Solid, strategic, and well written
On its surface Radiant Historia looks like a typical Japanese RPG: the world is in peril, rival kingdoms battle over remaining territory, and you’re stuck in the middle of the conflict. Looks can be deceiving though, and this (one of the last RPGs made for the Nintendo DS) has a number of pleasant surprises. There are no random monsters, strategy and planning play a major role in battle, and the story is less linear than it initially appears. Most importantly Radiant Historia deals with the effects of time travel, and that’s where things get really interesting.
Early in the game the player is given the White Chronicle, which records all the events in the game as they happen. Soon afterwards it is revealed that you can teleport back and forth in time with bookmarks at major events. With more than 200 nodes and two fairly distinct but intimately connected timelines, the game allows for much more meddling in the time stream than you might expect (much more than in Chrono Trigger).
Important decisions pop up with alarming frequency, leading to branches in the chain of events. On top of the really important decisions, there are all sorts of little side-quests that create subtle ripples too. Soon the timeline is a sprawling web with branching paths and even dead ends when you make really poor decisions.
One of the unavoidable side effects of hopping back in time is that you will cover the same ground. Thankfully you can fast-forward redundant dialogue and even skip scenes altogether, but even so it can get somewhat tedious, especially if you are trying to uncover all the possible plot manipulations.
Similar to the Mario RPG and Earthbound games, monsters roam around in the field and will chase you if you get too close. If you’re quick on your toes you can avoid them, but most of the time it’s better to dizzy them with your sword to gain the upper-hand. If they manage to catch you in the back, you’ll lose the advantage in the ensuing battle.
Strategy comes down to two main factors: turn order and enemy position on a 3×3 grid. You can swap turn order with allies and enemies, and you’ll want to do so often to line up a series of coordinated blows. You can knock enemies around the grid so that two or more enemies get bunched together, allowing allies to land blows on multiple enemies in subsequent turns. With the right moves and a little cleverness, you can dispatch an entire group of monsters before they get the chance to attack.
However, combo attacks only lasts until an enemy’s turn, when they will automatically regroup so that they’re no longer bunched together. Swapping turn order with enemies to line up combos can pay off, but can also leave you vulnerable. It sounds more complicated than it really is, but in practice the system yields enjoyable results.
Radiant Historia is a surprisingly ambitious and original title that takes the whole concept of time travel in video games to new heights. The plot does get a tad convoluted with all the branching paths, and suffers the pitfalls of repetition, but makes up for that with its incredibly detailed and generally well written story. With its combination of sprite-based characters and 3D settings, and a fantastic soundtrack, the overall presentation doesn’t disappoint. Uncovering all the secrets should yield a solid 40 hours of game play in what can be considered one of the top-tier RPGs on the Nintendo DS.