Blue Dragon might have been busy grabbing all the headlines thanks to the noisy involvement of Japan's Holy Trinity of game design deities Sakaguchi, Toriyama and Uematsu, but the real RPG nuts have been holding out for this quirky little wonder. Imagine if famed composer Chopin had experienced a vivid dream on his deathbed - possibly involving demure young Japanese girls with outrageous goggle eyes - and you've got the unlikely premise behind this epic tale of derring-do and, um... terminal illness.
Firstly, much kudos to Eternal's combat system; it's proper nifty. Instead of being rooted to the spot in the way contemporaries like Final Fantasy have befuddlingly favoured - the recent FFXII being the notable exception - you can hotfoot it around the battlefield at will (or at least until your timer runs out).
This adds some cracking strategic value to encounters, not least because spots of sunlight and shade drastically affect your heroes' abilities. For instance, puffy shirt-clad Allegretto favours the Sun Slash Attack when bathed in light, but switches to Phantom Wave when it gets dark - and the key to scoring major pain pointage is figuring out which of the weirdo enemies dig a tan and which have an albino-like aversion.
Not that the hordes of evil can't use the same crafty techniques to fight back though. We were busy beating up on what resembled a posse of overgrown onions when they suddenly entered a shady area and morphed into overgrown monstrosities who were able to dish out damage in the hundreds rather than the tens. Despite some stellar reactions (when the 'chance' icon appears as you're attacked, quickly tap b to get a block in), our advantage had slipped and we suffered defeat. Our arses kicked and egos deflated, we resolved to finish them off quicker next time.
Visually, Eternal Sonata is truly sumptuous, sporting characters so cutesy and well-crafted they reduced members of the Xbox World team to tears. Granted, it's not on the same technical scale of Blue Dragon, but fans of Japanese character design will have a party in their pants over Chopin and the gang. (In fact, we were constantly reminded of Gamecube classic Tales of Symphonia while playing, generally acknowledged as one of the prettiest RPGs ever.)
Stopping only to raid the odd chest for Angel Trumpets and Peach Cookies, we made our way to Tenuto village (as shameless a rip-off of Zelda's Kakariko as we've beheld) to shoot the breeze with a few citizens and jam with a chappie named Gentlemanly Pop. Then it was on to a flower field and a haunted wood before eventually being pwned by a giant pig. Now that's one crazy ass dream. We'll have some of what Chopin was on. Er, but not the death.