Eternal Sonata: Progress Log #5

[Click here to start from the first progress log]

This is yet another progress log where nothing of real importance happens, and it’s all because this game loves spinning its wheels. Everyone’s goal is to go talk to Royal Brat Baddie, but the ADHD and general incompetence of both the party and the NPCS littering the world ensure that there are pointless diversions along the way that exist solely as soulless padding and don’t bother making sense. It’s kind of funny, because a lot of the specific criticisms I have about Eternal Sonata apply to many recent jRPG games, as well. Either a bunch of developers lost their way simultaneously, or there are a handful of people in the industry with awful, game-ruining ideas, and everyone’s too afraid to stand up to them for whatever reason.

Quality text box, game

It’s obvious what the covered up word is here, but this is nevertheless indicative of Eternal Sonata’s overall lack of quality. You could easily cut the text down so that the icon isn’t covering up a word by simply removing “at what I’ve got before you go,” and this dialogue could have be further pared down if the writers were so inclined.

Sadly, they weren’t, and that’s why many dialogue sequences (including one in the last embedded video) include a bunch of people saying the same thing over and over again in different words. I can’t help but suspect that this type of artificial padding is the result of gamers beginning to correlate play times with value.

I present to you: the original John Wick

“Finally finished for the day. Free at last. I don’t get along with my boss, see? So he gives me all sorts of impossible jobs.”

“He thought I’d never be able to finish them all. Made me so mad! I wouldn’t let him beat me though. I gave it my all and finished everything in one day.”

Hidden ropes/ladders are the worst

There are a lot of things wrong with the below video. At ~2:57, a housewife prepares dinner by walking around in circles. That’s stupid, but in a charming, inoffensive way. At 3:34, though, a screechy NPC sends the party to look for a random kid named Phil, and this is poorly designed in every way imaginable. You have to run around town talking to people at random to find him, and at one point you have to talk to an older guy multiple times in a row to trigger something. if you, say, confuse him with the other drunken old men in the town and move to a different screen, resetting his dialogue and making it appear that he only has the one line, this can become needlessly aggravating. And once you finally find Phil at the bottom of the cliff, he’s totally unharmed. This is even brought up (58:29), only for the game to basically go, “yeah, that was pretty f$%$ing stupid, but oh well, no one could think of a better way of wasting your time.” Paraphrasing, obviously, but that is the vibe the scene puts off.

What bothers me more than anything is the fact that the scenery hides a rope required to progress, and the icon that shows interactivity is finicky enough about your angle that it actively becomes a hindrance. The camera is zoomed out, so the only real hint that you can climb down is a tiny bit of orange at the very top; the rope itself blends into nearby blades of grass, and you have no reason to pay any attention to this area since no icon shows up if you’re running at an angle and collide with the rope. You can see that at 21:35, 22:23, 23:31, 26:51, 28:18, 28:24, 28:44, 34:28, 35:22, and 36:52. It was only at 37:22 that I positioned the character at exactly the right angle for the icon to appear and was able to continue. That’s over 15 minutes of running around because the game didn’t let me interact with an interactive spot 10 times in a row. Who on earth thought this was a good idea?

Cue the easy boss fight

Something that’s been bugging me is that there’s not always a boss fight where you expect. I mean, after climbing down a cliff to save a kid, you’d think that there’d be something he’d actually need saving from, but no. He was just stuck. No boss fight. The game makes up for this somewhat by having this douchebag at the castle gates confuse you with Andantino rebels, but the fight starts with him punching Beat, which means no boss pictures to sell. Instead, Polka randomly gets drawn into the party despite the fact that I would force-feed her into a wood chipper if given the option.

This boss poses no threat whatsoever and could be defeated by a mild breeze, but for some reason a small handful of lesser soldiers manage to overwhelm the party, who suddenly decide that putting up a fight would be an embarrassing faux pas. As a result, everyone gets thrown into prison, and that’s where they encounter Salsa, forest guardian March’s sister. Lots of forced dialogue subsequently occurs (including Allegretto suddenly deciding that he’s totally got a thing for Polka and doesn’t want her to know that he’s the Anime Robin Hood standing between a bunch of forgotten orphans and starvation), but the group eventually breaks out.

Oh, and Salsa is a usable party member now. Possibly the last one, but I don’t remember all that much about the characters in this game because of how utterly forgettable they are. Trope-y characters are interchangeable characters.

And then things get worse

I started recording this dungeon-type area about halfway in because I had expected it to be uneventful. It’s almost astounding how notably bad it ends up being; corridors are lined with invisible walls that seem custom designed to push you into enemies (making them a pain to avoid), chests are placed in such a way that obtaining them often requires jumping down and having to redo several hallways of sometimes-unavoidable enemies, and the whole thing becomes a giant, tedious slog.

Then everyone makes it out in a cutscene where they encounter the Andantino members who were planning to rescue Salsa, and the dialogue outdoes itself by embracing an entirely new level of artificial badness. Everyone but Salsa mentions something about how they were imprisoned for no reason, and the only reason they all repeat the same thing one after the other is because Salsa doesn’t. That way the rebel leader can ask her about it and realize that she was the one they were planning to save. This isn’t organic dialogue—it’s convenient dialogue. It feels like the writers started from a point of “so and so has to happen in this scene,” then settled on the laziest possible way of getting there. And speaking of lazy, there’s tension between rebels Falsetto and Claves. I wonder if the awkward purple-haired one who kept needing to have the plan repeated back to her as though she was wearing a wire will turn out to be a traitor later in the story? That’s not my previous experience with the game speaking, either, because I really do remember nothing about these characters (especially not the rebels). It’s just that blindingly obvious.

Some thoughts

You know, good jRPGs are the ones that have good writers. Or at least competent writers. There are a whole lot of jRPG studios out there that seem to have fallen prey to the Peter principle, though, with a cadre of awful writers becoming forever stuck writing awful stories that sabotage games otherwise capable of being enjoyable. Not that Eternal Sonata would have had a chance with better writing, because its area design is awful and even the combat is starting to fall apart. Case in point, Viola and Beat each have a ranged attack and a melee attack, and these are both mapped to the attack button and used contextually. That means that every time you go to attack with either, you’re at the mercy of a cruel and whimsical context god who may see fit to sabotage you by wasting half of your turn slowly moving in and out of ranged mode. And you remember how secondary special attacks are performed by holding down the button? This works decently enough when you use them before attacking, but never once you’re in the middle of a regular attack combo. You can forget about using your secondary attack right as your time ends, too, and since that’s the most effective way of using special attacks, the secondary ones are almost entirely useless. If you try anyway, you’re liable to waste most of the next character’s turn using a special attack on the air. This isn’t competent game design, people.

[Click here to go to Eternal Sonata log #4]
[Click here to go to Eternal Sonata log #6]

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