Even in the exhausted JRPG genre, there wasn’t a game quite like Eternal Sonata. Originally released in 2007 by Tri-Crescendo for the Xbox 360, Eternal Sonata more closely resembles a work of poetry in motion (albeit a cheesy one) than an epic endeavor to save the world. Delving into the subconscious and musings of a terminally ill Frédéric Chopin, the game explores themes of political corruption, death, the fabric of reality, and Chopin’s own imminent demise, appropriately taking place in an imagined, lush dream where music seemingly makes up the world itself. What makes Eternal Sonata a standout experience in its genre is how it takes lessons from Final Fantasy X, moving the player forward -helplessly but never hopelessly – gradually toward the unknown, leaving home further behind with every step, succeeding on a similarly emotional level with a subtle feeling of homesickness and restlessness that keeps an otherwise very linear game in perpetual motion.
As the game’s eminent star is the famed pianist Chopin, the overall motif is decidedly associated with him and his music. Interluding the game’s chapters are passages of some of his famous works – including Nocturne No. 2, “Raindrops”, and “Grande Valse Brilliante” – accompanied by slideshows educating the player of major events and people throughout his life and photographs of key places such as Warsaw, where Chopin grew up. These passages, performed by Stanislav Bunin, are not all that makes Eternal Sonata an aural standout, however. The rest of the game’s soundtrack, composed by Motoi Sakuraba (a quite prolific video game composer, who you might know for the soundtracks to Dark Souls and Super Smash Bros. Brawl) is handled with all the thematic accuracy and emotion necessary to fit alongside Chopin’s work – at least in essence: he doesn’t quite achieve the compositional skill and grace of someone like Nobuo Uematsu, though occasionally he gets pretty close. The game’s various dungeon songs, as well as the main combat theme and some boss tracks, are all fully orchestrated, replete with soaring strings and triumphant pianos, to bring the combat and exploration to climactic heights. On the opposite end of the spectrum are softer piano pieces that embellish some of the cutscenes and dungeons, and though they don’t outshine the pedigree of Chopin’s included works, they are nonetheless composed very well and wax romanticism in a way that fits alongside his music seamlessly. The strings found here, while done well, don’t particularly offer anything new from other JRPGs that employ a similar aesthetic for their assorted battles and dungeons –however, the classical approach that adorns this game as a whole is something quite respectable for a game that, much like the obvious allusions littered throughout it suggest, flows like and resembles a piece of music.
“Grande Valse Brilliante”
“Journey of the Mind”
“Reflect the Sky, Blossom of Life”