We could have seen that number and given up. We had, really. This didn't seem possible, given that, until then, enemies had given us chump change, and even the best photos we'd taken hadn't made us much more. Why was there any need to sell one key item for this absurd amount of money, and why did these monsters a few floors later drop so much money? The monsters drop that money just so that you can pay her off, ok, but why did it have to be structured this way in the first place?
She could have just as easily asked for a reasonable price that didn't give off the impression of this being impossible. The price being a bunch of 9s is a common game shorthand for "don't worry, this is not a real thing". This is the first time we've ever seen such an amount of money needing to be actually paid. She could have just as easily asked us to fight six so-and-sos, which she tells you are deeper in the dungeon. She could have just as easily asked for a photo of these monsters, and given the photo mechanic more of a reason to exist.
Even after paying all of our money and getting down to zero, the existence of these money monsters meant that we had to fight a few of them on the way to the 12th floor, which brought us back to more money than God anyway. But the only thing left to do in the game is the end boss. What do we do with all this money now? We got back to town and bought 50 revival items because we could. We bought every item we hadn't been buying yet because we could. And we still didn't know what to do with all this money. We still had more digits of money than we'd ever seen before in the game.
(For the record, we've written more about similar money troubles in other games in a previous article.)
Also, partway through the dungeon, we encounter Rondo, who also seems to have partially resurrected herself out of sheer hatred for Claves. That's weird. We thought she killed Claves because she was simply following orders, and not with any sort of particular vindication. Why does she suddenly hate Claves so much. Is she part of Jazz's love polygon too?
Anyway, when all this dungeon nonsense is over, the result is that now Claves is alive again and can follow us to the end boss.
Except that the plot of this game is all about death and how it is inevitable and inescapable. It talks about when death is a choice and when it can be a noble sacrifice and when it is simply throwing your life away. It touches on topics about how, after death, the beauty you created in life can live on, and how you will be remembered after death...
But nevermind all of that! Let's just resurrect Claves!
So the game just undermined all of its poignant plotpoints... for what exactly? At this point of the game, all that is left is going to the final boss, and there's no change in the cutscenes whether Claves has been resurrected or not. So, what's the point? It's just, oh, if Claves is dead, that's sad, so let's make it so that you don't have to be sad.
Let's point this out again: this is a game centered on death, and they just handwaved reviving a character that had died as the "emotional" point of the game.
Not to mention, you can revive Claves, yes, but only Claves. Is everyone who died because of the mineral powder just chopped liver? We don't feel any remorse for Rondo or for any of the other souls we meet in purgatory?
Also, can we point out that they chose to explain Claves's initial return from death with, she wanted to see Jazz again so bad, she resurrected her body through sheer force of will? Wow, we knew Jazz was good in bed, but damn!
In conclusion, anything that is remotely optional in Eternal Sonata is fucking obtuse. You can't guess what you're achieving with the trading sequences, you can't guess what you're achieving with the score sessions, you can't even guess what you're achieving as you go through some of the dungeons. If you miss any early step of a process, fuck you, the sequence is interrupted completely, and you'll have to replay the entire game if you want to do it right. If you choose to do so in the New Game+, the process gets slightly more forgiving since you're able to backtrack a bit more, but what does it matter when you've already played the game once anyway?
And, for all of your efforts of managing to be in the right place at the right time with the right object in the right order, what do you get? Some floral powder that you have 25 of already? Some equippable item that isn't even that good?
As mentioned before, the first time we played, we missed on the entire trading sequence. If we had done this right, we would have gotten two pairs of Speed Shoes, so that we could have given one pair away and kept the other, and eventually also get a Power Ring. The first time, we didn't get the Power Ring, but we still got to keep the one pair of Speed Shoes. And, honestly, we think that having two pairs of Speed Shoes is more valuable than having one pair and the Power Ring; so, according to what matters the most to you, it might be better to willingly interrupt the trading sequence. What sort of game is this where the final reward might not be as good as the intermediate stage?! Also, if we had done this really wrong, we might have ended up trading away our only pair of Speed Shoes, and then miss on the later steps. In this case, not only would we have gotten nothing for our effort, but we would have even lost a valuable item. At this rate, is it even worth to engage in this at all?
