Radiant Historia Game Review (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, March 22, 2011
An appealing mix of Chrono Trigger and Suikoden, Radiant Historia explores the way our decisions affect the future... and the past.
What They Say:
Restore The True History
In the midst of an unending war, Stocke leads a mission that goes horribly awry. However, with the mystical White Chronicle, he discovers a way to go to the intersection of Time itself - Historia - to rewrite past events. Can he thus alter the world's ill-fated course?
Use the White Chronicle to jump back and forth to key points in the timeline and right events that prevent "true" history from developing.
Set up devastating combination attacks by manipulating the turn order and using your special ability to push enemies around the field.
The special edition of Radiant Historia comes in a thin cardboard box similar to the ones Atlus has used before, for Knights in the Nightmare and other titles. The front and back of the box is exactly the same as the DS case within, which I'll get to momentarily. Upon opening the box, you find the DS case, and the Radiant Historia Piano Selections bonus CD. The CD contains 5 tracks of piano pieces played by composer Yoko Shimamura. The CD comes in a thin cardboard envelope, sealed with tape. The front of the envelope looks like the cover of a burgundy leather tome, with ornate gold foil designs. In the center is an aerial view of the main street in Granorg, looking very peaceful. The back shows a framed picture of the game's cover art done in a monochrome style, up against a wall of textured stone, as though it were on display in a palace or museum. The track listing is shown here, as is a note of dedication from Shimamura, and a reproduction of her signature. The CD itself has a sepia toned label with a picture of young shamaness Aht, and the Radiant Historia and Atlus logos.
The cover art on the DS case is very busy, but did not immediately grab me. It's a very pretty piece, but for some reason, Princess Eruca is featured prominently in the center. She looks very regal and dainty, which tells you very little about what the game is like. To her left and right are two other key characters, and below her face is Stocke and his entourage, almost as a side note. Once you play the game, you can appreciate why the layout was done they way it was, but I'm not certain if it's the best image to draw in new players. The back is broken up into three small sections, bordered on each side by the two elvish-looking guardians of Historia. A plot synopsis is given, and then notes about the two key game mechanics, Time Travel and the Battle system. If you pick up the box and read the back, it does a good job of selling you on these mechanics, or at least intriguing you enough to do more research.
Surprisingly for a game featuring complex political and religious motivations for eternal war and destruction, the game is rathed E 10+ for fantasy violence and use of alcohol.
Radiant Historia has the standard graphical makeup of most modern JRPGs: sprites moving across 3D polygonal maps, with images of hand drawn art used for character paper dolls. Radiant Historia gets the best graphics it can from the system: the 3D textures are rather simple and are often blurry, but I've not seen any game do much better with the hardware. Sprite animations tend to be basic, and character paper dolls do not move (or change) at all. Where the game really shines, though, is in its art direction. Character designs are unique and varied and imbue your friends and foes with a sense of personality. Worthy of mention are the designs for Marco, a mercenary who looks like a young boy in a fur coat crossed with a teddy bear, and Rosch, a giant man-mountain with a robotic arm whose sprite size is easy three times a normal person's. The clouds of dust that appear at his feet when running at full speed are an amusing touch, as well.Locations are equally varied, with the cities of each major civilization getting a unique architectural style and atmosphere: Alistel is cold, high-tech and vaguely dystopian while Granorg looks like a colorful medieval European castle town.
Text and Translation:
Text and dialog is easy to read and functional. I was only drawn out of the story on a few occasions, usually when Stocke or another character would get angry, and would say something using modern slang, which was anachronistic and seemed almost out of character. However, I can only recall two such moments. Aside from that, I caught a single typo on the timeline where Stocke was spelled without the 'e'. In a story where dialogue and textual descriptions of the story are so key, it's very nice to have such a competent translation.
