‘Radiant Historia‘ was one of my favourite games on the original DS. As a lover of time travel, JRPGs and, by default, Chrono Trigger, Radiant Historia felt like a dream I’d been waiting far too long to come true.
Now, seven years after that original release, the title has received an all new version to bring it up to modern standards, lavish a bucketload of extras onto it and give the crowds of people who somehow missed this gem the first time round another chance.
Radiant Historia is gaming’s version of Sliding Doors, an exploration of cause and effect and the ripple theory. From an initial, seemingly arbitrary choice splitting the timeline in two, the world is set on a path to destruction. You play Stocke, a special intelligence agent who is thrust into the middle of all this causality. By using a book bestowed upon him known as the White Chronicle, he can leap through time and even between timelines to fix the world’s fate.
So far, so run of the mill – at least for time travel stories, that is – but Radiant Historia boasts one of the most compelling narratives both gaming and the time travel genre have seen to date. In case you couldn’t tell, I really dug it the first time round. In this port nothing much has changed, and that’s all for the better. The plot still stays admirably plot-hole free for the most part, and is an enjoyable and, more importantly, comprehendible journey throughout. Whilst there are big questions looming over the party throughout the course of the game, it never obfuscates anything needlessly to shroud these mysteries.
When you’re not feverishly clicking through the (now voiced) moments of exposition and story progression to get to some new revelation, you’ll be jumping through time to set up future events. In a genius move, Radiant Historia allows you to leap between ‘nodes’ – essentially checkpoints in time – to allow you to fix any potential roadblocks that are thrown your way. You can travel back in time to make sure NPCs get where they need to be going, for instance, so that in the future you can interact with them and move the story on.
All this time travel is a bit of a double edged sword, though. Leaping back to nodes means that throughout the game you’ll actually be interacting with the same experience multiple times, but for the most part the game is smart in how it delivers this (and what it allows you to skip). Fighting the same fight over and over again does become tiresome, however, and only players who play in Friendly mode (which I’ll talk about later) have the pleasure of skipping these repeats.
There’s a new addition to Perfect Chronology in the form of yet another alternate timeline – touted as the ‘what if’ timeline. Smartly separating itself from the main narrative, the new character, Nemesia, leads you through this world of potentials and charges you with reclaiming important artifacts from familiar events. This warped reality means that it doesn’t mess with what is a carefully balanced tower of story and, as such, doesn’t throw up any concerning plotholes. As an alternate timeline, these events benefit from having seen the originals play out – characters might act differently to what you expect or roles will be reversed, and it’s a kick for a long-time fan to interact with these otherwise throwaway moments. Luckily, new fans can either opt to have these threaded throughout the main game or enjoy them after they’ve finished their first run. It’s a smart move from a team that just seems to understand, at a core level, how time should play out – both inside the game and out.
When you’re not messing with time on a meta-level, you’ll find yourself dabbling with chronology in the game’s battle system. In a game obsessed about time, it’s kind of perfect in a wonky sort of way that the game is a turn-based, traditional JRPG. It’s strange that time-travel doesn’t play much of a role in fights – it seemed like a missed opportunity in 2010 and it still does today – or even that the game doesn’t adopt an active time battle system, but there’s enough manipulation to mix up the standard battle systems of other games. Amongst the regular, grid-based battle mechanics we’re all overly familiar with, Radiant Historia allows you to mess with tradition in fun ways. The combo system livens up every battle, allowing you to knock enemies into one another and rack up huge damage numbers.
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