The most rewarding reward for optional stuff we ever get is with Captain Dolce, and, oh boy. So, initially, during the plot, we encounter her and her pirate crew, and eventually leave her behind. If you happen to look in the right places, which are in completely random locations of the game and for completely random reasons (Beat sees graffiti in the church, and this is what triggers the next event much later), and then happen to trigger the next point which is also in a completely random place, you end up meeting Captain Dolce again. And what do you get for your trouble? An optional boss battle and some wrinkle jokes. That's it. This has nothing to do with the plot and doesn't further this non-character at all. And this is the most developed of these "sidequests".
Another thing with this optional stuff is that it made us feel so stupid. And the thing is this: we're no strangers to adventure games where the entire game is a giant trading sequence. We like those and play them, and, when we're playing good ones, we barely need walkthroughs because we're playing something that is designed in such a way that we understand the rules, and we can take actions towards achieving a goal that follows the rules of causality. It can even be something really silly, like pretty much the entirety of Day of the Tentacle. But we get it, and we can play the game and enjoy it.
Eternal Sonata, instead, doesn't explain or follow any rules. Even the steps that make the most sense are ultimately absurd. For example, the case of the Speed Shoes itself: you meet an NPC who is complaining about his hurting feet after walking so much, and that's the sign that he wants the Speed Shoes. Shouldn't he want anything but more shoes? At that point, the floral powder is still relevant, and Polka is learning how to deal with her healing magic powers; shouldn't we give him some medicine or make him feel better or give him a wagon or carry his bag for him? Nope, he wants running shoes, so that he can run more with his broken feet. Perfect.
Now the writing of this game.
We mentioned before the Mysterious Woman cutscene. That will make an excellent example of the quality that the writing of this game has.
So, the party is going into the Aria Temple, and Polka sees a glimpse of a Mysterious Woman going in. The party then proceeds to have a five-minute back and forth about, did she really see a woman, maybe she was seeing things, nobody could be here, but what if it is, the camera pans onto Jazz's face...
So they go to open the door of the temple, and there previously was a major plotpoint that they needed the key to get in. And... the door is already open. And instead of just leaving it as a hint for the viewer, the characters stop and discuss whether the Mysterious Woman opened the door. For another five minutes.
As an aside, when they reach the top room of the temple, Polka complains that it's a dead end. What? What is? A temple? The top floor? Do temples usually lead somewhere as you go up the stairs? Does Polka think of any building as a dead end? Is a house a dead end? What moon logic is this?!
Anyway, then the Woman steps out of the shadows. It's Rondo, who says, I'm going to kill you all. And instead of being in any way concerned by an assassin stepping out the shadows and declaring that they want everyone dead, the party goes, Oh, was that the Mysterious Woman? Was it? Oh, no, the one I saw was different. Are you sure it wasn't this one, Polka? No, I am serious, I think it was someone else.
Meanwhile, Rondo, an assassin, is standing there letting them chatter.
Then Falsetto shows up, has a huge monologue about her position in the love polygon, and then declares she's going to defeat Rondo. And then the whole party stands and discusses, oh, was THIS the woman you saw at the beginning? Yes, this was the woman I saw at the beginning. Oh, I see. It was the woman at the beginning.
Meanwhile, both Rondo AND Falsetto are now standing there as the party goes back and forth about this non-point that we never cared about anyway.
This, in another game like Disgaea, would have been comical. When Dark Adonis shows up, the party proceeds to ignore him and declare him Mid Boss, and his name changes in the label of the dialogue box, and he's annoyed at being ignored and disrespected. But Eternal Sonata plays it completely straight. This is meant to be serious. According to Eternal Sonata, this is how people talk. They couldn't just leave it where Polka sees the Mysterious Woman and goes hm, and then they say, oh the door was open and they go hm, and maybe when they meet the woman at the end, the audience can wonder if it was really her or if it was Falsetto. But they can't let you think about it. Any more hamfisted than this and it's a butchershop.
