Afterthoughts: Radiant Historia

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.

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Time forks right from the start, but the split history concept really takes off at about the midway point of game.

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.

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You start fighting Thaumachines near the end of the game. The trick to beating them? Plant an electric mine and knock the metal titan into it.

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.

Playthrough Update: Radiant Historia (DS)

If Radiant Historia were a chick, she’d be the type who ditches the make-up, keeps her conversation smooth, and ends the evening like a lit quarter-stick in the sack. Well, on some nights at least. I’m closing in on the 20-hour mark in Radiant Historia, and my outlook on the game is simple: Cliched storyline, forgettable characters, nifty battle system, brilliant plot concept.

The plot concept is well-executed and largely original. You play as a mercenary named Stocke who jumps between two separate storylines in order to create the true history. For instance, when Stocke runs into an impasse in Storyline A, he can shift to Storyline B in order to learn a new technique or salvage an item that was destroyed or lost in A. From there, he can either return to A with the necessary skill/knowledge/item or continue through B until he hits another wall.

The main quests involves plenty of storyline-hopping, and some crafty sidequests flesh out the concept even more. For example, in one mission I had to grab a widow’s medicine in the present and go back in time to deliver it to her ailing husband. Simple, yet empowering and philosophical

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Though fresh and enjoyable, Radiant Historia’s battles don’t throw enough complications your way.

Though tweaking fate is a blast, the battle system as tapered off since my initial play sessions. On my honeymoon night with the game, I fell hard for the grid-based battle field, as well as the ability to knock enemies around to kill multiple birds with one sword. Unfortunately, the game throws minimal battle complications at you down the stretch. One character, Aht, has the ability to plant mine-like magic spells on empty grid spaces; once the mine is set, you can whack enemies toward it for serious damage. It makes Aht’s character unique, but she’s the only intriguing new ally from a battle perspective. As for enemies, they’ve learned to zap various grid squares as strength and defense pads. If they’re standing on a strength square with they attack, that’s double damage against you, son. And if you hit an enemy while he’s camped on a defense square, your attack comes out Nerfed.

The story and characters are cliched yet likable for the most part. The world is at war, there’s an evil queen, her step-daughter is recruiting rebels, Stocke has to pick a side… You get the picture. What saves the story is the timeline-jumping concept, but at it’s core, the tale is nothing ground-breaking… yet. I have a feeling that once (if?) the storylines intertwine, something mind-bombing will happen.

Now, to be fair, the concept doesn’t always serve the story well. It actually diminishes some of the emotional impact. For instance, when characters die, there is no mourning, just time-traveling to tweak the events for a less lethal outcome.

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Raynie has the best personality of Stocke’s bunch. Unfortunately, she takes a backseat to a prim princess in the story.

As for the characters themselves, it’s a vivid, balanced cast. Stocke is rather stoical on his own, but his chipper companions beat spurts of personality out of him. His rival-friend Rosch, a burly army commander, serves as a compelling foil, especially when he and Stocke debate their roles as soldiers and where their loyalties must lie. My antenna tends to go up when those two enter verbal conflicts together. Just wish I could say the same for any other cast member, particularly the vague, clandestine villains.

At the moment Radiant Historia has the feel of a 7/10 or 8/10 game. At heart it’s an average RPG, but the concept and battle system tick things up a notch. The game feels like it’s beginning to open up in terms of side quests and story complications, so I’m holding out hope that it finishes the way it started.

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.

Sega snags Atlus, fans panic, sky falls, world burns, etc.

In case you spent the past 39 hours playing GTA5, let me enlighten you on that fact that Sega Sammy (Sega’s parent company) is set to buy Index Corporation (Atlus’ parent company). This comes after months of speculation over who would acquire Atlus, with fans everywhere voicing terror over the idea of Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft buying up Atlus and holding the Persona, Shin Megami Tensei, and Demon’s Souls franchises hostage.

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Property of Sega.

The news of Sega’s purchase buried that fear while unearthing another one. Fans all over the internet, from IGN to Joystiq, are dreading Sega’s impending purchase. Sega has a reputation for playing it conservative when it comes to localizing niche titles (like the Valkyria Chronicles series), and Atlus specializes in providing American gamers with niche RPGs and games like Trauma Center. Some gamers see the Sega/Atlus combo as a recipe for armageddon, although we’ve yet to learn just how hands-on Sega will be with its new acquisition. It’s entirely possible that Sega will let them run relatively free like Square Enix with Eidos and EA with Bioware.

As for me, I’m not pulling any alarms. Atlus has been self-sufficient for years, having had success in the U.S. with the Persona series and Demon’s Souls. As conservative as Sega is when it comes to localization in the West, I like to believe that Atlus could point to Demon’s Souls and say, “Hey, we took a chance on this in the States and people were demanding reprints in no time. Let us do our thing.” Atlus typically sends over games in small amounts, then follow up by air-dropping reprints everywhere once fans bemoan missing out on the early shipments. It’s a strategy that worked for Demon’s Souls and Radiant Historia, so I see no reason why Sega can’t be open-minded about it.

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Skies of Arcadia was an irresistible blend of Final Fantasy and Suikoden. Will Atlus let a sequel set sail?

Now let’s sip at glass that’s half-full. Set the localization worries aside, and note that Atlus now has access to Sega IPs like Skies of Arcadia and Valkyria Chronicles. For those of us out there craving a Skies of Arcadia sequel, Atlus might be our best hope of seeing Vyse and Aika plunder the skies again. As for Valkyria Chronicles, there’s always hope that Atlus could help localize Valkyria Chronicles 3 or future games in the franchise that Sega wouldn’t dare send Stateside.

I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest Atlus fan–Disgaea was too level-grindy for my tastes, Demon’s Souls felt too clunky, and my Persona 3 save corrupted after six hours of play–but I respect the hell out of them for pushing niche titles into a country that eats, drinks, and inhales FPSs. Here’s hoping Sega shares that respect.