Radiant Historia Review
Developer: Atlus / Publisher: Atlus / ESRB: Everyone 10+ (Fantasy Violence, Language, Use of Alcohol) / Played on: DS / Price: $34.99
“Ugh, I don’t know what to do! Should I side with my enemy in order to better understand their weaknesses but in turn doom my best friends, or should I stay with my friends and try to take on the formidable foe without any help?” Is this you? Have you faced these decisions in your RPGs? Have you stayed up to the wee hours regretting your decisions? Well fear not, chap, as you now have power over time! Well, at least in Radiant Historia, Atlus’ newest RPG for the Nintendo DS. Go from destroying the earth to being its savior in the turn of a page!
As the stoic and strong Stocke you are tasked with protecting your kingdom of Alistel from the invading forces of the neighboring kingdom of Granorg. Stocke is a skilled warrior, working for the special intelligence arm of the Alistel forces, and has a great number of friends and companions willing to aid him in safeguarding his home. Perhaps his greatest ally is the White Chronicle, which allows him to manipulate time and travel back to key events in history. Through the White Chronicle, Stocke gets caught up in two intertwined timelines; one is what is really supposed to happen and the other is false and causes disturbances in the true timeline. What happens in one timeline affects how the other plays out, and you need to travel between the two to allow the true timeline to [be the true course? just trying to avoid the plays out/plays out echo]. If, instead of waiting, you choose to go to the cave to find the messenger you could trigger complete annihilation for your homeland. It all adds up to an engaging story: you’re always looking for a way to save the world. The characters are fleshed out sufficiently that you genuinely care what happens to them. There are, however, quite a few instances of overly long dialogue-driven cutscenes that detract from the action. At nearly 30 hours to complete, Radiant Historia utilizes time travel and strong character development to drive the plot forward, with a few hiccups of dialogue downtime.
Radiant Historia is like any traditional RPG: your party selects its attacks and assaults the enemy followed by your foes returning the favor. It’s in how you deal out the death that sets the game apart from others in the genre. Enemies are arranged on a 3×3 grid with some taking up more than one space. Aside from physical and magical attacks, Stocke and company use special attacks that push enemies all across the board. For example, you can hit a foe to the left so they shift to that side of the board. When two or more enemies occupy the same square your attacks hit both foes, adding an element of strategy in just how you implement your attacks. On top of this, successive attacks to the same foe builds a combo meter that grants more damage in combat and extra experience at the end of the encounter. Figuring out the best attacks to use and when really keeps you on your toes and ensures every fight remains fresh. Eliminating an entire enemy squad in a few successive moves before you suffer any damage is highly satisfying. As you level up your characters learn new combat skills and abilities like elemental attacks and massive damage-dealing sword swings.
Much of the game involves you traveling between the timelines, reliving events for the second, third, and sometimes fourth time. The time traveling theme works well, borrowing cues from Chrono Trigger. While using the White Chronicle you can travel back to key events in each timeline (usually designated by important decisions that you made) to make the right call or remove the problem that is causing a disturbance in the other timeline. So that means backtracking. The world isn’t that large, but because you’re running through the same areas over and over, fighting the same enemies again and again, it creates the illusion of a grander setting. Fortunately you can skip over the text you’ll reread and you can completely avoid enemy encounters, but having to travel between places time and again gets repetitive. A strong story and fun battle system help to ease the pain but the sometimes boring pace holds back the stellar experience.
If you list some of the highest rated traditional RPGs of all time (Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, etc.) you’ll notice that each of them scored high marks in the sound department. Radiant Historia is no exception, delivering a superb orchestral soundtrack. Each piece sounds amazing, with violin and piano melodies adding a great deal to the atmosphere of each locale. The eerie tune playing in the mines and the powerful interpretation of investigating the Sand Castle are both fitting and memorable. As for the sound effects themselves, they’re decent. A lack of spoken voice removes some character development, leaving you to read each text box. While reading isn’t a bad thing, voice actors would have given life to the already lively characters.
A delightful sprite based graphical style reminiscent of SNES RPGs (perhaps another reference to Chrono Trigger) fits the game like a glove. The charming presentation will make anyone who has played RPGs in the 90s feel like a kid again. The small sprites are accented by more detailed character portraits displayed during conversations. Dark mines and gloomy towns all look the part, even with the retro-style graphics. Attack animations aren’t as flashy as, say, Final Fantasy VI but still capture the essence of battle. Overall Radiant Historia looks good and is an enoyable throwback to the RPGs of yesteryear.
It’s hard not to enjoy Radiant Historia. While time travel as a story centerpiece is nothing new, the clever presentation works. Additionally the fun battle system flawlessly blends strategy, risk, and reward. Some hindrances include the extended conversations and the volume of backtracking. But Radiant Historia delivers a compelling story coupled with entertaining gameplay that create a great package. RPG buffs won’t need to travel through time to see that this is a good addition to their DS library.
8 / 10