It's as if Lady Macbeth couldn't just wash her hands and let the symbolism be for the audience, but instead some other characters had to be discussing it. "Did you see she washed her hands?" "Yes, she sure washed those hands". "She's washing the hands, but she thinks they're still dirty!". "I wonder if the dirt she sees is actually guilt for what she's done!". "I don't think she'll ever be able to wash her hands enough!". "Poor Lady Macbeth. It's so sad, that she doesn't know that it's actually guilt". "Guilt like that could drive you crazy!".
And we're probably still being cleverer than the dialogue of this game.
This is only our introduction to the stilted and overly hamfisted quality the writing this game has. And it was by far not the worst offender.(Click to reveal spoilers)
And then there's Claves' death scene. We're not sure if that is the worst ever in this game, but it surely is an extremely low point.
So, the story goes that Claves is a spy, but she's got genuine feelings for Jazz. So, an assassin has been sent for her. Now Claves spends about 15 minutes dramatically and theatrically dying from her conspicuously not-bleeding stab wounds to the vitals, lumbering across the room, draping herself on various pieces of furniture, having flashbacks to events that happened about 30 minutes ago, writing letters to her friends, and lamenting her cruel fate, before the cast of Monty Python screams GET ON WITH IT, and she finally expires.
This scene was so drawn out, it became unintentionally hilarious. It was like some sort of skit. "Oh, woe is me. Woe is me, I am dying, so young and beautiful, oh, how sad, and how sad I will never know his embrace again! Oh, truly, so sad. I am bleeding to death. Let me write a letter, and since I'm at it let me write to my mom, I think I have some time to spare and write to my cousin, to my cousin's cousin, to my cousin's brother-in-law, maybe I should rearrange my sock drawer..."
Eternal Sonata's writing also has the feature (?) that nothing exists in the plot until it's relevant. Like, five minutes before it's relevant. Polka apparently has a special pet rock or something that she carries everywhere, since she was a small child. This is somehow not in the plot, even though it's apparently super important to her, until she conveniently drops it, which is when she gets to discuss that she has this rock which we've never seen before. Guess what's going to be important in the next cutscene, five minutes from now? This rock!
Also, this game is all supposed to be taking place in a dream, and they could have done something clever with the dream quality of the writing itself, having things just suddenly become important (maybe a toilet)... but, no, the writing and the setting of this game is actually conspicuously non-dreamy. The world is fantastic and beautiful, but not dreamy. Everything seems solid and real. And the result is that any hole in the writing... is just that: a plothole.
The only thing that is remotely dream-like about it is that feeling of when you wake up and you remember your dream and it all feels so profound and amazing, and then you go to write it down and it all... just is... really stupid.
This game simultaneously has the problem of all the characters stating the obvious at extreme length, while also ignoring major plotpoints previously established that are dancing in front of the party. Why does the Mysterious Woman merit ten minutes of dead-horse levels of discourse, while walking into Purgatory and talking with all the dead souls of everyone who died of mineral powder abuse doesn't get a single throw-away comment. How did this writing happen?
The game keeps forgetting what even were the plotpoints it was making, and not in a dream-like way either.
The floral powder was very important at the beginning of the game, and that was the whole thing they were going to discuss with Count Waltz, but that is all completely forgotten as soon as we get better healing items and we are side-tracked by the rebellion, and it becomes super duper clear that mineral powder is not actually medicine and totally part of Count Waltz's evil scheme.
The victims of the mineral powder were very important early in the game, but this gets completely forgotten. Wasn't Count Waltz building an army of magical zombies? What happened to that? He never seems to have made this army, and the zombies were never seen again.
