End Boss Month #16: Eternal Sonata

As we officially cross over into the second half of End Boss Month, I’d like to take a look at the final boss from one of the RPGs of the current hardware generation nearest and dearest to my heart; a game that came about at just the right moment in my life. Today, I speak of the final boss of Eternal Sonata. A game in which the final boss proved to be a legitimate surprise, and not the unpleasant kind like Final Fantasy IX’s Necron.

Eternal Sonata is a fantasy centered on the dreams of the nineteenth century Polish composer Frederic Francois Chopin. The game takes place in the final hours of his life, soon to be claimed by tuberculosis. As he sleeps, he dreams of a world inspired by his music, as well as some cues from other aspects of his life. It is a world in which those that are terminally ill gain magical powers. He accompanies a girl named Polka, also sick, and inspired by Chopin’s real-life sister Emilia, who died of the same disease at fourteen. He accompanies her on a journey through this world, and in the process encounters new friends and enemies along the way.

Not bad looking for being thirty-nine.

But in the very end, he turns on the party. Convinced that he must confront the others so that his soul might finally find rest and to stop the destruction of the dream world, he challenges Polka and the others to a final battle. A battle in which he fights more or less as a powered up version of his standard playable form. His normal battle taunts of his enemies being "soulless creatures" suddenly becoming chilling when directed at the other party members.

He of course goes down in the end. In the real world, he dies, and his spirit is able to rest. Eternal Sonata is not really otherwise known for its plot, which is simple, save for a convoluted ending with extensive philosophical chatter. It also layers on the melodrama quite thick, with one character taking several minutes to die as she monologues away. So the game will never win any awards for its story, but it is incredibly respectful toward Chopin, taking breaks at points to expound on specific periods of the composer’s actual life. It’s an unusual approach to an unusual subject of an RPG, and I forgive its narrative faults for that.

That still gives me chills.

I said before that this is a game that came along at the right time in my life, and I am not exaggerating. On the day of its release, I was actually put through the most painful humiliation of my professional life; one in which I will not go into details to describe here. But I will say that Chopin’s journey toward his own death proved to be soothing in its own way. The idea of death is not something that’s always at the forefront of the game, but with two terminally ill characters, it’s something that’s always on the player’s mind regardless. And yet, strangely, I came away from the game feeling happier than I had been when I started playing it. Chopin’s role as both the instigator and the end of the journey is a major reason why.

7 Comments
8 Comments
Posted by Hailinel

As we officially cross over into the second half of End Boss Month, I’d like to take a look at the final boss from one of the RPGs of the current hardware generation nearest and dearest to my heart; a game that came about at just the right moment in my life. Today, I speak of the final boss of Eternal Sonata. A game in which the final boss proved to be a legitimate surprise, and not the unpleasant kind like Final Fantasy IX’s Necron.

Eternal Sonata is a fantasy centered on the dreams of the nineteenth century Polish composer Frederic Francois Chopin. The game takes place in the final hours of his life, soon to be claimed by tuberculosis. As he sleeps, he dreams of a world inspired by his music, as well as some cues from other aspects of his life. It is a world in which those that are terminally ill gain magical powers. He accompanies a girl named Polka, also sick, and inspired by Chopin’s real-life sister Emilia, who died of the same disease at fourteen. He accompanies her on a journey through this world, and in the process encounters new friends and enemies along the way.

Not bad looking for being thirty-nine.

But in the very end, he turns on the party. Convinced that he must confront the others so that his soul might finally find rest and to stop the destruction of the dream world, he challenges Polka and the others to a final battle. A battle in which he fights more or less as a powered up version of his standard playable form. His normal battle taunts of his enemies being "soulless creatures" suddenly becoming chilling when directed at the other party members.

