Monday, May 14, 2007

Eternal Sonata Demo Impressions

A fully localized playable demo of Eternal Sonata showed up on the Japanese Xbox Live Marketplace today, much to the delight of RPG fans everywhere and so far it looks like a winner.

I used to be a big RPG fan but have long grown tired of the random, turn based battles which make up the vast bulk of gameplay and discourage exploration. I never liked the feeling of wanting to know what was down a particular hallway or tunnel but then realizing I didn't care enough to fight a battle every three steps all the way there and back. Especially when nine times out of ten it's just a dead end or a treasure chest with some throwaway item. That one time you find the "Fierce Sword of Ass Kicking" or "Platinum Halberd of Reprognification" just doesn't seem worth it. I'll just stick it out with the Satisfactory Rapier of Spanking and the Armor of Adequate Defense, thank you very much.

While Eternal Sonata's battles are still turn based they are done in a fast paced way that feels more like an action RPG. Monsters can be seen, and easily avoided, but they'll give chase if they get wind of you. This allows you to fight when you want to and explore when you want to.

Once in battle, which takes place on a separate battlefield, each character has a certain amount of time on their turn to get into position and pound the crap out of the enemy. Melee characters for example will need to run over to an enemy and then jam on the A button. Ranged fighters can shoot from a distance and therefore spend less of their turn running. When their time is up, control switches to the next character until it is the enemy's turn.

Things can get quite hectic in a battle with multiple enemies, but the real time system makes it much more fun to play than simply selecting "Fight" from a menu. Also, while limited in the demo, it appears that there will be multiple ways to adjust how battles play out, depending on your play style.

Load times going into and coming out of a battle are quick and painless, another important part of keeping the game moving and not making battle something to dread.

What really stands out about Eternal Sonata is the graphics. It is simply beautiful in HD, particularly the characters. It never looks "cel-shaded", it just looks like a cartoon. The attention to detail is admirable and gives you the impression of exploring a story book.

One minor issue is that the game periodically hiccups when running around outside of battle. You'll be moving along and it's almost like the game pauses for a split second. It happens frequently enough to be annoying, so hopefully it will be fixed in the final version. The US version is currently scheduled for a September release so they still have plenty of time. Eternal Sonata looks to be a nice alternative to the uber-hyped Blue Dragon, which is supposed to be as traditional a Japanese RPG as they come.

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