When a game is packaged with a CD by a named composer, you expect the music to be good, and Radiant Historia does not disappoint in this respect. During the game, the music drew me into the story, and I didn't get to enjoy the music for its own sake. Listening to the CD later, I did recall some of the tracks, and was impressed by how timeless they sounded. While I could recall specific scenes when hearing the pieces, it's almost as though these songs would have fit in with the soundtracks of the classics in the SNES/PSX days. My sole complaint is that after listening to the CD, and remembering the specific tracks, I could tell whenever a song was re-used. There's only one "sad memories" song, one "unexpected attack" song, and another song for "exciting chases." I'd love to have heard more variety. There is no voice acting in Radiant Historia, and sound effects are the basic sword clashes and explosions of war and combat.
It's possible to use the stylus to play Radiant Historia, but greatly slows down your speed in moving around and selecting items from the game's menus. I used the control pad and buttons exclusively to play. The game takes place on a single continent, and the "world map" is a map of this continent with nodes for each city, dungeon, or field location. When in a dungeon or field, the play is a bit similar to Legend of Zelda. You move around with the control pad, avoiding obstacles and fighting enemies. The fields are often broken up into smaller areas, and when you reach the end of the screen, you'll move from one area to the next. The Y button causes Stocke to slash his sword, which knocks enemies back, and sometimes will stun them. If you touch an enemy while stunned, you'll get a pre-emptive strike. Conversely, if they run and touch Stocke from behind, the enemies will get first strike. In the field, Stocke also has the ability to move blocks, plant explosives, and find hidden items, which brings a minor puzzle element to exploration. The battle system and time travel system use the typical JRPG standbys of one "yes" button and one "no" or "back" button to navigate through menus. You select the options you wish to take, and confirm them. Nothing new, but it's a system that works.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While Chrono Trigger is one of the most fondly remembered RPGs of past console generations, very few RPGs make use of its fun and innovative time travel mechanic. Even SquareEnix itself abandoned the franchise after Chrono Cross, a game which focused on travel between two parallel dimensions rather than travel through time. Perhaps this is due to a fear among developers of having their game compared to Chrono Trigger, and having it come up short. As Radiant Historia is a JRPG concerned with traveling through time, the comparison is bound to come up: Is Radiant Historia the heir to the Chrono Trigger line? I would argue no, but it's not a weaker game for it. While it lacks the colorful world and friendly cast brought to life by SquareSoft and Akira Toriyama, it excels in its own right by combining an engaging battle system, a sorely-missed time travel mechanic, and a large cast and continent riven with political intrigue. Consider it a successor to Suikoden, a series without the broad appeal of Chrono Trigger, but with a no less devoted fanbase. Fans of Suikoden's world building and innovative Trinity Sight system will feel immediately at home in Radiant Historia's world.
You play as Stocke, a level headed and angst-free Special Intelligence agent for the Kingdom of Alistel. Though his choice of words and sad eyes bespeak a tragic past, Stocke is skilled at carrying out orders for his Kingdom in a seemingly endless war against the Kingdom of Granorg. Stocke's superior entrusts him with a tome called the White Chronicle, and charges him with escorting a spy carrying intelligence on Granorg's defenses. The escort mission is a failure: Granorg was apparently tipped off about the plan. The spy is killed, as is Stocke's entourage. As Stocke, gravely wounded, attempts to escape, the White Chronicle activates, and Stocke is transported to Historia, the nexus of time itself. Historia's guardians reveal little, except to tell Stocke that he is responsible for saving the world, and the White Chronicle, and its powers to travel through time, are the tools Stocke needs to accomplish his mission.
Now, with a second chance, the escort mission is pulled off without a hitch, and Stocke and his entourage return to Alistel victorious. Once there, Stocke is approached by his friend, a soldier named Rosch, who offers him a position in the military. This creates a "node" in time, that splits into two parallel time lines: Stocke can stay with Special Intelligence and work undercover in Granorg to overthrow the regime, or he can join the military and fight Granorg's troops on the front line. This isn't a choice to agonize over: You'll need to work in both timelines, passing items and information back and forth between these parallel worlds, in order to succeed in your quest to uncover the "true history" and save the world from ruin.