The rebellion, which side-tracked the earlier plotpoints, has also been forgotten. For the rest of the game, Jazz runs around with his entourage of love interests and the children they all babysit for, and the rebellion has been completely gone from everyone's mind.
The agogos are established as mysterious living magical whatsits that are somehow linked with the "astras" of people's souls. They live in Salsa and March's magical forest, and they are a key component of powering up the mineral powder for Count Waltz's evil plan of evil. But what they are, what they have to do with astras, what the hell are astras anyway, and why does an agogo + an astra, both implied to be good things, power up the evil mineral power to higher and higher levels of evil are never even remotely addressed.
The King and the Queen of Baroque are out-of-town during the events of the game, forcing poor Prince Crescendo to deal with impending war. Geez. What happened to them, and do they ever come back, do they agree with his choices, and do they ever apologize to their son who had to deal with this crisis and the possible end of the world all alone?
Speaking of plot holes, let's talk a bit more about the entire character of Polka.
Polka and her magical whinery
In this world, only people who are dying can use magic. Polka is introduced as she's selling floral powder in the town of Ritardando. While she's ineffectively hocking her wares, some dude gets kicked out of a nearby tavern. Polka rushes to this random dude's aid, and uses healing magic on him. The result is that the dude is like, WHAT THE FUCK YOU HAVE MAGIC HOLY SHIT I DON'T WANT TO CATCH WHATEVER YOU HAVE and runs away in fear. Polka is saddened by this.
This already doesn't make any sense. She knows she's not supposed to show the healing magic and she knows there's a stigma to it. She doesn't know this random dude nor the reason why he was kicked out of the tavern, but she assumes that he needs help, even though there is actually no indication that he has anything more than a sore butt. So Polka, who is there selling medicine, goes to this dude and uses ... magic. Well knowing that this won't go well, while she has a literal stock of medicine she could be using, and without any idea of who this guy is and what are his crimes. For all she knows, this dude could be a child molester. What gives her the idea that she should get involved at all, and why with magic? Then she's sad that her help is not appreciated, and this is framed as, oh, she's so selfless.
She's presented as selfless because she did a "good act" for someone, and now she's sad because that wasn't appreciated. That's pretty much the picture of being selfish.
For the entirety of the game, every character reminds us that Polka is so kind, Polka is so nice, Polka is so selfless and a beam of sunshine to whoever she meets.
Except that the plot shows her being pretty much the opposite of that. She spends most of her scenes whining, crying, complaining, having fits... Which, in itself, could be alright for a character, but how is anyone seeing this amazing beam of sunshine that makes everyone happy?! She's such a downer. It's not often that we encounter such an amazing level of discrepancy between what a narrative wants us to believe and what is actually presented.
After it is established that Polka doing healing magic in public signals to the entire town that she is dying, and everyone knows about the correlation between healing magic and death... And Chopin is able to connect with Polka over the fact that he too is dying, and he too can do healing magic, and the other characters acknowledge this fact about him...
Then all these other characters show up that can do healing magic! And no one says anything about it!?!
How does big-mouth Allegretto not say anything about Claves just doing healing magic in front of him? We mean, if Claves was sick, maybe Jazz and Falsetto and the members of the rebellion would already know about Claves's condition and they would let her use her powers for the sake of the rebellion, but Allegretto wouldn't know, and we could totally see him pointing it out and asking unintentionally rude questions, and Jazz needing to tell him not to worry about it, shut up, and so on so on. But that never happens.
But even if Jazz and Falsetto already knew Claves was dying, wouldn't they in some way acknowledge it in how they act with her? Wouldn't they maybe be a bit more concerned and protective of her, maybe saying cliche things like, don't push yourself too hard, are you okay, so on so on. No, that can't be true. She can't be sick, or else things would be different. But then why can she use magic?(Click to reveal spoilers)
At first we thought Claves did magic because she was going to die soon. We thought everyone starts doing magic when their death is approaching, whether that death is from illness or assassination. That would have resolved Claves' ability to use magic, and maybe even explain why no one seems too concerned, because all of them in the rebellion are at great risk of death. But this would give a completely different outlook on things, which the game does not explore.
