Note: I'm not very good at reviewing games and don't really try to be. The following is just a rather quick summary of what I like and dislike about Eternal Sonata. There are tens of thousands of online reviews for every game in existence. I recommend heading to www.gamerankings.com for a summary.
It's not everyday you play a whimsical role-playing game based loosely around the life of famed composer, Frederic Chopin. The game takes place in a dreamscape world within Chopin's unconcscious mind. He's on his deathbed in the real world, but is alive and well in his dream. There, he's just another ordinary teenager, running around with other youthful characters in a fantastical world filled with strange monsters and people named Polka, Serenade, Allagretto, Beat, Jazz, and Crescendo, among others.
The gameplay is pretty standard Japenese-style RPG, but definitely more fun than the hum-drum menu-based battling of other games in this genre. You lead your party through the landscapes, looking for hidden items, battling countless enemies, and constantly trying to level up your character. Here the action is much more interesting than others in the genre, and your skills will even be tested during the enemy turns thanks to a nifty defense mechanism--time your button presses to reduce the damage you suffer. There are a number of other not-so-subtle features to the battle system that make it a joy to play. Normally I get bored of these style of games after a couple hours, but I'm really enjoying Eternal Sonata and will certainly see it through to the end thanks in large part to the engaging battle system.
There are two other reasons for enjoying this game. The most obvious is the absolutely stellar graphics. The game is simply beautiful. It's like a Norman-Rockwell drawing done as a cartoon with superb animation and special effects. You can see some examples here. The other thing I really like about the game is that it periodically interrupts the gameplay to show you a photo slideshow of real places from Chopin's life. The photos are nice, but what I like even more is that each slideshow is accompanied by one of Chopin's masterpieces as well as a subtitled story that provides more background info about Chopin and the life he lead. It's not often you play a game and get a history lesson.
Of course, no game is perfect. There are essentially two things that make me groan a bit about this game. First of all, the act of taking and selling photos of monsters renders the entire money system in the game broken. I accidentally had taken three photos in the first few minutes of the game that I was later able to sell for a total of $17,000. I'm now 14 hours into the adventure and have never once not been able to buy multiples of every weapon, armor, and item in every shop I encountered thanks to that one-time influx of money. And I still have over $10,000 left. And I never even snapped another photo to sell, but I know if I should end up needing money, all I need to do is take a couple photos and be rolling in dough once again. Normally in games such as this, part of the difficulty comes from having to try and conserve your money and buy weapons and armor wisely. In Eternal Sonata the entire currency and shopping system is thrown off balance by the ability to sell photos at ridiculous prices. Without realizing it, something I did accidentally at the start of the game through off the difficulty for the remainder of the entire story.
The other thing that I'm not a huge fan of is that the game is designed to be played through twice. Sorry, but that's not going to happen. The game contains dozens of items known as Score Pieces that contain a single bar of music. As you meet people in the game world, you'll run into those who wish to perform a Session with you. They'll show you their Score Piece and you select from those you've collected the one that best matches theirs. This is a really fun component of the game as it forces you to look at the sheet music and see which ones are the most similar. Then you play the Score Piece in unison and get graded. The better your grade, the better the prize you'll get from that person. The problem is that most of the people you meet wish to play Score Pieces that you don't yet have, thereby requiring a second play-through of the game. At 20-30 hours per playthrough, that's unlikely. And since this is tied to several of the Achievements, it means that only those who invest upwards of 50 hours with the game will earn all of the Achievement points. This approach is fine with some games, but I don't think it belongs in RPGs. And I have to say that I am kind of annoyed knowing that no matter how thorough I am, that I can't possibly earn all 1,000 Gamerscore from the game without playing through a second time.
That said, these two complaints are rather minor and the game is truly one of the better RPGs I've played. I'm not a big fan of this genre at all, but Eternal Sonata has a lot going for it and I think anyone with any interest in this style of game should give it a try. You can do a lot worse than play this game.