Radiant Historia is a wonder. It’s like and unlike every JRPG from the SNES/PS1 eras, and just when you think the story and gameplay are growing trite, the game’s dual-universe concept takes over. That’s the only way to describe it: taking over. The game erupts once you realize how you can jump between standard and alternate history, pushing through the main story and chasing sidequests. Whereas this may have been a so-so RPG with a fresh battle system, Radiant Historia will go down as memorable in my mind for the dual-history concept and all the engrossment that arises from it.
When I said RH was familiar, I meant it. From a story standpoint, it’s like every other RPG from the 90s: War, magic, good kings, evil queens, world domination, romantic tension that goes nowhere… you’ve been here before. But where you likely haven’t been is jumping between one version of time and another. Friends in Standard history may not even cross your path in Alternate History; powerful enemies in one timeline may be lackeys in the other; and saving an ally’s life may depend on going back in time or learning a technique in another timeline. It’s both fun and thought-provoking, and there’s also a little philosophical meat to it in terms of fatalism.
If all the time-jumping complicated, it shouldn’t. RH makes temporal travel smooth by giving you a map with two dotted lines for Standard and Alternate history. Click any blue point–past or present–and you’re there. Then you can tweak history, save lives, foil plots, and reclaim lost items. It’s engrossing. It’s compelling. It’s simple. Most of all, it’s what distinguishes RH as one of the better handheld RPGs out there.
The odd thing about Radiant Historia is that even though it immediately introduces the two alternate timelines in the game’s opening scene, the concept doesn’t exactly take off until about 15 hours in. It’s kind of like the Wedding of Cana–you know, the Bible story where the reception runs out of cheap wine, then Jesus miraculously provides an abundance of better booze. With Radiant Historia, just when I thought I’d had my fill, the second half of the game went down like a cold slurp of rejuvenation.
Along with the story and quests, the battle system also jacks up the intensity around the midway point of the game. As I discussed in my First Impressions post, RH’s battle system challenges players to knock enemies around a 3-by-3 grid, setting up two-birds-with-one-stone style attacks. In the forty hours I spent with RH, the battle system never went stale, although it was too easy for the longest time. A welcome jump in difficulty comes around the midway point, with tougher baddies and a couple new wrinkles, like shields and power strips. Much as I loved the battle system for it’s freshness, I’d have loved to see it evolve more over the course of the game.
I’m not sure if I’ll have time to write a review of Radiant Historia, so this might be the closest thing to it. If you want a score, how’s 8/10 sound? Great game, brilliant concept… I just would’ve liked to see a more comprehensive battle system and a deeper supporting cast. Other than those gripes, it’s mostly praise for the ages. Both of them.