Then, later on, it is said that only a particular illness causes the victim to be able to do healing magic, and even then, only sometimes. By the way, this incredibly plot-important disease is unnamed and there are absolutely no details given about its other symptoms or its course. So... Claves must have the disease then? But apparently not, since no one said anything about it. So... does she have a different sort of healing magic that isn't the one that is linked with death???
You'd think that after they've established something so plot-important and meaningful, they'd be careful in how they tap into that lore. We mean, they've established in this world that using healing magic is equivalent to our world's coughing up blood. If someone coughs up blood around you, you would be concerned, and probably scared, and worried about them, and worried about yourself. This healing magic thing is directly the metaphor for Chopin's tuberculosis!! After this is all established, then the game forgets about it. And then we see Viola doing magic (we went OH NO) and then we see the Princess doing magic (GASP!!!) but no one says anything about that either???
The videogame trope is that girls do healing magic so... all the feminine girls are dying. And maybe Beat too, since he gets a health-sucking move. Or maybe that one doesn't count.
Then later, Salsa is talking with Chopin about what he plans to do after their adventure, and Chopin says something ominous about how this is his last adventure, and Salsa seems oblivious to the fact that Chopin is dying even though he's been the designated healer for the party for the past like ten dungeons, and the entire town freaked out when Polka did magic, and if anyone is going to know anything about the healing-magic-disease, wouldn't it be the magical exposition fairies who promote floral powder over mineral powder.
And on the topic of people ignoring things, nobody has anything to say about how Salsa and March are non-human (in a game where they seem to be the only non-humans around, and where everyone is insensitive and has a big mouth). They have very notable pointy ears coming out of their chins, which they make zero effort to conceal. They also may or may not have antennae, we're not sure if they are part of their bows, or part of their heads. Throughout this article, we've been referring to them as fairies, but the game never really even explained what species they are apart from their role as forest guardians.
Poor characterization in general
There's also the problem that in the same conversation, Salsa talks about death, but also talks as if she doesn't even know what death is.
And in this game of so many children, none of them talk like actual children anywhere near their supposed canon ages, either in one way or the other. March and Salsa and Beat are all eight-year-old mouthpieces for the Moral of the Day and the Political Opinion of the Day. Maybe you want to argue that March is mature, and March and Salsa are both fairies, but Beat is meant to be a regular ordinary human. When Beat is not being a mouthpiece, he sounds... really dumb. Children are not necessarily really dumb. Like... if you think the way to write a child is to make the character clueless and dumb, you are wrong. Also, please never be a parent. Thanks.
On the other hand, we also have teenagers acting like babies. Polka is supposed to be fourteen, but she sounds like a total baby. She's always whining and crying and making a pouty fuss. Have you ever met a fourteen year old girl? They are usually notably trying very hard to be adult and they wouldn't be caught dead whining like a toddler. Maybe Polka is weird. But juxtaposed with the child mouthpieces, she seems especially woefully immature (while everyone is always singing the praises of how wonderful she is).
Allegretto, who is sixteen, also says whatever is the opinion of the day, and in general doesn't sound like a person, let alone like a sixteen-year-old person.
Then, there's Count Waltz. Oh boy. First of all, he's supposedly sixteen. That was a surprise to read on the wiki, since we were thinking he was also closer to Polka's age based on how he looks. But in any case, he sounds not so much like a teenager, but more like an ageless entity of evil. He sounds like The Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, without the sense of humor. Count Waltz is the personification of kicking a puppy. He just gets off on being needlessly evil and cruel for no reason whatsoever. He's someone, where if he saw you stub your toe, he would laugh. And then stomp on your foot. And then laugh again.
