Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology


Sliding Doors: The RPG

The year 1998 saw the release of the romantic comedy-drama film Sliding Doors, which depicts two parallel timelines depending upon whether or not the protagonist catches a train, later an inspiration for the bowling episode of Malcolm in the Middle. A few years over a score later did the Nintendo DS RPG Radiant Historia release, whose narrative has a similar concept, along with time-travel elements akin to the ballyhooed Chrono Trigger. Several years later did it receive an upgraded port to the 3DS entitled Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, which adds significant new story content, and proves overall a solid rerelease.

Upon starting a new game, the player can select a mode that dictates how it handles the new narrative content, depending upon whether one is familiar with the DS version. Probably the most significant addition is the Friendly mode, which is undoubtedly one of the best casual modes in the history of Japanese RPGs. Enemies are visible on fields and in dungeons, with protagonist Stocke able to slash them to get the advantage in combat, although on Friendly mode, the enemy dies right away and rewards the player with money and experience for occasional level-ups, which will happen quite frequently, and the need to grind is minimal.

The actual battle system itself isn’t half-bad. A party consisting of Stocke and two characters participates in a turn-based engine against a set of enemies arranged on a three-by-three grid, with the uniqueness that the player’s characters aren’t on a grid of any sort. A turn order meter shows who takes their turns when, with all the player’s characters and the enemy typically taking their turns together. The player inputs commands for all the characters that can attack before the enemies can do so, with commands including attacking with equipped weapons, using MP-consuming skills, using consumable items, exchanging turn order with another ally with a slight penalty, or attempt to escape.

Regarding the enemy grid, certain skills can push enemies in one of four directions across it, with the perpetual strategy of “bunching up” foes so that character skills can affect them all at once, with combat tracking the number of hits the player’s characters have executed. Character execution of commands flows fluidly, with the aforementioned tactic making fights go by more quickly, characters in some cases executing their orders simultaneously (particularly when it comes to standard attacks). Enemies tend to accomplish the same once they reach their turns, and sometimes they may move across their grid, rarely assembling into formations that can grant them benefits.

There are times during execution of the characters’ skills when allies not in the party may contribute a support command, and mercifully, all PCs have their strong suits and are far from benchable. Whilst the player’s characters attack the enemy, the game tracks the number of hits on an enemy or enemy, with alleged additional damage with a higher number of hits (which is in fact necessary to beat the absolute final boss, so definitely don’t rule out use of combos). When the player emerges victorious within a standard battle, Perfect Chronology grants the typical JRPG rewards of experience for sporadic level-ups, money, and the occasional item (which one character can also steal from foes).

The battle system definitely works well, with the different difficulty settings very much accommodating towards players with divergent skillsets, and the Friendly mode making it easier to experience the narrative. The player is further able to jump back to viewed events, so the game is beatable regardless of whatever situation in which the player may find himself or herself, and the save system is more than generous, with very frequent opportunities within the space of a few minutes, sometimes even less, so if the player happens to die, wasted playtime is minimal. Probably the only real issue with combat is that the player’s characters, if an enemy has completely lost its HP, still keep attacking it, with no transferal of their commands to other foes. Regardless, the game mechanics very much shine.

The rerelease for the most part interacts well with players, with easy menus, shopping that allows them to see how equipment will increase or decrease character stats, the generous save system with added suspend save feature, a menu indicator of the next objective, a dot-connected overworld where the player can skip past visited areas in later chapters, mostly-skippable voiced text, and the ability to skip cutscenes entirely once the player has viewed them once. Pretty much the biggest issue is the poor direction at many times on how to advance the central storyline, and I actually found myself dependent upon a guide to get to the ending credits. Regardless, control serves the game well.

The narrative does as well, focusing on an agent named Stocke who must ponder a key decision that results in two parallel timelines. Several allies assist him in both periods, all having some kind of story behind them, as does the world in which the game occurs, with desertification a major theme. There are also a number of good twists, not to mention multiple “bad” endings where the player has to revisit the point before the critical decision and choose the “right” one. Given the ability to skip through the dialogue in case players would rather read it than listen to the voicework, the plot doesn’t feel forced down the player’s throat, although there are some derivative elements such as an evil queen and dying world. Regardless, the plotline is worthwhile, and a largely-spotless translation very much helps.

The aurals aid the game well too, with composer Yoko Shimomura, as always, doing a fantastic job with the soundtrack, the beautiful J-pop tune “Falling Flower, Flowing Water” accompanying the introductory anime cutscene. The enigmatic title screen theme foreshadows the mysterious disposition of the plot, and town themes such as that in Granorg really stand out. The voice acting is also largely good, and mercifully not forced down the player’s throat given the ability to skip most dialogue, although there are some minor annoying voices, mostly NPCs. There’s also an issue with the audio warbling at times, but otherwise, Perfect Chronology is easy on the ears.

The rerelease is easy on the eyes as well, like the original DS version utilizing a visual style with three-dimensional scenery and two-dimensional character sprites, although it lamentably doesn’t use the 3DS’s 3-D capabilities. Regardless, the graphics still have plenty going for them, such as the pleasant color scene, the believable scenery, and the character sprites looking like their portraits (with the port sporting new designs, although the original art and chibi-style designs are available via DLC), although some of the sprites within and without battle are reskins. There’s also a lack of shadows for the sprites and some jaggies, but otherwise, Perfect Chronology is more than visually competent.

Getting to the ending credits necessitates around a day’s worth of playtime, although there are plenty sidequests and temporal nodes to discover that really enhance lasting appeal, alongside a New Game+ and the aforementioned multiple difficulty settings.

Overall, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is an ideal enhanced port that makes a great game better, given its positives such as engaging mechanics with an inventive casual mode, tight control, a well-written narrative and polished localization, an excellent soundtrack, pretty visuals, and plentiful lasting appeal. One, however, probably won’t fully appreciate the game by going into it blind without a guide, and there are admittedly some issues with regards to the plot’s derivative elements, the technical hiccups with the aurals, and certain aspects of the visuals. Regardless, I definitely don’t regret experiencing this port, and consider it one of the highlights of my videogaming career.

This review is based on a playthrough on Perfect mode and Friendly difficulty.

The Good:
+Superb game mechanics with one of the best-ever casual modes.
+Mostly-tight control.
+Well-written narrative and dialogue.
+Excellent music.
+Great art direction.
+Plenty reasons to come back for more.

The Bad:
-Guide necessary to get most out of game.
-Story has derivative elements.
-Some technical hiccups with aurals.
-Visuals could have used more polish at points.

The Bottom Line:
A crowning achievement among Japanese RPGs.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Mechanics: 9.5/10
Controls: 9.0/10
Story: 9.0/10
Localization: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 8.5/10
Graphics: 8.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 9.5/10

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