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Eternal Sonata - updated impressions

Namco's big media day couldn't go by without another round of hands-on time with one of our favorite RPGs, Eternal Sonata. Not a lot has changed since the last time we deeply covered this adventure, but there are a few new bits of information we're happy to pass along.

First, the gauge that runs down the left side of the screen, the one that slowly depletes as you attack in battle mode, can be minutely increased by continual attacks. So you've got five seconds of "action time," where you can run up to a monster, do some damage and then try to get out of its retaliatory reach. If you spend all that time hacking and slashing, the action meter drains slower than normal, so the more time you spend fighting and not running around, the more damage you can inflict.

The battle system, which we've already gushed about here, handles like a mix of Kingdom Hearts and Grandia - that is, it's turn-based but you still have total control of where your character is on the battle screen and actually push buttons to swing or cast spells. Items are easily accessible via an onscreen list that's both readable and unobtrusive. Loading times from overworld to battle are almost totally gone - it's a near seamless transition from one to the other.



As we mentioned in the earlier hands-on, enemies will change form when they wander from lit areas to dark, shadowy places on the battle map. We previously surmised that keeping them in their weaker state was preferable, but it turns out that the weaker version will attack faster than the puffed-up alter-ego - thus, countering or parrying the attacks is a little tougher. Which form to choose, we wonder?

Our only beef with Sonata's battles is that they may end up taking too damn long. With so many different aspects to keep track of (placement, movement, attacks, light and dark positioning, time available for attack) it seems like every enemy encounter took a lot longer than we'd like. Maybe it was just the level of the characters in this demo, that's certainly possible.

Other bits of random news include Sonata downloadable content on Live, which is limited to Chopin tracks for purchase (you can also unlock them in-game). Sorry, no Live multiplayer battles this time around, though if the game is a hit that would certainly increase the odds of us getting an online, turn-based 360 RPG in the future.

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