Sunday, October 13, 2013

Game Review: Radiant Historia

RPG; Nintendo DS; Atlus; 2011
Not much has changed since last week, other than the fact that I'm still a little overwhelmed by all the things I have to do over the course of this month. Anyway, it's time for the first Video Game review in a while. If you are wondering when I'm going to do my Shining Force III Scenario 3 review, that will come when I beat the game. When am I going to beat the game? Well, I beat it as soon as-OH Look a butterfly, let's forget this entire conversation. Anyway, this week is an obscure goody called Radiant Historia.

And somewhere, Kefka is complaining about the sand on his boots.
The war between the nations of Alistel and Granorg has gone on for a long time, and the root of this conflict is the lack of resources caused by the desertification of the continent. Stocke, a member of Alistel's Special Intelligence unit "Specint," is sent on a mission to escort a spy from Granorg territory. However, as soon as he makes contact, the spy is assassinated and Stocke's team is ambushed leaving Stocke the only survivor and gravely injured. However, when Stocke awakens he is in the nexus of time, Historia, where he gains the power of the White Chronicle and a chance to change history. Stocke goes back in time and saves his contact and his friends from the enemy ambush. Now Stocke learns that the world is teetering on the brick of annihilation, and only he has the power to change history and set the world on the right path towards it's true history.

The story, as a whole, is REALLY good. It is full of political intrigue, mystery, sharp writing, and likeable character. It's also well done in regards to the split timeline concept, and the time travel aspect not only works well in the story but also in gameplay. The only issues it has is that the idea of the two timelines influencing each other is very poorly explained and the ultimate unveiling of the main antagonist is a plot twist that can be seen a mile away by anyone who is paying attention. But overall, it is a really good and fascinating story.

Video Game logic: It is only raining when the plot says so.
Radiant Historia is a standard, Turn-based RPG with one major trick up it's sleeve, Time Travel. However, unlike the time travel mechanic found in Chrono Trigger, where the player is jumping around several different eras, Radiant Historia's time travel is traveling to different points in the story and changing things there. Every time an event occurs, it is added to the timeline and certain events can be time traveled from any save point in the game. Most times these key points that you can warp to are points where Stocke has to make a decision that will either lead the world to the true history or will ultimately result in the demise of all life. Often times are stopped in one timeline and cannot continue until you pass a certain point in the other timeline. It is a very interesting mechanic that changes how you play the game, especially since throughout the game you will be unable to explore the world map and enter previous areas due to story reasons, which can be counter acted by going back in time, and nearly all side quests require some form of time travel in order to complete. Outside of this mechanic, Radiant Historia is your standard RPG with it's only other trick being it's battle system. While battles are turn base with a turn order table occupying the top screen, Radiant Historia does three things different. First, is the ability to combo your attacks. If you have multiple characters acting next to each other, you will input commands for all of them and then if they are attacking the same enemy you will do extra damage and gain more EXP and Gold at the end of battle. Second, is the ability to move enemies about the battlefield. The enemies occupy a 3x3 grid area that you can knock enemies around, the advantage is that certain attacks only hit in certain areas, and that if you hit enemies into each other, you will hit both enemies on subsequent attacks. And finally, which makes the first two mechanics work, is the ability to change the turn order. Every character can exchange his or her turn for another character or even for an enemy's turn, this allows you to stack up multiple turns in a row for massive combos. The downside to this is that enemies will act first, and if a character switches turns, that character will receive more damage until his next action. These changes makes battles more interesting and thought provoking, or at least that is what's promised.

Why can't I target areas OTHER than these ones?
Radiant Historia isn't perfect. Some of the more nit picky problems it has is it's overall presentation. I have nothing against 2D sprites, that's not really my problem with the game's presentation, my problem is that the sound effects, especially during battles, are kind of lackluster. I really don't feel any kind of impact or power behind a lot of the attacks. During cutscenes, there is several times where the game resorts more towards telling me what is happening rather than showing it. Like any time there is a major battle going on between Alistel and Granorg, you only see a handful of troops in very narrow areas standing across one-n-other. Another time, a major city is burning but all that is shown to convey this is a  single smoke effect scrolling on top of the screen. However, those are small presentation issues, Radiant Historia's more major problems, starting with battles. They are very unbalanced. Towards the beginning of the game enemies don't do that much damage, even after you have swapped the turn order, this pretty much allows you to rack up as big a combo as you can possibly muster with very little risk. Character's overall damage output is also very wonky, with super attacks sometimes not dealing that much more damage then regular skills, one character can attack and deal 14 points of damage while another character, same level, deals over 150 points of damage. Some characters only join you in one timeline, but since experience is carried over whenever you time travel, those characters remain at say level 20 while Stocke and everyone else jumps up to level 45. And finally, towards the end of the game several characters are completely useless while others are insanely overpowered. Why do I need any attack that can move enemies across the battle field when one party member gets an attack that gathers then all in one spot anyway? And lastly, the time travel mechanic. It is a very good idea, that can lead to a lot of interesting gameplay moments, but so much of it is underutilized. Whenever you come across a decision point, instead of thinking hard about it, following your choice for awhile, and then discover that you are in an unwinnable situation, instead if you choose wrong at any decision point the game will just skip to the ending of that timeline with something like "That decision cost them the war and the future was doomed." EVERY decision outside of the one that splits the timelines does this, there is only one correct choice and if you choose wrong you just get an epilogue and thrown right back, turning this interesting into nothing more than a completest's dream. There is no going down a doomed timeline so that you can get an item, or information to assist you in the true timeline. There is no experiencing the hopelessness of the situation that you forced yourself into. Just a single scene, a narration, and Try Again. It's such a shame too.

Now, don't let my long list of everything this game does poorly lead you in thinking that I hated Radiant Historia. I don't hate the game. It is a very fun game with a lot of ideas and potential. Unfortunately, a lot of that potential is untapped. If there is ever a sequel to the game, there is a lot of ground for improvement and I will welcome it if it ever makes good on that untapped potential. But as is, it is a very good, albeit flawed, RPG for the DS. It is Recommended.

Until Next time

-Crescent, why do all of these ethereal constructs of time have corporal objects inside them?

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