Eternal Sonata and Folklore

By Shamus Posted Friday Oct 19, 2007

Filed under: Nerd Culture 28 comments

Just after putting up yesterday’s post on Art & Videogames, I spotted this news story, which talks about videogames as art. Specifically, it talks about the games Eternal Sonata (XBOX) and Folklore (PS3) and the subjects they tackle. The article makes a big deal about the games taking on serious subjects:

But the question is: Is this world simply one of Chopin’s fevered dreams, or is it reality? And who’s to say which is which? This surprisingly sophisticated story also asks the player to consider heady topics such as the plight of the poor, the tyranny of the powerful and the damage done when mindless consumerism and modern “progress” steamroll the eternal rhythms of nature.

I guess that’s more in-depth than Duke Nukem, but there have been games taking on serious subjects for years. Decades. A Mind Forever Voyaging took on all sorts of philosophical and political themes, and that came out in 1985. (It was, of course, text only.)

I do see more and more people talking about games as art. As much as I like to have people on my particular bandwaggon, I doubt this is due to the pursuasive skills of zealots like me. I suspect they’re coming around because computer graphics are finally getting good enough for the medium to be taken seriously. In years past, lots of people would look at the blurry, blocky sprites bumping around the screen and dismiss the whole thing as a bunch of nonsense. Now that we can create evocative imagery, people are sitting down and listening to what the game has to say.

I won’t be playing either of these games any time soon. Both are on next-gen consoles, which puts them several hundred dollars out of my reach. Still, I’ll hazard a guess that they probably aren’t breaking new ground from a storytelling perspective. They’re probably as smart and interesting as many other games, but now they have the candy coating needed to get new people to try them. This is a good thing in my book. The more the merrier, and so on.


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28 thoughts on “Eternal Sonata and Folklore

  1. ShadoStahker says:

    Now that we can create evocative imagery, people are sitting down and listening to what the game has to say.

    That would be it, I’d guess. I mean, look at movies. Back in the silent film days (and beyond) they weren’t considered “art” either. In fact, they were (supposedly) responsible for corrupting the youth of their day as well.

  2. Randomscrub says:

    Dude, all new forms of art “corrupt the youth.” People actually resisted the use of writing on the grounds that it would allow the memory to atrophy (after all, if you can read it, you don’t need to remember it). Just ignore all that crap. Good RPGs have been tackling these complex themes for decades. My favorites were the Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross games, but there were many with these kinds of stories long before now.

  3. Phlux says:

    I swear when I read this at first I thought they were describing Final Fantasty X. Guess I don’t need to play eternal sonata….apparently I already have.

  4. Spiral says:

    Online news publications are really bad about fact checking stories or staying away from knee jerk reporting. I can’t tell you how many times I saw them report on something as “new” or “just happening” when in fact it’s something that had been happening for years, or like in the present case with video games, something that has been part of video games for a large portion of its lifespan.

    I’m not saying printed publications avoid this, but online journalism seems to have a lower bar for journalism and a higher tolerance for knee-jerk sensationalism.

  5. Telas says:

    This surprisingly sophisticated story also asks the player to consider heady topics such as the plight of the poor, the tyranny of the powerful and the damage done when mindless consumerism and modern “progress” steamroll the eternal rhythms of nature.

    I’m sorry to drop politics into it, but it’s “art” only when it spouts left-wing propaganda? That reminds me of how Phil Collins suddenly was “a serious artist” when he dropped the cause of the day into his lyrics. Meh.

    How about the balance between freedom and responsibility? The quest for personal, social, and spiritual redemption? The thin line between having an active defense and being the aggressor? Defining your identity as individual, but part of your family/culture/country?

    This would be just as offensive as if someone defined “art” as only that which praises God, or that which praises Republicans…

    Art is not defined as “social responsibility”, no matter what your definition of it is.

  6. Reed says:

    Maybe it’s like Stephen Colbert said, just substitute “art” for “the media” = “Art, like reality, has a liberal bias.” ;)

  7. Shamus says:

    Telas: I’m right with you on the freedom vs responsibility thing. But I think what makes this art is not the message, but the way in which the ideas are conveyed. You could invert the message of the game, and depict a scenario where an increasingly invasive nanny system transforms slowly into a thuggish and opressive state. (Ahem.) The weight and art would still be there, you’d just transpose the two groups arguing if the thing is art or propaganda.

    The idea of playing a sentient AI living in a simulated world is still a good one and a great vehicle for whatever ideas the author espouses.

