With so many games out there, it’s hard for any one title to differentiate itself from the rest without a solid gimmick. Yet all too often, games touting unique systems fail because they tend to be too gimmicky, and somehow lose the plot in the process.
Radiant Historia, which I picked up on a whim over the weekend, is one of the few rare exceptions.
In true Atlus fashion, it’s a game that boasts a strong, multi-pronged narrative – one that seamlessly integrates it’s selling point – time travel – into the mix.
This, coupled with decent characterization and fairly original (well, not so original) combat mechanics alone elevates it from the mundane to something somewhat better.
Set in a war-torn world on the brink of turning into an uninhabitable desert, you play the role of Stocke, a protagonist with (thankfully) a speaking role.
A member of Allistel’s covert intelligence unit, he is ensnared in a web of fine lies and double-crosses, and swept up in the currents of war between his own kingdom and its rival Granorg.
Expectedly, things take a turn for the worse in the prologue, and Stocke realizes that he has to use the White Chronicle – a tome that grants time travel powers – to save the day, stave off the desertification process, and get the girl (yes, it’s in there somewhere).
Time Travel in Radiant Historia lets you explore two stories – two threads of fate that you have to hop to and from on a regular basis, just to solve puzzles, learn new tricks, and generally get around to uncover the continent’s “true history”.
Mind you, the shuttling back and forth can get tedious – often, you’ll have to explore the same areas again, and scroll through walls of dialogue (thank god for the Skip option), but there are definite rewards for learning from the past.
There are events and side quests a plenty that will reward you with money and items, as well as opportunities to advance the plot.
In one scenario, you’ll have to defuse bombs rigged by the evil Granorgites in the Sand Fortress, but you’re only able to do so if you have the Mana Sight ability, which can be learned only in the standard timeline.
Later on, in order to sneak through a buncha guards, you’ll have to learn how to Vanish, which you can’t unless you’re well along the alternate history path.
Like any RPG, you’ll be spending a lot of time exploring and killing monsters. Areas are spacious and expansive, and monsters, which come in various shades determining their relative power level, are fought on a 9 x 9 square grid.
Part of the combat component is strategy – you can change the turn order of your party members, line up combos, and shift enemies around so they’re clumped up together (and can therefore be attacked all at once).
Racking up higher combos yields better experience and item drops, and needless to say, that’s going to go a long way to keeping you alive as you do the Doctor Who thing since gear’s hard to come by.
Which brings me to my next point.
I was disappointed by the fact that there aren’t a whole lot of towns to explore, or places to pick up new equipment. Gold, too, is pretty scarce unless you decide to grind it out a little.
While the stock in shops tend to change every now and then, and there are travelling merchants at key locations to help you out, it’s not always enough.
Graphically, the game’s got an old school feel to it. There’s a certain charm to seeing 90s style sprites going at each other again.
The character designs, especially their renditions in the portraits, are detailed, though somewhat run-of-the-mill. Stocke’s pretty much the blonde haired, blue eyed RPG golden boy (who also wears red!), and the others aren’t far off the mark either.
I could appreciate the effort put into creating the setting though, and overall, that, as an entity, tends to stand out more strongly than the characters do.
I’ve been rabidly ploughing through the game over the weekend, and for the most part I’m liking what I’ve seen so far.
With so many good things going for it, Radiant Historia’s turning out to be the kind of game that might actually weather the test of time.
Now, if only I had a real life White Chronicle so I can go back in time to clear up my backlog. XD