After a string of PS3 releases which have been attached to some previously-released franchises (the recent yearly staples of Atelier and Neptunia titles), NIS America brings a unique, new IP to the West in the form of Time and Eternity. It was developed primarily by Japanese studio Imageepoch, who have been staying mostly in the portable space with their titles recently. The last console release coming out of them was Arc Rise Fantasia for the Wii.
Time and Eternity retains the awesome hand-drawn anime style that the company is known for, but gives us a more updated take on the RPG genre, with a unique main character, decent story progression, hilarious dialog and an intriguing battle system.
The game begins by having you enter your name. According to the game, this is the “main character”, the prince who is seemingly caught in the middle of some serious business. However, the true main characters are Toki and Towa (and, if you’ve been following the game for some time, they are included in the Japanese title – I’m not sure why it was dropped for the Western release).
Within the first 15 minutes of the game, you find out that your “main character” (who defaults to the name Zack, how original) ends up “dead” at the hands of some assassins at Toki’s wedding. Suddenly, the fiery red-head Toki turns into the more aggressive blonde Towa and runs them off, but is left with a dying fiancée. Not surprisingly, the girl isn’t entirely what she seems. Not only does she have two souls living inside the same body, but she also has the power to time travel. Naturally, she goes back in time to try to prevent these unfortunate events from occurring.
The game progresses in a linear manner typical of many RPGs. You’re given missions to accomplish to progress the story. There is a lot of dialog, but I wouldn’t consider this a visual novel like other recent NISA-localized titles (the Neptunia franchise, mostly). Unfortunately, while the dialog is interesting and often hilarious, the pacing of the story and its accompanying dialog is way off. Characters move and react to each other way too slowly over the course of any given scene, which has the effect of feeling to the player like those scenes are dragged out way too long. Ever heard the term “It’s like watching grass grow”? That pretty much describes many of the dialog scenes throughout the story here.
However, given the amount of dialog, you do get a good sense of knowing each character fairly well, and the English voice actresses for Toki and Towa actually did a pretty great job of portraying the two different sides of the same girl. (Yes, there is Japanese audio if that’s what you prefer.) The prince, Zack, starts off a bit shaky and annoying, but it sounds like the voice actor eventually felt more comfortable in the roll and improved throughout the game. Not to mention he gets to deliver some of the most hilarious lines I’ve heard in any RPG recently.
Like just about any other JRPG of this type, the dialog includes plenty of suggestive innuendo, high-pitched girls whining about something every time you turn around and over-acted villains that cause various degrees of face-palming. The sad thing is that the things I’ve discussed so far – the art, the characters and the voice acting/dialog combo are the best things about the game.
Unfortunately, looking and sounding good doesn’t necessarily make a great game, and things really start to fall apart when you get into more of the serious gameplay aspects of the title. Eventually, you’re allowed to explore the wide and wondrous world as Toki and Towa hunt down the perpetrators behind her fiancée’s death, which tends to spiral out of control into a huge, swirling conspiracy, like stories in these games tend to do.
The great thing about exploration is that the areas are open and there are things to do and find in nearly every corner of any given map, whether it be treasure chests, checkpoint markers (which allow you to teleport between them to get around a zone quickly after touching them once) or side quest destinations. Out of many other niche JRPGs published title recently in the West, there is quite a bit of world to explore, and it’s fun to do so.
However, the camera bothers me. It bothers me a lot. Now, this title is different from other games in that I’m pretty sure the camera was designed this way, not left this way because of technical issues or just being overlooked (like in my other recently reviewed title, Remember Me). That almost makes things worse. The camera is fixed behind Toki/Towa at a certain distance, bringing back memories of early third-person, over-the-shoulder-style gameplay. It’s rotatable, but is rather close to the characters so it’s hard to get a good grasp on your surroundings. It isn’t that things can sneak up on you necessarily, it’s more that it is just plain weird. That’s a technical term, I swear. A standard RPG third person camera would have sufficed, allowing you to zoom in and out to your own comfort level, as well as rotate around the character 360 degrees.