  8. Reed says:

    In all seriousness, it’s not even that the game has a “message”. That is, it can approach the topic in a neutral way and still be art. What makes it artistic is that it is addressing a premise, a core storytelling technique. It presents a meaningful question and invites the viewer/participant to consider it.

    Many games don’t address a premise. These fall into the same artistic category as summer action movies, trashy romance novels, and gimmicky sitcoms. That’s not to say those aren’t enjoyable, but I’m not sure they’re art. Every form of media can be approached more or less artfully, where you set the threshold for art or not is an individual preference.

  9. thebigkr says:

    well, whatever way you look at the role of art and messages in games, that game looks like it will rock. i mean, seriously, look at that video; the combat mechanics look relatively fresh, i.e. not a horrendous amount of titles have done it before. It looks like they’re pulling monsters into them and then unleashing powers based on them; in a couple little clips, it looked like monsters materialized out of nowhere to pound on other monsters for the characters. And, the graphics are outright stunning.

  10. Shawn says:

    That’s it, we need to get you a D&D game, stat!

  11. william says:

    I schwant to play!
    shamus have you ever considered hosting a PBP game for some loyal …Dm of the ringers? twenty siders? what do you call a fan of yours?

  12. LemmingLord says:

    EchoChrome. Look it up.

  13. Gahaz says:

    Iam gettin upset! You keep sayin that that you can’t get a nex gen platform, and then I think “But hes got this spiffy site, doesn’t he make mone……wait” and realize that, no you have to be a huge site to make proper capitol from this sort of thing. Well, I can’t take it anymore, I fell awful, you are gamer to the core and have no access to some good stuff coming out. Im calling out to the community that reads shamus, tell your other friends that read it to. Im looking for donations and we are going to buy him a 360! At this moment I would like to gage response and see if anyone wants to help setup a possible 1 pager on the web that can handle paypal donations. If you would be willing to donate a coupla bucks or the abilty to help with the web parts, email me, before i try to do this, and start wandering the geek web that I know that reads shamus, I would like to see if enough ppl could spare the money. If 200 people gave 2 dollars, he would have it! email: [email protected]

  14. Gahaz says:

    Grammar is terrible above, sorry. Writing angry is never good.

  15. morgan says:

    I don’t think Eternal Sonata qualifies as art. Eternal sonata is pretentious pseudo philosophy. It isn’t philosophy becouse it just parades philosphical cliches in order to be connsidered, “art.” In order for a something to be connsiderd art you need something which has to do with our lives. A theme or message we can relate to. The game just throws us in to a dream world and get’s all melodramatic and, “philosophical.” If you want to see a real art game you need to play Planscape: Torment. That deals with philosophy on an realistic manner.

  16. morgan says:

    Please excuse me for any grammer or spelling errors.

  17. DmL (Davey) says:

    Hmm that Folk Soul video had e alternately scratching my head and frowning… maybe it would have been better without the crappy over-the-top jPop?

    is jPop art?

  18. Ben says:

    Dude, just because music is in Japanese, it doesn’t make it ‘JPop’. You wouldn’t say it was ‘EPop’ if it was Iron Maiden, would you?

    I was impressed with that video. Especially with their use of Irish voice actors. Makes a change from American, or sterotypical stuffy English.

  19. captain says:

    Adressing a premise can be a form of art, however I do not yet see this concept. In order to participate in the discussion of a certain problem one needs complete freedom – a freedom which is seldomly to be found in reality itself.
    I do not believe that this is, yet, the art in computer games. As stepping over certain lines, even in the name of art is not possible in most societies. Actually it wasn´t even possible for shamus in a different comic, even though many of his readers would attest DMotR to be a work of art…

    As Heinlein put it: People see an old woman and realize it is an old woman. An artist sees an old woman, but is able to see the young girl deep inside of her. A very good artist, someone like Rodin, sees the old woman and the girl she has been and finds a way to show us the young girl she was a long time ago.
    -That is not an exact quote, sorry about that. Heinlein is more poetic.

    But it conveys the idea behind art. Art serves to enlighten us. It enlightens us by far more than mere discussions of problems ever could. Please note that I don´t think this game to be more than a forum. Especially regarding the fact that Japanese movies and computer games regularly tackle philosophical questions to add more weight to the story. But in my opinion there are precious few taking philosophy to a deeper point. So I´m yet to be convinced.

  20. Kortir says:

    As far as Eternal Sonata goes- it’s a beautiful game, I’m currently playing it. Just the soundtrack and graphics are worth it alone. When/if you do get a 360, it’s certainly a worthwhile purchase.

