Radiant Historia

Time travel has been a part of RPG storylines for many generations, dating back to SaGa 3 (known as Final Fantasy Legend III outside Japan) on the original GameBoy, although the one RPG that perhaps made the concept famous in the genre was perhaps Chrono Trigger on the Super NES. Radiant Historia for the Nintendo DS itself features a plot where time travel is central, with its development team consisting of members that worked on titles such as recent Megami Tensei titles, the Etrian Odyssey series, and Radiata Stories. Upon its release in North America, Historia received mostly favorable reviews, and mercifully lives up to the hype.

As most any RPG should, Radiant Historia features visible enemies in dungeons and on fields, with foes attempting to charge the player’s party when they draw near. The protagonist, Stocke, can slash enemies with his sword to drive them away, sometimes putting them to sleep, in which case the player can score a premature strike against the enemy party. Enemies, however, can prematurely strike the player’s party, and if neither side surprises one another, the battle begins normally, with turn order dependent likely upon character and enemy speed.

Fortunately, a turn order meter on the top screen takes the mystery about who will take their turn when, this feature pretty much a necessity in any turn-based RPG. The player’s party of up to three active characters squares off against a certain number of enemies that appear upon a three-by-three grid, the heroes themselves being gridless. In a break from other turn-based RPGs with similar progression such as Final Fantasy X, where attacks execute immediately after input, attacks don’t execute until the player has inputted commands for all characters who have turns before an enemy takes theirs. When enemies take their turns, their attacks sometimes execute simultaneously much akin to battles in the Suikoden series.

Character commands include attacking normally, using an MP-consuming skill, defending, using an item, changing their turn with an enemy or ally (which results in a penalty of receiving more damage that lasts until that character executes their command), or attempting to escape. Many special skills can move the enemy around the battlefield, with the player able to move enemies into the same square or squares and attack them simultaneously with attacks that typically only affect one enemy, one row, or one column. As characters attacks, they chain combos together if attacking the same foe or foes, with the chain ending when a character attacks a different enemy or the enemy reaches their turn.

Winning a battle, like in most other RPGs, nets the player’s characters experience, money, and the occasional item, with fights generally moving at a quick pace, especially if the player takes advantage of the enemy’s grid to gather enemies into the same square to simultaneously slaughter them all. It’s not a game-breaking flaw, but it might have been if the player’s characters stopped attacking an enemy when they lose all their health, and the ability to swap active characters with those in reserve would have been welcome as well. However, these flaws are negligible at best, and the developers definitely deserve credit for assembling a superb battle system.

Control is largely solid as well, with few problems with the menus and shopping, and while the game largely keeps track of the player’s current objective, there are maybe a few moments where the player might have trouble finding out where in time to go next to advance the plot. Automaps are also unfortunately absent, although dungeon design is largely decent, and save points are often poorly spaced, with no quicksave feature, and the player instead needing to rely on the DS’s sleep mode if they need a break. In the end, however, interaction is definitely above average.

The time travel plot is solid as well, chiefly dealing with two parallel timelines between which the player must travel to advance through the game. There are plenty of premature bad endings stemming from players choosing the “wrong” decision of a pair typically offered at many points throughout the game. Granted, the plot tends to eschew character development in favor of the time travel aspect, although the ending is reasonably lengthy, and the story is ultimately a decent reason to play the game.

Yoko Shimomura provides the soundtrack, with plenty of decent tracks, alongside good sound effects, although there are some occasional silent cutscenes. The visual presentation is solid, with 2-D character sprites and 3-D scenery, a combination that looks nice, with vibrant colors that are never out of place, and good character artwork. Overall, both the aural and visual presentation are well above average.

Finally, the time necessary to beat the game is somewhere from twenty to forty hours, even more if the player wishes to complete the timeline, something they can accomplish post-game. In conclusion, Radiant Historia is perhaps one of the best RPGs to come out near the end of the Nintendo DS’s lifecycle, given its solid battle system, control, story, music, and graphics. It does have some minor interface issues, although these hardly detract from a superb time-travel adventure.

The Good:
+Solid battle system and control.
+Great story with multiple endings and top-notch localization.
+Superb music and graphics.

The Bad:
-Some occasional poor direction on how to advance.
-No automaps.
-Some silent scenes.

The Bottom Line:
Probably the best time travel RPG since Chrono Trigger.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo DS
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 9/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Easy
Playing Time: 20-40+ Hours

Overall: 9/10

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