Battles have that same factor of “this just feels weird”. I’m all for new battle systems and trying out new ideas, and it isn’t like the battles in Time and Eternity are complicated to figure out, but there is just something about them that are off-putting. Toki or Towa fights alone (well, mostly, you do have your little dragon friend who shoots puny fireballs at your enemies for ridiculously low amounts of damage, but he hardly counts). You have two positions you can fight in, each allowing for different sort of attacks. Both Toki and Towa run around with a gun as a ranged weapon, and daggers for close combat. You can fight either at range or up close and you can switch between the positions at will. Of course, your opponent can, likewise, if the game’s AI allows them. Sometimes when you’re fighting up close, they might push you back so you’re at range (usually they’re a ranged character with a nasty attack coming down the line), or they may leap to your position to get in close for a devastating combo attack. If they leap toward your position, you’re stuck in close-range combat unless you can reciprocate the knock-back.
This back and forth system works, and it is unique, although it still is very limited, from my standpoint. You attack using R1 and can use various spells, items and, eventually, time altering abilities. Things tend to feel a little spammy on the attack front, as there isn’t the greatest variety of attacks, although this improves throughout the game. Close up combat, I found, was the most fun, but also seems to be the most dangerous. The majority of enemies encountered seem to have massive physical attacks that have the possibility of devastating you. And then there’s always the danger of getting knocked back out of the way.
This is an almost-real-time battle system, so you can use the right analog stick to dodge incoming attacks, although it seems to lag a little bit to it’s hard to time your jump out of the way. Spells hit hard, but hard also difficult to time and you seem to get interrupted far more than you should be able to.
Battles against one or two enemies are usually quick and somewhat enjoyable, if not for anything other than watching the artwork and firing off massive damage spells that are practically “I WIN” buttons. However, with each encounter you never know how many enemies you will be facing. Sometimes it can be a great number and, while you only fight one enemy at a time, the field rotates to the next enemy after the previous one is defeated. This, in turn, seems to sometimes drag on for a long time and it feels like you just get bogged down in battles when you really just want to move on.
You can also unlock new abilities by collecting points, which you acquire by killing monsters, completing side quests and other activities. Each time Toki or Towa levels up, they switch. So each level, you’re fighting with a different girl. They are slightly different in combat, although not as much as you would imagine and it doesn’t seem to affect how you approach encounters, either.
Boss battles seem to be designed much better, as the battle system somewhat changes and you’re given different options depending on the encounter, so the slog of combat is broken up for these bits. Unfortunately, they happen very few and far between.
Playing through Time and Eternity, you’ll quickly realize it’s actually a “short” game for a JRPG. My play-through clocked in at roughly 26 hours. Yes, I consider that short. Don’t judge me. I didn’t to every optional thing I could, but I did do quite a bit. I’d imagine you could squeeze 35+ hours out of it if you really tried. The replay value might be worth it, though, as there are still multiple difficulty levels and dialog options that you can choose from during the course of the game. There’s an option within the first 15 minutes that you’ll drop your jaw at. Just choose it and see what happens. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it.
Time and Eternity is a beautiful game, although the gameplay suffers both from a bit of simplicity and awkwardness at the same time. The camera still grates at me, even after “getting used to it” for 26 hours of play time. The animation and character designs are simply outstanding. However, the battle system, while unique, is rather underwhelming, grindy and sometimes downright boring when faced with a steady stream of similar enemies in a row.
JRPGs fans would likely do well to pick it up, as it just feeds our otaku needs by its very nature, but if you’re not specifically into this visual style or quirky characters, you might want to think twice. If the battle system and gameplay was better, I’d recommend it for everyone, however I can’t do that, because I just wasn’t feeling it myself. While it’s always nice to see new, unique JRPGs make their way West – especially new IPs – the good here unfortunately can’t quite outweigh the underwhelming parts of the title.