Radiant Historia is Atlus’ latest role-playing game for the Nintendo DS. This time traveling adventure about the world’s grim future, a raging war for power, and the journey to set history on its true path, takes from the RPGs of the past and puts a new spin on them. The result is a deeply engaging story with fun and creative gameplay that may prove to stand the test of time.
The game takes place on the continent of Vaingueur. The continent is slowly becoming engulfed by sand and, as this “desertification” continues to spread, inhabitable land is becoming scarcer. Due to this, the western kingdom of Granorg is looking to seize what viable land is left for itself, and it has it’s eyes set on the eastern nation of Alistel. You take on the role of Stocke, a member of Alistel’s Special Intelligence Agency, who eventually comes into the possession of a book called the White Chronicle. Using this book, he gains the ability to travel through time, but is tasked by the book’s two overseers with the goal of preventing the world’s eventual destruction and keeping history from going astray.
The main draw of the game is its focus time travel, and the time traveling mechanic is very well implemented. At the end of the game’s prologue, the player will have to make an important decision, and from there the game is split into two parallel timelines, one for each choice. While these two timelines are separate, they can directly affect each other. There will be times when you will have to travel to the other timeline in order to progress through the story of the current one. Let me provide an example. In one timeline, the entrance to the mines the party planned to travel through was blocked by a huge amount of rubble. The merchant who was scheduled to bring explosives to clear the way never arrived. To figure out what happened and try to fix the situation, I had to travel to the other timeline and search for the merchant there.
Thankfully time traveling is made easy due to a progressive chart that lists all the events that have occurred so far in the game, as well as all the side quests taken. Only certain events that are marked as nodes can be traveled to freely. I have to admit that traveling through time is quite satisfying, especially when undertaking the game’s many side quests. I rather enjoyed figuring out the who, where, and when required to continue the story or complete some of these quests. And when you reach a point in the story where you can no longer advance, the overseers of the Chronicle give you hints about the actions you need to take. This, coupled with the fact that every event and side quest on the chart has a synopsis that is constantly updated, made it easy to progress the plot and keep track of everything going on. And the feature to quickly scroll through text by holding the X button, or skip scenes altogether by pressing start, helped keep traveling to previous nodes from being monotonous.
As far as the story goes, this wouldn’t be the first game covering themes such as war, politics, prejudice, and saving the world. At first glance, the story seems like more of what we’ve seen in past role-playing games. However, later on the story really becomes its own. The narrative is great and it isn’t hard to see that a lot of work had to go into making a story heavily involving time travel to turn out this well. Further complimenting this is the cast of characters in the game. The main cast is quite likable, but Stocke is one of the best protagonists I’ve seen in a very long time. I worried he might be a one dimensional character whose archetype has been used time and time again, but I quickly learned that I couldn’t be further from the truth. Just like the story, there is much more to the character than originally meets the eye.
The gameplay mixes traditional RPG elements with a few new twists that help keep fights interesting and engaging. Battles are turn-based, but strategy plays a big factor. One of the first things the player may notice in battle is that enemies are placed on a 3×3 grid. The closer enemies are to your characters, the more physical damage they will deal and take. Now, the interesting thing about enemy placement is that characters have moves that can actually shift the enemy’s position on the battle field. Party members learn skills that will push, pull, and slide enemies around the grid. By moving enemies into the same spot, an attack that normally only hits one enemy would now hit all enemies currently on that panel. Some characters specialize more in enemy positioning, while others party members focus on spells and area of effect attacks. Every member of your party is useful though, which is something that pleasantly surprised me.
Also, as you can see in the picture above, you are able to see the order of the next ten turns at any time during battle. While this helps you plan ahead, the real fun part is that you can actually change the turn order at will. Your currently active character can swap places with any ally or enemy within those turns. This comes at a price however, since that same character will have reduced defense until he or she does an action. But by cleverly using this mechanic, it’s easy to set up long strings of combos between your party members, and that’s another focus of Radiant Historia’s battle system. Combos raise the amount of damage done for each successive attack and extra experience points are given based on the length of the combos performed, so setting up a long chain of attacks can have a huge payoff and help change the tide of battle. And when the difficulty picks up, you’ll need to use all the tools at your disposal if you want to survive. Once I got hang of the battle system, I found myself constantly switching turns, performing combos, and never getting tired of it.
Of course, what helped bring together all of the elements previously mentioned is Radiant Historia’s amazing soundtrack, composed by Yoko Shimomura. Shimomura has composed music for games such as Legend of Mana, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Kingdom Hearts, and Parasite Eve. If you’re a fan of Shimomura’s work then you’ll feel right at home, and if you’re not a fan, this game will make you one. Battle themes are exciting and intense, while the songs played during the more emotional scenes are chillingly beautiful and really evoke the desired feelings. The music compliments the game so well that I truly felt immersed in its world.
Now, while I’ve been mostly praising the game, I do have to mention a few things that I wasn’t too thrilled about. As I mentioned earlier, there are points in the story where you can no longer proceed further until you visit the parallel timeline. I enjoyed this aspect in general, but there were times I would be really absorbed in one path’s story just to hit a roadblock and have to continue the other timeline instead. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but once in awhile this came along as a mood breaker. Also, the game puts you in many situations in which you’ll have to make crucial choices. I was excited for these moments until I realized that, for the most part, there was usually one right answer and one wrong one. Selecting the correct answer will put you on route to advance the plot, while selecting the wrong answer would give you an abrupt bad ending. I have to admit that I was disappointed at first about this, but with all the difficulties that come with trying to make a successful time traveling story, I understand not wanting to make it too convoluted. I actually came to enjoy watching some of the bad endings just to see how they played out, even though they could have been a little more fleshed out instead of just a few sentences detailing the events.
Overall, Radiant Historia is an amazing game that keeps many traditional RPG elements and makes them feel fresh again. The combination of the beautiful 2D sprites and 3D world looks great and remind me of some RPGs from the past. How appropriate that a game based on time could feel so nostalgic. The main story will last about 35-40 hours, and if you aim to do many side quests you’ll find yourself tacking on even more time. Some side quests actually add extra ending scenes to the finale and lead to the true ending. This is easily one of my top DS role-playing games of all time, if not my favorite. If you’re looking for a new RPG to play on your DS, and don’t mind the very few issues I had with the game, then I wholeheartedly recommend Radiant Historia. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this way about a Japanese RPG, and this is the kind of quality that we need to see more of.