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Although Eternal Sonata threatens to disappear in a tangled web of competing ideas, it gets one the most important thing right - telling a good story. A tale as dark and compelling as any novel that rejoices in subjects as unusual in video games as death, prejudice and rebellion saves the game from becoming uninteresting, and kept me persevering till the end.
It's a wonderful irony that a game based inside the mind of a dying Frederic Chopin should look so kid-friendly. The exaggerated characters and bright primary colours are completely at odds with the issues Eternal Sonata brings to its story. I was enthralled by the concept and loved the Chopin sections. But unnecessary moments of plot exposition veering towards ambiguity, bogged the story down badly. But amongst the mire shines real beauty, not least the heart-rending score that moved me so much.
It's not often a game starts off with the suicide of a young girl. It's not often a game is based on the last few hours of Frederic Chopin's life. But these strange and daring concepts really drew me into the game. The gorgeous cel-shaded visual style, far from putting me off, acted as a great foil for the serious nature of the story's focus on death. The concept of a magical young girl destined to die young gives the game a melancholic air completely at odds with its look.
The themes of rebellion and oppression carry over easily to the actual game.
Not long after starting as Polka the game introduces Frederic and you learn that he's wandering this realm whilst his body lies in a coma. The whole premise of whether or not the world of Eternal Sonata is a dream or exists continues throughout the game so that even at the end it is still open to interpretation - though Chopin's fate is unavoidable.
The plot tasks you with redressing various social injustices inflicted on the province of Forte by the Kingdom of Baroque. Although the goal is to defeat Count Waltz and stop him from spreading the addictive Mineral Powder to civilians - the real story centres on Frederic and Polka.
Each chapter adopts a musical movement and wonderfully becomes an allegory for Chopin's real life. After each a slide show begins explaining a certain period in Chopin's turbulent life. The themes of rebellion and oppression carry over easily to the actual game.
However, the compelling intertextual premise is let down by the erratic narrative. More than once characters literally stop, turn to camera and narrate what is going on. The player is assumed to be blind to all other clues and story telling as they are forced to endure the mind-numbing explanation. But just when you are getting used to this, the game does an about turn. Around halfway it suddenly starts to assume too much, replacing exposition with ambiguous conversations and meaningful looks.
Death, prejudice, tyranny and rebellion all took the stage and made their presence known in a proper grown up way
The references regarding the Agogo's are simply too vague to understand and the various life-purpose speeches seem confusing at best. I'll happily hold my hand up and admit this could might just be me. But this jarring shift from nannying to hazy dialogue was simply ill advised. This is true nowhere more than the ending. Only after hopping online to catch a few hints did I grasp it completely.
The games leaves me conflicted - can you tell? I only find these faults so critical because its story is so superb and affecting. Even through the problematic delivery, I found the themes and allegories a refreshing change from the usual role play game fare.
Perhaps most telling is that Eternal Sonata left me with a lasting sense of being involved in a memorable story. Death, prejudice, tyranny and rebellion all took the stage and made their presence known in a proper grown up way - even if they were a little hard to untangle from each other.
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