Considering the humongous amount of music produced across the years, it’s no surprise that video games, alongside most other forms of media, have taken inspiration or more from existing scores and tracks. While there have been both subtle and obvious references throughout gaming, few are quite as clear as Eternal Sonata. Portrayed as the last dying dream of Frederic Chopin, the game takes place in a world based off both general music and Chopin’s life experiences. With that kind of musical background, it’s only natural that the songs for Eternal Sonata would be one of the, if not the most, important aspects of the game and the result is one massively impressive soundtrack.
Composed by the awesome Motoi Sakuraba, who also composed for most of the Tales series and the Baten Kaitos games among others, the soundtrack mixes his particular style with strong orchestration and both actual instances and the general feel of Chopin’s work. This combination makes for a very dynamic progression of songs that covers a myriad of different tones, from slow, somber pieces like “Pyroxene of the Heart” to the energetic, sweeping regular battle theme, “Leap the Precipice,” shown below.
Despite the different emotions evoked by each song, they all share a distinctly recognizable style that holds the entire soundtrack together. Most noticeable of that style is the piano present in practically every song that forms the basis for the other instrumentation to be added to. By doing this, not only does each song relate to the next through that bottom line, but they are all equally related back to Chopin through his signature instrument.
However, while every track has a relation to Chopin, some are compositions taken directly from the man and replayed by pianist Stanislav Bunin, with slight alterations. Usually played in the sections in-between game chapters that describe certain parts of Chopin’s life, these pieces are used to give an idea of the composer’s state of mind during the events being described. Fitting placement of songs such as the “Fantasie Impromptu” and “Nocturne in E-Flat Major” amplifies the meaning of the scenes in which they play and, more importantly, allow the inspiration for the aforementioned baseline to be presented to the players so they also understand where the music originates.
As the soundtrack would seem incomplete without it, a medium is reached between both the original compositions and Chopin’s works through the final boss theme, “Scrap and Build Ourselves,” presented above. Combining Sakuraba’s style with Chopin’s famous “Revolutionary Etude,” the song is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of the already impressive display. Adding string and vocal compliments to each note of the original work gives a larger sense of weight to every key, and the added sections flow from the Revolutionary Etude so well, it almost seems as though they were always meant to be there. Regardless, the song is an important bridge between Chopin’s work and the majority of the soundtrack that ties both together even further.
Still, even though the final boss theme is that all-important connection, the entire game is basically building up to the credit song, “Heaven’s Mirror.” Throughout the game, no matter how the song choices have differed in style or presentation, there is a progression in the themes that play for specific places. Many early pieces are calm, serene, or light in instrumentation to fit with the relative simplicity and pleasance of Chopin’s earliest memories. However, as time goes on, the general style changes, with the instrumentation becoming much heavier and the tempo speeding up more than once to fit the different hardships Chopin had in his life. By the end, the overall tone is quite different from how it started, and those changes are all encapsulated in “Heaven’s Mirror,” from the sweet beginning to the incredibly strong finish, all sung over by Akiko Shinada’s beautiful voice.
As with every soundtrack, there are some songs that don’t quite fit into an overall category to talk about, but deserve mentioning all the same. Among many others, I consider “Etudes of the Spirit” to be a standout for the buildup it constantly accrues and the perfectly smooth flow from one section to the next. Also worth mentioning is “Your Truth is My False,” a regal-sounding battle theme with some particularly impressive violin at work. Honestly, I could probably point out the great qualities of any song in the soundtrack as they are all impressively made, even if I consider some to be more so than others.
Despite the rather large amount of games that have some sort of musical inspiration, most seem to base themselves on more recent songs and genres. As such, it’s great to see some of the older classics getting their due in the same way. From the liberal usage of classic tracks to the original scoring built off and honoring those classics, Eternal Sonata’s soundtrack is a wonderful experience and anyone who has an appreciation for piano and orchestral music owes it to themselves to listen.
Music Mondays is a weekly column by Austin Yorski and Robert Heck dedicated to discussing the most interesting audio experiences in electronic interactive media. Tune in every week for more original game soundtracks that you need to hear. Feel free to disagree with, add to, or question everything. I welcome your feedback.