While we can believe that being the unquestioned ruler of the entire kingdom from whatever age he started being Count Waltz will fuck you up and make you such a spoiled brat and give you an ego and make it fun to go on power trips... at the same time, it is really shallow and disappointing that we have no idea why Count Waltz is even doing anything. It's like the Evil Alignment of D&D done dumb. He does what is Evil because it is Evil and he likes Evil. If you could see his bio on LiveJournal, it would say Likes: Evil. Dislikes: Good. Geez. He is the character that makes the best actor (it's also really over-the-top but it works for him), and we'd want to know what is up with him, but the best that the writers could pull out of their asses at the last minute is that... he's afraid of death. Because death is the theme of this game. But what? Why is he so afraid of death that he is hellbent on being remembered forever, even if the remembrance is as a notoriously evil dictator? Is he dying, too? That can't be, or he would talk to Polka differently. But he's sixteen, why is it such a concern for him that he will die? It's just to shoehorn the theme somewhere else, and they couldn't think of any motivation for him to be evil beyond, he's evil. Also death.
What happens to him by the end of the game? (Click to reveal spoilers)
He goes off to destroy the world and succeeds. Wait, what? Didn't he want to be remembered? How can anyone remember him if everyone is dead? And, for all his fear of death, when we go through the portal, he is nowhere to be found, and presumably dead too. He doesn't even show up in Purgatory - well, we guess he went straight to Hell. We thought he was going to be on the other side of the portal, but that was pretty much the portal of, we're done with this game, let's slap on an ending quick.
The ending doesn't make ANY SENSE. Or rather... it pretends it is meaningful and profound, but in actuality it is all meaningless bullshit.
So, we go through the portal, and this is what happens. (Click to reveal spoilers)
Chopin turns around and declares that he can't help everyone anymore, and now we must fight, and we'll see who will win, and we'll see if I am really that weak! But why? Why are we fighting him? Why does he want to fight? He makes it seem like this will solve everything. But, if you defeat him, he drops onto the ground unconscious.
If you stand around and wait for him to kill the three party members that have to fight him, we see Chopin wake up on his deathbed, take a bleary look at everyone around, including his poor older sister, and finally expires. Bad end. Wait, what? This is the bad end? That he gets to know that it was all a bad dream? That he gets to wake up and see his family one last time? How horrible, that he got to see his sister who put her entire marriage on the line just to be there for him while he was dying. ✽ What a bad end.
But, if instead he is defeated, Polka starts talking about throwing herself off a cliff into the ocean.
Since we played Baten Kaitos before finishing this game, we could tell that this was a blatant recycling of the ending plotpoints of Baten Kaitos. The ending of Baten Kaitos was shit already, let's be honest, but at least it was coherent with its own world and story and made at least 1% sense.
Here's the deal. (Click to reveal spoilers for Baten Kaitos)
In Baten Kaitos the ocean is notably missing from the world. The fortune teller explains that the ocean was sacrificed to save the world in the distant past, and we learn throughout the plot that each successive Queen of the Witches has been safeguarding the Ocean within her heart, and passing along this duty throughout the generations. At the end of the game, we learn that Xelha is the last Queen of the Witches, who must sacrifice herself to restore the ocean, and thereby heal the world. She has a poignant argument with Kalas about whether it is right for her to sacrifice her life, and is there any other way, and must you really do this?! And Xelha decides that she must, and she does, the ocean is restored. After mourning Xelha's death for approximately 15 seconds, Xelha comes back to life for no adequately explained reason, nullifying the impact of all the angst of just a few moments ago, and, the end! Wasn't that touching? Oh, wait, fight this earth pimple before the game really ends.
Here, in Eternal Sonata, Polka reveals that she must fall into the ocean in order to restore the world. Since the beginning of the game, when her mom says that there are waves because of the beauty of the moon, or because humans have greed and hatred and war, take your pick, there's been this weird foreshadowed plotpoint that Polka is going to step backwards off a cliff at some point and save everything. But the ocean is not important to the plot in any way. By when the scene happens, we can't even tell if the ocean is there at all. But she still says she must throw herself into the ocean.
