Today we got a chance to go through the upcoming Eternal Sonata demo for the Xbox 360. The demo sees players taking three characters -- Polka, Allegretto, and Beat -- through a forest and a village.
Players get a tutorial of the battle system during their beginning battles. The battles are pretty different from standard RPG fare. The system is turn based, with characters having the option of performing an attack, a special attack, using an item, or just moving around.
Normal attacks tend to be melee attacks, though some characters have ranged attacks for their normal attack option. Because of this, the default attacking strategy is like that of a normal action-RPG where the character runs over to the monster to smack it up a bit. Each character has two special attacks; which one is used depends on whether the character is standing in the light or in a shadow. The location of characters on the battle field has a significant impact on the flow of a battle.
Each turn has a timer that counts down on the left side of the screen, and the player can perform as many actions as they wish before it reaches zero. In the earlier chapters of the game, the player can stand still and think things through and the timer won't start until a button or analog stick is used. Later chapters do not permit this.
Here's an example of the normal flow of a turn. The player runs the character whose turn it is over to the monster, performs a few normal attacks, and then at the last second of the turn uses a special attack. Special attacks usually take much longer than a normal attack to complete due to them having multiple hits and animations. This means that only a couple of them could be used during the normal five second turn, but if used at the very end, they will still complete in full, leaving the rest of the turn for the rapid usage of normal attacks in hope to maximize damage.
Another battle option is to pull off what's referred to as a Harmony Beat. This is done by using only normal attacks in order to increase a counter in the lower right corner of the screen. When this counter gets to a certain level (it was not obvious what levels are required), the character can perform both their light and shadow special attacks in a row.
On the other side of the coin is defense. When an enemy attacks a character, players are prompted to press the guard button to block the attack via an icon over the character's head. However, relying on the split second of reaction time there is to pull this off is not recommended, instead, learning the pattern of the enemy attacks and anticipating the correct time to block will result in better success overall.
After going through the forest, the characters encountered a giant wart-hog like boss. It took guarding, healing with Polka's special attack, and separating the party to prevent the boss's attacks from hurting all three at once in order to achieve victory.
Following the demo playthrough, we got to go to Namco-Bandai's booth to play more of the game in its later chapters, where we can confirm that swapping our characters from the large roster helps to keep the battles fresh and interesting. The innovative combat coupled with the beautiful art and sound look to make this a real dream for RPGamers. Look for the downloadable demo soon on the Xbox Live Marketplace.