Genre: RPG
Year: 2007
Developed by: tri-Crescendo
Published by: Namco Bandai Games
Platforms: XBOX 360, PS3
Feeling Like: Notes of weeb

I know there’s an abundance of weird entries on the 500, but Eternal Sonata has to have the weirdest premise, even for a Japanese Role Playing Game.

The entire adventure takes place in Frédéric Chopin’s mind while on his deathbed. Yes, that Chopin. I’ve seen games include real life figures before, but nothing as unexpected as this. The result is a delightful, strange experience that’s a guilty pleasure, but also easily defendable. In an era where seemingly every game’s color palette consisted solely of greys and browns, Eternal Sonata is strikingly colorful. Every character, village and menu are a joy to view thanks to sharp lines and beautiful artwork. The entire experience relies on fantastical whimsy and any hint of reality or a feeling of being sensible shatters the illusion.

Thankfully, there isn’t a shred of doubt in this game’s creation; you just have to go with it. Chopin is dying, he’s dreaming of a rebellion in his head and everybody has musical names like Jazz, or Salsa. Mini-games and side quests almost always involve music, as they should. The soundtrack includes some original pieces, but also (naturally) some of Chopin’s work. Even to a layman like myself, I can see why his music has endured and endeared. This has to be the most cultured I’ve ever felt playing a video game.

If the screenshot above looks ridiculous to you, then you have to ask yourself if you can tolerate a game where you face off against sword-bearing lizards while you, as Chopin, beat the tar out of them with a baton and magic powers. If that sentence doesn’t immediately repulse you, you’re good to go. If you winced, move on. I wouldn’t blame you.

I heard complaints about the camera being fixed, but honestly I never minded backdrops in this regard. I know a wondrous landscape leads to a desire to see more of it, or from a different angle, but what’s shown is shown and if it already inspires awe, what else do I need?

There’s a really unique light and dark mechanic in combat, so it’s not just mindless fighting. Depending on if you’re in the shade or sunlight, your abilities will change, as will the enemies. Positioning on the battlefield is as important as mashing the attack button. I’m always a fan of combat that spins the usual challenge beyond “attack non-stop, heal once in a while” formula.

While it may look childish on a surface level, the themes are quite deep. Loyalty, rebellion and death are constantly discussed among the group and it’s not just a gimmick. Chopin’s mortality is at the forefront and I was never really sure how the characters would react when he tells them that this is his dream. It kept me on my toes.

Oh sure, there’s a stereotypical villain and the anime tropes are built to their usual silly heights in the final act of the game, but I’d argue Eternal Sonata doesn’t ever back down on its premise. The timeless notes of Chopin’s piano heighten an already unforgettable game. I can’t express any details or fondness for the details – a refresher on the plot still left me confused about what actually happens, but the big picture remains. It’s a bizarre, but ultimately unique game that the XBOX 360 especially sorely needed at the time. Between this, Blue Dragon, and Lost Odyssey, the system had a trio of solid RPGs and it’s a shame we didn’t ever see any spiritual sequels.

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