Radiant Historia fits in the standard JRPG mold of towns, dungeons with bosses, leveling, shopping for items, and so on. Its two key systems are those described on the box: Time travel, and its grid battle system. It's these features that make the game, so this review will focus on these elements.
Time travel is accomplished by way of the timeline. At save points and on the world map, you can return to Historia, and there access the timeline screen. The timeline forks at Stocke's decision to join Rosch or stay with SpecInt, and extends forward into parallel paths that only roughly mirror each other. Most of the timeline is made up of text descriptions of what has happened, but the most important items are called nodes. Nodes allow you to return to specific points in time, usually where a critical decision is made.
Luckily for the player, levels and inventory items are not reset to the state they were at when the path was reached. Unfortunately, however, all dialogue and story sequences are reset. You can skip by then by pressing the start button, but it can still be a nuisance to have to press start several times to skip an elaborate cutscene. When moving to a node, movement on the map and party selection is restricted to the area and other characters you knew at the time: No other characters besides Stocke may travel in time. The other unfortunate limitation of time travel is that no other critical decision Stocke makes ever has the impact of his first. When faced with any dilemma, no additional parallel timelines will appear. There will always be a right and wrong answer. If the wrong answer is selected, the world is doomed, and you'll be treated to a "bad end" cutscene before being allowed to make the correct decision. These "bad end" scenarios do help to flesh out the world and story, but sometimes they can be a bit ridiculous. Some very trivial decisions end up having the power to destroy the world. Getting these bad endings is crucial to getting 100% of the timeline unlocked, and there's no penalty to getting the wrong answer, but I can't help but feel it's a bit of a missed opportunity. A few more timeline branches might have enriched the story. With all this said, however, time travel is still as fun as it always was. Going back in time to prevent disaster and save lives is always rewarding.
The battle system in an RPG is important, as no matter how interesting the story may be, you're still going to be spending hours in combat. I'm happy to report that Radiant Historia's battle system works very well. The key to success in battle is pulling off successful combos, and there are two ways to set them up. First, there's the grid system. Stocke and his party has special abilities to knock enemies around a 3x3 grid. You can knock enemies back, right, left, and pull then forward. In this way, enemies can be grouped together so that a single attack hits several enemies at once. Second, there's the turn system. The party and enemies have their next 10 turns listed on the top screen. Any character has the option of switching turns with any other party member or enemy. Doing this puts the character at risk: His or her sprite turns red, and he or she becomes more susceptible to attack. However, the rewards may be worth the risk. If you can string together several attacks in a row, knocking all of the enemies into a single space, and delivering blow after blow, the damage you inflict will increase, as will the experience you collect at the end of combat. Each battle can be thought of as a miniature puzzle, where you must figure out the most effective way to deal the most damage to the most enemies.
The system's not without its flaws, however. While boss battles and other major fights require strategy, battles with common foes can get pretty tedious near the end. There's no way to skip combat animations, though thankfully enemies will attack all at once. Additionally, the attacks to knock enemies around all require MP. If you're trying to conserve MP for an upcoming boss, you may just end up fighting enemies one at a time, which can be slow and boring. Late in the game, you do get the ability to sneak by foes, and by the end, I avoided most battles.
Radiant Historia is an enjoyable 40-50 hour RPG in the mold of Suikoden. It's great to see another JRPG use Time Travel as a game component, as the idea hasn't really been used since Chrono Trigger. The plot has enjoyable twists, and although it's not free of JRPG conventions (sneaking into a castle via the sewers again!?), it ties together into a satisfying ending with a simple poetry to it. With the 3DS nearly upon us, and Dragon Age II coming out this month, it's likely to be overlooked, which is a terrible shame. I was compelled to play through and get 100% of the content, which speaks both to the strength of its gameplay and its reasonable difficulty level. I recommend it highly, and quite frankly miss it already.
Mania Grade: A-
Released By: Atlus