majormitch's Radiant Historia (Nintendo DS) review

Meat and potatoes

Given the amount of investment JRPGs generally require, and the fact that they can often rely extremely heavily on genre cliches, finding the right one to play can be a bit daunting. True to form, Radiant Historia isn’t going to light the genre afire with innovation, but it’s also executed much better than your average JRPG. If you find yourself in the mood for a great meat and potatoes JRPG, Radiant Historia just might fit the bill.

Radiant Historia certainly isn’t immune to genre conventions, and a lot of its most fundamental aspects will feel immediately familiar to anyone who has played a JRPG before. This is particularly true with regards to the flow of the gameplay. The way you progress between areas, fighting monsters and acquiring gold and experience, then using it all to upgrade your gear at the next town is as by-the-book as it gets. Characters follow a pretty standard level progression as well, and a lot of the abilities they unlock are fairly predictable. The turn based battles are also pretty basic for the most part, though the game’s most interesting (and unique) gameplay additions come into play here. Enemies appear on a 3x3 grid, and you acquire a lot of abilities that focus on shifting enemies around or dealing damage in certain patterns on said grid. This allows you to stack up enemies and perform combos, which gives an appreciably tactical edge to what could have otherwise been a pretty mundane battle system, and also helps keep battles feeling just fresh enough for the game’s duration.

Radiant Historia’s narrative elements are, like the gameplay, pretty boilerplate on the whole. A seemingly straightforward plot evolves into a maniac trying to destroy the world (spoilers!), with many common themes popping up along the way. That being said, Radiant Historia’s best aspect is by far its writing. This is the rare game (much less a JRPG) that treats the player as though they have half a brain. Rather than constantly spelling everything out for you, it does a great job at subtly implying a lot of its interesting points, leaving you to read between the lines. Put another way, it’s able to say a lot without being wordy. This makes the characters seem more like real people who genuinely understand what’s going on around them rather than clueless heroes who fumble their way to victory. The other “unique” narrative hook is the time traveling device, but I didn’t find this to have a ton of impact. You basically go down one of the two parallel time-lines until you can’t go any further, and then switch to the other. It ends up being more linear than it initially seems, which feels like a lost opportunity.

It may sound like I’m giving Radiant Historia a hard time for being too basic, but it does those basics better than most, and doesn’t have any quality that stands out in a notably negative way. This already makes it a pretty solid JRPG, but throw in a nice twist on the battle system and some of the best writing I’ve ever seen in the genre, and it becomes a solid choice for fans. It won’t blow away those looking for something they haven’t seen before, but anyone wanting a generally solid JRPG could do substantially worse than Radiant Historia.

For additional information on my review style and scoring system, click here.

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