Radiant Historia (DS Review) by Carl B.
System: Nintendo DS
Release: February 22, 2011
February 27, 2011, by Carl B. - Time travel in video games is something that hasn't been done often enough, but thankfully when it has been incorporated into games, it's been done very well. Titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask used time travel, but there has been one game to use the idea well enough in its story and gameplay mechanics to make it a masterpiece: Chrono Trigger. Released on the Super NES in 1995 and developed by Squaresoft (now known as Square-Enix), Chrono Trigger was considered a revolutionary RPG due to its ambitious time travel mechanic. In Chrono Trigger, players travel in time through several different time periods in order to stop an evil demon from conquering the world. These time periods range from the B.C. era all the way to the future, and almost everything in between. Radiant Historia, an RPG exclusive to the DS by Atlus, has taken a page from Chrono Trigger's time travel mechanic, only in a far more ambitious way. Does Radiant Historia live up to the greatness of its inspiration, or is it too ambitious for its own good?
Radiant Historia takes place in a medieval world where two warring countries, Alistel and Granorg, threaten the future of mankind. Stocke, a Special Intelligence Agent (or Specint for short) of Alistel is sent on a covert operation to rescue an intel-operative from enemy territory. However, when he and his subordinates rescue their ally and attempt to escape back to Alistel, they are ambushed and the operative is killed. Stocke and his small team find themselves trapped once again when they're faced with a blockade to the south and a group of Granorg soldiers to the north. They try to break their way through, but Stocke and the members of his small task force are killed. Stocke awakens in the land of Historia, where two imp-looking beings bestow him with the White Chronicle, a mysterious book that grants the user the power to travel through time, and the ultimate objective of shaping history into one where Granorg does not control the world.
Visually, Atlus' latest RPG makes great use of the power available on Nintendo's handheld. The world is large and varied, complete with multiple desert regions, forests, and cities. Radiant Historia features a great looking art style, as every character in the game has some dark shading – it's a refreshing change of pace from the Anime styled characters in most RPGs. Yoko Shimomura, of Kingdom Hearts fame, put together a fantastic soundtrack for the game, which features a wonderful battle and "despair" track. Sadly, there are only a handful of different tunes in the game so they may grow old after the first eight to ten hours of the adventure.
The story progression of Radiant Historia is somewhere between linear and free to the player. Stocke takes on various missions that lead him to different parts of the game's vast world, but the entire world itself is never fully open to the player. Radiant Historia doesn't make use of the traditional world map, either, as players just select what destination they want to go to and Stocke will travel there. Most of the game takes place on the field map where players control Stocke's movements around the game's varied environments. Stocke can perform several different actions on the field, including interacting with non-player characters, finding treasure, and executing field abilities. These field abilities include Strike and Vanish, among others. Strike lets Stocke swing his sword on the field, thus destroying obstacles and stunning enemies – Radiant Historia doesn't use random battles, so players can use the Strike ability to stun enemies and launch a pre-emptive attack. Vanish is an ability that uses Stocke's magic reserves and allows him to disappear for a short period of time. Where Radiant Historia opens up to players is in the time travel mechanic, which is far more flushed out than what was seen in Chrono Trigger. There are two parallel timelines in the game: the Standard Timeline, where Stocke is a Specint Agent, and the Alternate Timeline, where Stocke leaves Specint to join an army brigade headed by his longtime friend, Rosch. Each major event in each timeline is kept track of in the White Chronicle and is displayed in a very user friendly way for players. Special events in the game, known as nodes, are places in each timeline where Stocke is able to travel back (or sometimes forward) to. Nodes typically appear when a history altering decision is about to be made, thus sending that particular timeline into yet another branch or even enabling Granorg to conquer Alistel. There are 236 total events in the game, although not every one of them is a node.
What makes the time travel mechanic in Radiant Historia so well implemented is that the two timelines affect each other. Early in the Alternate Timeline, Stocke assists the military in a battle with Granorg in a mine. A section of the mine is blocked off by rubble, so the army is waiting for a merchant with explosives to arrive. A node appears, and players can either wait for the enemies to attack and try to ambush them – which ultimately fails and results in the destruction of Alistel – or they can send scouts to find the merchant, which reveals that he has been killed by Granorg soldiers. Stocke must then travel to the Standard Timeline and take on a Specint mission where he inadvertently saves the merchant's life, allowing the explosives to be shipped in the Alternate Timeline.
There are a ton of different instances of this in Radiant Historia, and they get very extreme later in the game. The story also gets really intense about eight hours into the experience, since things sort of go to hell in the Alternate Timeline and Stocke discovers government conspiracies in the Standard Timeline. Since players will be re-playing some parts of the game due to all the time travel, Atlus has included a skip function that lets players skip over entire dialog and cut scene portions with a press of the start button.
As mentioned earlier, Radiant Historia ditches random battles for a more modern approach. Enemies are visible during field portions of the game and can be avoided completely if players so choose. Contrary to JRPGs such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, Radiant Historia doesn't require much level grinding at all, so players can put their focus on the game's fantastic story. Combat itself feels incredibly fresh and fluid in Radiant Historia. Players can have a number of different characters in their party at a time, but only three can be used in battle. There can be up to nine enemies in a single battle, and they use what is known as the "Grid System," an arrangement of nine panels that enemies can move to and from. Enemies that are in the front three rows do more damage to the player's party but are more prone to damage themselves, while enemies in the back do and take less damage. They can also form different formations where they can pull off more powerful attacks. Luckily, Stocke and his companions have skills that can move enemies into a different spot on the grid when they are hit.
Battles are turn-based, but there's a much more intuitive progression to them than the ATB found in modern RPGs. The top screen displays a list of when each character and enemy will be attacking, allowing players to plan out combo attacks with their party to maximize damage on groups of enemies. Characters also gain the typical skills as they level up, which include different types of magic and melee attacks, as well as different "Mana Burst" techniques that can break an enemy's turn panel.
Radiant Historia is a 35-plus hour long adventure, but it never overstays its welcome thanks to an engaging story. Multiple game endings are also available, but players can travel back to different nodes if they want to attempt to unlock another ending.
14/15 - A fantastic soundtrack composed by Yoko Shimomura. It's a shame that there are only a handful of tracks.
20/20 - Great visuals and an even better art style make Radiant Historia one of the best looking games on DS.
23/25 - The story is rich and engaging thanks to intuitive time travel mechanics, along with plenty of twists in the over 35 hour adventure. A rather confined world compared to RPGs such as Final Fantasy is a bummer.
38/40 - Time travel is incorporated better than any video game currently available. A fresh take on combat and no random battles makes the game even more enjoyable.
95/100 - Radiant Historia has all the makings of a great RPG, but the intuitive time travel mechanics not found in any other game make it an absolutely fantastic experience.