First Impressions: Radiant Historia (DS)

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: “JRPGs are dead. Cremation or burial? It’s your call.” I hear it all the time, so much that the so-called demise of the JRPG genre doesn’t faze me anymore. Yeah, I realize JRPGs are fewer and further between than they were ten years ago, but we still get some instant classics these days. Xenoblade and Valkyria Chronicles were the titans of the PS3/XB360/Wii era (at least in my book), but Radiant Historia is shaping up as a contender all its own.

Radiant Historia is magical in the sense that it’s nostalgic and fresh all at once, right out of the dual-screened gates. Odd as it sounds, I missed playing RPGs without voice acting; nothing beats reading text and letting characters speak in your head. If that didn’t stir the nostalgia pot enough, the game looks like Final Fantasy Tactics and boasts a soundtrack that (so far) rivals those of my favorite PS1 RPGs. I literally wandered around the opening town aimlessly just to hear its theme music. Have a listen below.

As for what’s fresh, RH has a battle system that reminds me of Mega Man Battle Network crossed with Final Fantasy. Your enemies appear on a 3×3 grid and deal more damage as they claim the rightmost spots on the grid. But don’t sweat it: your party members have skills that can throw them backwards (as well as up, down, or even forwards). This is where the fun comes in. If one of your guys pushes an enemy into another enemy’s grid-square, your next attacker can deal damage to both of them. Two birds with one slash.

Scrambling up enemy positioning is a blast, and the game even rewards you with bonus EXP for doing so. Any time a game rewards you for turning straightforward skimishes into puzzles, you’ve got yourself a battle system.

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Mess with the turn order up top. Mess up enemies down below.

I only fought a handful of battles last night, but RH also introduced a “Change” system that that lets your character swap out his or her attack turn for someone else’s–ally or foe. Not only does this enable you to set up your attacks in strategic order (follow a push skill with two attacks), but it also adds to strategy by splitting enemy turns and limiting their chances of comboing your ass.

As for the story, I love where RH is going with its “rewrite history” concept. Early on, the main character Stocke obtains a special book called the White Chronicle, and soon after he has visions of his companions dying. If you’ve played Xenoblade, you should be somewhat familiar with the concept. Anyway, Stocke’s vision comes true and his companions die on the same dirt road he saw in his dream.

Sucks, right?

Not so fast. Once Stocke hits a dead end where the “true” history is no longer attainable, he manifests inside a trippy realm full of staircases and two odd prophet kids. The two reveal that the war will end civilization if this “false” history continues. Next thing you know, Stocke is thrust back into his world, into the same scene where his subordinates died minutes earlier. This time he’s a hero–but there’s a catch: he still possesses the same wounds from his time in the false history…

I’m dying to see where the story goes and how the battle system develops. If you’re interested in rewriting the history books with Stocke, Radiant Historia is currently going for less than $30 on Amazon.

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