  21. Winter says:

    What can change the nature of a man?

  22. DmL (Davey) says:


    “Dude,” I happen to listen to alot of Japanese music, and I did not specifically attack jPop, only “crappy, over-the-top” jPop, which I assure you perfectly encompasses that song. I was introduced to Hitomi Yaida by a Korean friend, and find the music perfectly acceptable. Also, I thought Kiroro was sweet when I hear their “Ikite koso” song (admittedly while looking for something else.) So, yah, jPop.

    If I were to speak of Iron Maiden, I might mention “Heavy Metal.”

    As for the voice acting, it’s alright. It’s nice that they tried Irish accents, I just can’t tell from the video if my trouble with their voices is the possibly misplaced or possibly bad acting, or if they’re not actually Irish speakers. It looks alright though. Nice mix of RPG and Zelda gameplay. Characters are well designed if a bit trite and “grey” looking.

  23. Andy says:

    Don’t sell Eternal Sonata short. It may not exactly be high art, but it has some surprising intellectual touches.

    For example, during each “chapter” of the game (each of which is named for one of Chopin’s piano pieces), there’s a sequence of still images where the piece plays in the background and the game tells you some of Chopin’s life and how the piece relates to events in it. Additionally, the part of the game’s story in each chapter follows a theme that’s parallel to the themes explored in the corresponding Chopin music.

    I’ve never really thought too much about Frederic Chopin it must be said, but this game has really made me interested in his life and music. It’s a pretty darned enjoyable RPG with a fun battle system, too.

  24. Taelus says:

    Ok, I know I’m late to this party, but I just worked my way around in Eternal Sonata and it’s a strangely addictive game. The difficulty level is somewhat on par with a restaurant place mat maze, but it’s still good fun. I really can’t put my finger on what it is that makes it appealing though. It’s simplistic, cheesy, and mechanically unoriginal save for the one or two elements in the combat like the “light vs. dark” effect that all get fairly old after a while. All that said, I still really enjoy the game (not accounting for the secret dungeon called Mysterious Unison which is a 10 hour time sink that made my eyes bleed).

    Anyway, much as it doesn’t make sense as to why, it’s a game well worth playing. As far as the art part, the game is incredibly pretty and probably one of the best looking games I’ve seen yet on the next gen consoles. That’s really saying something for a game using the cell shading format in this age of life-like rendering.

  25. folo4 says:

    just so you guys know, Eternal Sonata’s coming to PS3.

    …is that a good thing?

  26. Ravens_Cry says:

    I played ‘A Mind Forever Voyaging’, the happiest moment was when I found out my character was a father. The idea was good, but the game play was tiresome. Finding a perfect moment, then finding out you HAVEN’T turned on your recorder was. . .annoying.Also, I didn’t see the logic behind it’s political bias. But then, I am a middle of the road person mostly, at least I like to think so, and extreme positions disturb me. Still, what parts I liked I liked, though if I was an AI who had found out his whole life was a lie, I would be rather pissed myself. I haven’t finished it.

  27. Velleity says:

    I hated Eternal Sonata, mostly because I found the character’s (excluding one) to be completely 2d and the plot generic as well. Though to be fair, the “Bronze Medal” scene with Viola did hit a sweet spot, and she genuinely did seem human from that point onwards to me. The plot is just to…simple? to be intellectual. It’s just solipsism for dummies all over again, and all the cards are laid down on the table from the start. Things are told rather then showed, and within seconds of getting a plot-twist, someone will come in and explain it all in a perfectly logical and, apparently, entirely accurate way. And when you’ve got a 16 year old otaku calling your game shallow, there’s obviously something wrong. As for art, Eternal Sonata is most definitely shiny (though I do wish they’d made more character models instead of just re-texturing old ones over and over again).

    At the very end of the game, while credits rolled and characters talked to us about, quite literally, life, the universe and everything, my dislike for this game was sealed. It was just (to me) an utterly pretentious scene and seeing as how for the entire game, none of the main characters had EVER done anything morally questionable, hearing them tell me that life is beautiful and good and how we all must try our best 100% of the time just sent shivers up my spine. Though in retrospect, this is probably because I am an asshole.

  28. WileyC says:

    A Mind Forever Voyaging was a brilliant video game that, alas, is also brilliantly wrong in so many ways. It is interesting that parts of the evil ‘plan’ have turned out to be good for our country while some of the worst parts have have been co-opted by those on the left. Is it art? I don’t know, but it was well done.

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