As a big fan of JRPGs, when I picked up a copy of Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology and did a little research, I was surprised to find that the original had gone completely under my radar.
Thankfully, Radiant Historia has been re-released with some upgrades and a little more fanfare in the hopes of adding to its existing dedicated fan base. It certainly isn't your stereotypical JRPG storyline of a troublesome young man saving the world from a bad guy with his unlikely pals. This tale is almost relentlessly political and serious, bouncing between different characters that are dealing with a major "natural" disaster (desertification) and the outbreak of war at the same time. The land of Vainqueur is slowly becoming engulfed in sand and the nation of Alistel believes the realm of Granorg is to blame. Combine this with some maniacal leaders that let power get to their heads and you've got a recipe for a deeply entertaining storyline with many twists, turns, and surprises along the way.
You play as Stocke, a spy from Alistel who very quickly becomes seriously involved with the political arguments between the two big nations. At first, his heart belongs to his home town but as the story unfolds, he starts to see how the potential complete desertification of the continent is much more worrying than any man-made fight between people.
An interesting cast accompanies him along the way, each with their own weapons, skills, and styles of fighting. Stocke carries a traditional sword, Raynie wields a spear that can inflict poison with high success, Aht can set traps and use magical healing spells, and Gafka is a giant ape with fists that deal heavy damage. These are just a few of the many characters that will join your cause. However, some characters feel a little useless such as Eruca, someone whose gun skills prove to be weak and she doesn't excel at healing or magic either.
Meet the director: Mitsuru Hirata
Radiant Historia was co-directed by Mitsuru Hirata who also directed my personal favourite JRPG of all time: Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE. For more on the highly underrated modern day masterpiece, read my full Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE Review.
Visually, Radiant Historia excels only in the character art and some of the sprites and you can tell the character art was redone for Perfect Chronology. Otherwise, the landscapes and towns leave much to be desired as you'll feel constantly reminded that you're playing a DS game. The voice acting is great but the sound effects from some enemies are downright laughable. It just sounds like a static, muffled scream when some of them die. It comes across as unpolished and although the visuals and audio aren't great, Radiant Historia manages to maintain a constant urgent atmosphere while throwing in a little joke to lighten things up every now and then.
Two elements of gameplay in Radiant Historia are quite unique for the genre. The first being the time travel system. Stocke wields the White Chronicle which allows him to travel back and forth in time along two journey lines with an additional third available only in this Perfect Chronology remake. In order to continue the story, you'll often have to switch to an alternative timeline and complete a task, gain a skill, or obtain an item to unlock the next chapter in the other history. Most of the time, this is very rewarding and seeing as it's required in order to complete the story, it comes across as an integral and unique feature and not just tacked on.
That being said, I occasionally found myself confused about what to do next. Characters and hints would sometimes be too vague so I'd have to go back and read notes on the storyline over and over to figure out where I needed to go and who to talk to.
The second unique element in Radiant Historia is the grid system in battle. Players are placed in a column of three and the enemies stand in front of them on a 3-by-3 grid. Enemies in the back do less damage but you'll also do less damage to them. Each character can move an enemy in a certain direction (back, forward, left, right, or up). If you chain these skills, you can move multiple enemies all into one square, causing any subsequent damage to that square to hit all enemies occupying it at once. This is quite a powerful ability and requires careful planning. The fact that you can also swap the order of characters' turns allows you to further strategize and considering Aht can set traps on certain tiles, you'll often find yourself trying to concoct the perfect combo to do maximum damage.
This Perfect Chronology release has some new features, the biggest of which being a third optional storyline that follows characters into a complementary scenario and doesn't alter the original's two storylines. Additionally, there's a bonus dungeon that unlocks new areas as you progress through the story. The dungeon itself is pretty lame but it's nice to take a break from the war and just focus on grinding. You also unlock new weapons and other items that can only be purchased with points earned when fighting in the dungeon itself. Another new feature is the support system where characters in reserve will randomly attack. This was quite useful on occasion and made me put thought into who I should keep in reserve as they may have support skills more useful than their regular attacks.
Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is a massive RPG for a handheld console with a serious and involving story that'll keep you hooked as you travel back and forth in time to unlock each new event only to finally reach the plot's satisfying climax.
- + Engrossing political story
- + Unique time travel mechanic
- + Entertaining and rewarding battle system that requires careful strategy
- - It's sometimes easy to get lost in the timeline
- - Dated visuals and sound effects leave much to be desired