So now Polka is talking about throwing herself off a cliff, and Beat goes, first Chopin and now you, what the hell?! Frankly for once we can agree with him.
Polka has this entire monologue in which she says that Chopin just gave them a great gift and ... we thought that by killing himself in the dream he was making his dreamworld live for itself, and giving Polka the free will to jump off the cliff, but that's also never explained. One of the last things Chopin said was that Polka would not need to do her plan if his plan worked, so that's kinda contradictory and, we dunno.
So, finally, she jumps off the goddamn cliff.
Allegretto has this hilarious Noooo!! moment and punches the ground. Once again, mimicking tropes without understanding what are they for.
Here there was this entire sequence with the characters talking over the credit roll where we poor idiots who were playing with Japanese audio and English subtitles got NO SUBTITLES ANYMORE. So we sat there for a good 15 minutes of characters floating in the void, talking in Japanese and obviously saying poignant things with unexplainably no subtitles. So we had to look up this part on Youtube afterwards, and...
It's just the characters repeating their "important" lines from previously in the game. Although they seem to be talking to each other by the way the camera moves, they actually have no connection to each other. And by "important" lines, we mean such masterpieces of storytelling as Allegretto berating Beat for using a camera, and March saying "I hope I can help". March's line was particularly funny because it was right after Salsa's, who said something like "But after one thing ends, something else begins! It's the order of things!" and March says the all-important line of "I hope I can help". Which we guess implies that they couldn't find a single meaningful line for March.
All of their lines were voice-acted as if they were profound truths, and they were mostly statements of either obvious facts or opinions. You can write the ending of Eternal Sonata too, right now. Just say some junk with a serious tone. "A hardboiled egg takes 10 minutes to cook". "But what is an egg, if not an oval of food". And then, look at the camera as if in a PSA about drugs.
But then Polka falls into her mother's arms as a child, and Chopin talks to her from a puddle. And then Polka is carried back up through the void of time and space by the glowing agogos, returning to her fourteen-year-old self and hovering ominously over the party for several minutes in a terrifying T-pose.
She finally sets her feet on the ground, there's a strange splash effect on the bare rock, and then the world turns to grass... all the flowers rebloom, and Polka and Allegretto hug, and her face moves dangerously closer to his and
OH MY GOD THEY ARE GOING TO MAKE THEM KISS AREN'T THEY THIS IS GOING TO LOOK AWFUL NO DON'T PLEASE DON'T
Oh, okay, the camera is zooming out and panning up so we can just infer that they are kissing and we don't have to actually see because the developers recognized their own limits and knew there was no way this was going to be able to be animated in any way that wasn't horrifically two dolls smashing heads.
Our horror at the impending kiss masked some of the rage at how all this bullshit was so that she could be resurrected to go kiss Retto.
Meanwhile, we see the real world and the doctor announces Chopin's hour of death. Chopin's ghost has his top hat and all that, and he goes and sits at the piano, while his real life older sister (who he apparently didn't care enough about to have an avatar of inside his dreamworld) sings a song for him.
He plays the piano in the field of Death Flowers, which were also never really explained anymore than as SYMBOLISM, and then the rest of the credits go by, and then the screen says Fin.
And then... nothing happens.
The screen says Fin.
You can hit every button on the controller, but all you can do is pause the Fin, or unpause the Fin. But it still says Fin.
All you can do is press the PS button and quit the game using the PlayStation's menu, like an animal. Was this also intended as a metaphor for death? Or just a metaphor for some of the shoddiest game design we have ever seen?
