Itâ€™s taken me a while but I finally tore myself away from WoW to start playing Eternal Sonata (Bandai/Namco, Xbox 360) today. I have been looking forward to this. Itâ€™s a JRPG set in the dreams of FrÃ©dÃ©ric Chopin as he lies dying of tuberculosis in Paris in 1849. And that is the kind of idea for an RPG that gets me really excited.
I mean that in all honesty. When I play a game I want to see things Iâ€™ve never seen before. Admittedly my usual taste in music is for stuff that sounds like a 70s analog synthesizer being fed through a wood-chipper covered in beeswax, while someone uses a sledgehammer to beat out the baseline on the Forth Bridge and someone else fires off the James Soane Collection of Badboy Kickdrums in the background. But Chopinâ€™s dying dreams filtered through a Japanese sensibility, and interactive, from the same house that brought us Katamari and Xenosaga? Oooooo in approving and anticipatory tones.
Things begin quite promisingly. The first (game-engine-based) cutscene is beautifully animated and intriguing. The next one is also beautifully animated, is too long, and has voiceover that clanks more than Marleyâ€™s chains. The third one is about the same. But thereâ€™s a sense of atmosphere building, themes and mood, and a couple of (clanky) musical metaphors that bode well.
And finally the game itself begins, and I find myself escorting a young girl called Polka along a sun-dappled woodland path. It is very pretty. Whatâ€™s that curious object sparkling over there? Why, itâ€™s a save-pointâ€”how quaint! I am feeling quietly excited about the potential of the coming experience.
Suddenly Polka collides with something that looks like the mutant offspring of a leek and a pumpkin, and canâ€™t proceed until sheâ€™s battered it to death with her umbrella, to the swelling sounds of a musical score that is almost completely unlike Chopin.
Then there are more leek-pumpkins. And a chest that someoneâ€™s left in a clearing, perhaps in tribute to the thousands of old-school RPGs with chests containing health-ups left in unlikely locations. And then more leek-pumpkins.