He of course goes down in the end. In the real world, he dies, and his spirit is able to rest. Eternal Sonata is not really otherwise known for its plot, which is simple, save for a convoluted ending with extensive philosophical chatter. It also layers on the melodrama quite thick, with one character taking several minutes to die as she monologues away. So the game will never win any awards for its story, but it is incredibly respectful toward Chopin, taking breaks at points to expound on specific periods of the composer’s actual life. It’s an unusual approach to an unusual subject of an RPG, and I forgive its narrative faults for that.

That still gives me chills.

I said before that this is a game that came along at the right time in my life, and I am not exaggerating. On the day of its release, I was actually put through the most painful humiliation of my professional life; one in which I will not go into details to describe here. But I will say that Chopin’s journey toward his own death proved to be soothing in its own way. The idea of death is not something that’s always at the forefront of the game, but with two terminally ill characters, it’s something that’s always on the player’s mind regardless. And yet, strangely, I came away from the game feeling happier than I had been when I started playing it. Chopin’s role as both the instigator and the end of the journey is a major reason why.

Posted by Encephalon

Argh! Stop choosing games with infuriating third act twists! :P

Posted by Hailinel

@Encephalon said:

Argh! Stop choosing games with infuriating third act twists! :P

That's the thing though. I didn't find this twist infuriating. :P

Posted by Karkarov

Never played the game myself, color me surprised that the story was that far out there. That actually sounds like a refreshingly novel idea for a final battle.

Posted by StarvingGamer

I was always intrigued by this game as a musician but never got around to playing it because I assumed the Chopin angle was going to be a gimmick and nothing me. Now that I know the game treats him with a fair amount of respect I may pick it up and give it a spin.

Posted by Hailinel

@Karkarov said:

Never played the game myself, color me surprised that the story was that far out there. That actually sounds like a refreshingly novel idea for a final battle.

It caught me so off guard that I actually lost the battle on my first attempt almost immediately. Chopin had been one of my primary fighters up until that point, and I wasn't expecting to suddenly be without him. But it was a twist that I enjoyed.

@StarvingGamer said:

I was always intrigued by this game as a musician but never got around to playing it because I assumed the Chopin angle was going to be a gimmick and nothing me. Now that I know the game treats him with a fair amount of respect I may pick it up and give it a spin.

It's very evident that the development team that put this game together holds a great deal of respect for Chopin. The game is flawed, no doubt, but through it all, they're reverential to him and his works.

Edited by Encephalon

Okay, now for something constructive.

I will admit that I'd totally lost Eternal Sonata's plot by the 4/5ths mark, wherein the party appears in a purgatorial borderworld populated by disembodied spirits. Nevertheless, I thought that the inherent potential of the Chopin conceit was hampered by the by-the-numbers RPG story (evil empire is harvesting a rare magical substance from the earth, ragtag band of misfits assembles to stop them). I'd be much more impressed with Eternal Sonata if Chopin's relationship with the dream world was the main thread throughout, instead of the other story that I don't give a shit about. Imagine the Inception hijinks Chopin could've gotten up to!

So yeah. I give Eternal Sonata mad props for the sheer audacity of its premise, but not for its execution of that premise. I found it wanting.

Posted by Hailinel

@Encephalon said:

Okay, now for something constructive.

I will admit that I'd totally lost Eternal Sonata's plot by the 4/5ths mark, wherein the party appears in a purgatorial borderworld populated by disembodied spirits. Nevertheless, I thought that the inherent potential of the Chopin conceit was hampered by the by-the-numbers RPG story (evil empire is harvesting a rare magical substance from the earth, ragtag band of misfits assembles to stop them). I'd be much more impressed with Eternal Sonata if Chopin's relationship with the dream world was the main thread throughout, instead of the other story that I don't give a shit about. Imagine the Inception hijinks Chopin could've gotten up to!

So yeah. I give Eternal Sonata mad props for the sheer audacity of its premise, but not for its execution of that premise. I found it wanting.

Something akin to that would have been nice, I agree, but at the same time, getting too quirky could have also had an unintended impact on what the developer had set out to accomplish. Then again, what they attempted to do was balls hard to pull off in the first place.