Friday, July 8, 2011

Radiant Historia Review

Radiant HistoriaWhen I first began this blog, I called upon my good chums to recommend titles to review and the name that came up most often was Radiant Historia. I had never heard of it, but word of mouth testified to its classic RPG elements, fun gameplay, and intriguing story. After an arduous search through the shelves of local game merchants, I found a store with just two copies left and sat down to play. Was the limited availability a testament to its popularity or a warning sign that not even Gamestop wanted to carry Radiant Historia. I settled into my armchair with my DS to find out.

The story of Radiant Historia is an odd, but strangely familiar one. An unlikely hero has thrust upon him the job of saving the world by travelling to different points in time and correcting history. Does this sound familiar? If you’ve ever played Chrono Trigger, it certainly should. Radiant Historia can’t help but be compared to this game with its RPG mechanics and time-centric story. Surprisingly, this comparison does not serve to hurt the game, but rather help it. However, the similarities end at the broad strokes of the game. I dove into Radiant Historia expecting some playful fun, but was almost immediately faced with difficult choices and resulting weighty consequences. 

Whereas Chrono Trigger was a fun romp through time with a relatively light-hearted story, Radiant Historia has a somewhat darker tone with a more serious main character and a story revolving heavily around warring countries. You take control of Stocke as he traverses between two parallel timelines, each ultimately working toward the same goal of stopping the world’s ever-spreading desert. By virtue of your choices, you either progress the true history, or create an offshoot with terrible consequences. Radiant Historia sounds like Chrono Trigger and that may draw gamers to it, however, it’s a completely different game, and a good one at that. 

Battle mechanics are an important part of this game. No matter how good a story is if there is no merriment in playing the game, you will not finish. The enemies are arranged in a 3x3 grid-like formation, akin to that of Megaman Battle Network. Attacks from the main characters can change the enemies’ position on the field by pushing them back, thrusting them left or right, or pulling them to the front. This interesting mechanic means that you can crush enemies into a tight space and unleash a powerful attack at only one square, but strike multiple adversaries.

The player can also see enemies on the screen before being attacked and is even given an opportunity to gain an advantage up on the competition by striking first on the map before entering the battle. This method is much preferred to the random battle mechanic in games of old. Both the grid system and enemy visualizations on the map result in less frustrating, more entertaining battles.

The graphics harken back to 16-bit Super Nintendo games, which I believe was a careful and correct choice.  Nintendo DS games have never excelled at polygon-based graphics, and can only recreate console graphics up until the Nintendo 64. Bulky polygons may have been acceptable in 1998, but seeing them now just leaves me pining for better something more. 2D games, though, seemed to stop their graphics advancements at the Super Nintendo and Gameboy Advance. There are odd exceptions to this rule, like Odin Sphere, but generally, 2D games these days are done in the 16-bit sprite style, and they look splendid.

The side quests in this game are in no short supply. Immediately upon completion of one, five more become available in its stead. Generally, I found myself forgetting about them because I knew I couldn’t solve them until future events had transpired. When you least expect it, the opportunity to procure some item or deliver a letter becomes available and you feel the need to travel back in time to complete the quest. As it turns out, however, this may not always be a good idea.

You can travel through time in Radiant Historia, but there are two separate markers on the timeline—nodes and events. The two markers are identical except that nodes allow you safe passage through time and events do not. This crucial difference means that if you obtain an item needed to complete a side quest you may rush back in time to complete the quest only to find that there is not a node at the part in the timeline you were just in, only events. 

If you’ve completed five events and have still not found a node, your hasty decision will force you to play through those five events yet again. The player is really at fault for making this error, but it’s bloody annoying nonetheless.

I’m not sure if modern games have made me less tolerant of longer experiences, or if I’m just getting old. Perhaps games on a portable console make me think of shorter experiences. Whatever the reason, Radiant Historia is no game to undertake lightly. If you’ll recall, the “Next Review” portion of our side has had me listed for Radiant Historia for two months now. That is simply how long it has taken me to power through this game. At points, I would lose interest and not play for a few days, instead playing games with more action, but strangely it was never because the game was boring. When I next picked up the game I would always be enthralled once again, but after a long day work, I’d find myself wanting to sit down with a console game on a large screen rather than a handheld on a small one. Radiant Historia is not a game you can pick up and put down in fifteen minutes, it takes a serious time commitment, and that was something of a misstep on the developers’ part. If this game had been released for PSN or Xbox Live Arcade, I would have finished it sooner, but with a bigger user base for the DS, I suppose I can understand why they made this choice.

It’s always good to trust your friends; they generally steer you in the direction of your best interest, and mine did not fail this time. Radiant Historia is a game with a wonderful story, enjoyable gameplay, and pleasing graphics. It may be a significant undertaking and one perhaps better suited for a home console, but it’s very worthwhile title and is one of the best RPG games available for the Nintendo DS.
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