Director Hiroya Hatsushiba hopes Eternal Sonata will teach gamers about the life and music of composer Frédéric Chopin. And the game succeeds, in a loose, Yellow Submarine kinda way. In this Japanese RPG, Chopin has retreated into a dream world while lying on his deathbed: In his head, he joins a band of intrepid orphans and lace-clad rebels who must battle the power corrupting the land. The story includes touching allusions to Chopin's short, sickly life, and an annoying habit of naming almost everything in the game with a musical term—like the Glissando Cliffs, Baroque City, or the handsome resistance leader Jazz, whose name wouldn't make sense until decades after Chopin's 1849 death.
Setting aside the Chopinomania, Eternal Sonata tells a pensive, sometimes exciting story. The strikingly detailed backdrops—which look like amethyst crystals, organic vegetables, and ground-up pixies—light up every scene, while the timers and increasingly difficult tactics add a twist to the turn-based combat. There's just enough fighting to get the twitches out before the introspective cutscenes, which are the game's most honest tribute to the Impressionist composer.
Beyond the game: Prize-winning Chopin interpreter Stanislav Bunin performs some of the composer's works. Unfortunately, he plays beneath dry discussions of the composer's life, complete with stock-photo slideshows that are a lead weight in the middle of this anime confection.
Worth playing for: The cute but not-too-saccharine style, and the satisfaction of finding your 14-year-old heroine an upgraded parasol.
Frustration sets in when: The cutscenes are occasionally moving, and always long. Bring popcorn.
Final judgment: Not exactly Chopin's story, and not exactly like any other fantasy role-playing game.