By mrburger 14 Comments
Radiant Historia came out with a whisper sometime during the empty, headlineless Winter leading up to Pokemon Black & White's Spring Twenty-Eleven North America release. What sold Radiant Historia was not any kin or kind of advertising or public presence, none at all beyond youtubable trailers and gameplay footage, but rather its anomalously high scores on aggregate review sites. What was this late 90s-looking RPG, with its review scores in the 80s and 90s despite its sort of uninteresting-looking cast and gimmicky time travel gimmick, what were its intentions, and, well, was it actually, like, anything? Could a game so seemingly identity-less at first glance actually do anything worth looking at or reading through, or, as it would so happen, playing and replaying through in small chunks over and over again throughout the course of the game probably a total of like 20 or 30 times per chunk?
Yes, it could.
Radiant Historia, despite inflicting on its players one of the most punishing gameplay mechanics in recent memory, and doing this often, is a home run, a game with objective goodness, a rewarding experience. Its intentions are innocent and ambitious and happy and smart. It's a gorgeous, albeit flawed, masterpiece of fun. The time travel stuff is beefed by weirdly tight writing and ingenious storytelling tricks, but encumbered with too many hours' just holding the fast-forward button throughout the same dozen or so text-heavy cut-scenes. So many ten minute scenes smooshed down into minute-and-a-half-long fully-automatic flurries of sifty-sounding dialog-go-by noises, visited and revisited and revisited and revisited. But goddamn if that battle system doesn' t just completely absolve the game of whatever gameplay diseases from which it may suffer. Such intense variety in the way characters handle, and such gratifying results for those who master them all. Such challenges, at certain points. Such a good battle system.
Had it come out at a better time, back in '07 or '08 when the DS was still hot and momentous, Radiant Historia probably would have gotten more of the widespread affection it deserved. Instead, it remains just a beautiful little secret told to a handful of lucky passersby. 2011, you were a banner year for the console, an exciting year for games overall, but a quiet, dust-collecting year for the Nintendo DS, Pokemon B&W notwithstanding. No, Radiant Historia probably isn't quite good enough to be anybody's GOTY, not against the inimitable console competition of 2011, but those of us who've played it, who've warmed our hands by its small fire, out there in the middle of nowhere, who've known that puzzle-flavored battle system and its thousand joys, we know what I mean when I say we should at least just mention Radiant Historia, now, with a sorry, distracted nod, it being GOTY season and there being still the issue of deciding whether Portal 2 or Arkham City was the greater sequel and whatnot and so on to attend to, and Radiant Historia being just one more small, good game worth noting amid no one knows how many.