The TL;DR of the ending is: we think we are being poignant, and zero plotpoints were solved. What will happen to all the characters? Do they exist without Chopin, or was it really a dream entirely inside his own head, and now that he is dead, the world ceases to exist? But the game kinda makes the point that the beauty that you create exists beyond your life, like Chopin's music. Does this also apply to the world of his beautiful dream? Also, Polka's five-minute "sacrifice" was intended to regenerate the world, and Chopin's ghost is playing piano in that world after he has already died. Is this his version of Heaven? Or was the doctor a bit hasty, and he's about to fade away? If the world does survive, why do we not know the epilogues of these characters? We don't even know who does Jazz end up with. Is Waltz even dead now? If so, what happens to the new power vacuum in Forte? Do the King and Queen of Baroque ever come home? Does Andantino disband? Does Jazz take over Forte? Do Polka and Allegretto get married? Does her mom come? Why did the mom make it sound like she couldn't attend the wedding anyway? Does Viola ever get back to her goats?
Or, did everyone die, and Polka's regenerating powers only regenerated the world but didn't bring anyone back from the dead, so her mom is dead, and the only survivors are the party members, and they must now repopulate the world, primarily via Jazz?
It's really like this game needed one or two more chapters, but instead we took the portal right to the ending, and that was the sudden end.
We immediately thought, oh no, does this mean we need to play the New Game+ to unlock the ~True End~ and know what really happened? But no. Good. But bad. The New Game+ is almost completely exactly the same, except harder, and has one more optional dungeon that is more of an inside joke that we don't care about at all, and the reward for completing said optional dungeon is not any sort of backstories or important information, but a gallery of gag-reel screenshot "photos" that the characters supposedly took. Bleargh. And only in the PS3 version, no less.
In conclusion, Eternal Sonata is a giant disappointment. And the saddest thing is that this game should have been good. It is beautiful, it has style, it has a really fun co-op battle system, it has an intriguing premise, and the music is recycled but still gorgeous. And then, it throws all that away with its awful writing.
It feels like the developers wrote this game linearly, coming up with ideas as they went along, forgetting details from earlier on, and never going back and editing anything. The beginning was starting with a completely different idea, but then they got sidetracked in the middle and completely forgot, and then got tired and just had it end.
There's not a single character that is adequately fleshed out in the whole cast. Rather than have a massive party of twelve characters, all of which are shallow and unwritten, have a smaller cast of characters and WRITE THEM. It already felt that the six characters of Baten Kaitos were under-developed, and then in this game, they tried to tackle twice as many characters all at once in a shorter game, and they really bungled it.
The game is generally riddled with semi-profound bullshit that doesn't mean anything. It's like the writers could only write a plotpoint with one degree of explanation. Why did the cup break, you ask to the plot? Because it was glass, the Eternal Sonata writing replies. Oh, okay. Did someone knock it over? No answer. That's where Eternal Sonata's writing ends.
Eternal Sonata is a prime example of how important writing is to a game. You can do all sorts of amazingly high-production work and ultimately end up with a polished turd if the writing is shit. We will enjoy reading well-crafted stories in text with no pictures. We won't enjoy playing a beautiful and even fun game with a poorly written story.
- In the Japanese version, Jazz is named Jitterbug, which is a type of dance, and which makes our joke apply to the translation first and foremost. The point still stands that it's weird as fuck. Besides, the Jitterbug is equally anachronistic (it was not a thing until a few years after the emergence of jazz), and Chopin also foresees the emergence of Rock, with the name of Mount Rock.
- Considering that Falsetto is canonically 22, and Jazz is canonically 27... That means that when Falsetto was 5, that Jazz was 9, so, how exactly did they meet and become childhood friends? Given the age gap, it is still totally possible that they were childhood friends, but there must have been some backstory reason for such a connection to form between them. But the game doesn't explain anymore than "childhood friends". Just believe the game, okay?
- We later found out that Prince Crescendo and Princess Serenade are only added later as playable characters in the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
- We later found out that the entire dungeon involving Minuet was added for the PlayStation 3 version of the game, and so in the original Xbox 360 version, Minuet's role consists of: being introduced, barking, and then promptly leaving the room (and thereby leaving the plot of the game forever).
- That isn't explained in Eternal Sonata, but we read the Wikipedia page for Ludwika after playing the game, and it sounds like her husband was charming.