I’m no stranger to games published by NIS America. Years ago, I was just a guy who was a big fan of the Disgaea series. Since I started working in this business, I’ve built a great relationship with NIS America, through all the good games and bad ones.
I’ve said numerous times before; one of the reasons why I like working with NIS America is because of the fact that I get to try out games that I normally would have never heard of…usually of the JRPG genre. I’m not one to import titles from Japan, so usually I have to wait for a localized version through NIS or Atlus.
Are these games always good? Honestly, most of the time, no. But there are decent ones every now and then, and that makes this worth it.
Time and Eternity is one of those games that I knew nothing about, was kind of weirded out at first, then ended up enjoying more than I thought. It’s a gorgeous game with some of the best artwork I have seen in this generation of JRPGs, and it offers up some interesting twists where combat is concerned. It has more than its fair share of issues that threaten to drag the game down, but still has a few good points that didn’t make reviewing this a total drag. T&E isn’t terrible, but it isn’t good either.
First off, for anyone that might not be a fan of JRPGs or even anime in general, leave this game be. It’s not for you. It is the most niche game ever. However, if you’re a fan of the genre and enjoy a good JRPG, then this game just might be worth your while.
The story takes place in the kingdom of Kazma where your character, a princess named Toki, is set to wed Zack, the most annoying character in the history of games. No, he isn’t (Navi is), but man, he got on my nerves quickly. A fortune teller that Toki visited foretold of an attack on her wedding, and sure enough as the wedding day rolls around, a group of assassins busts in and kills Zack. As Zack is laying there dying, he sees Toki transform into her alter ego, Towa, a badass warrior princess who quickly dispatches the assassins.
In order to find out who the assassins are and why they would attack her on her wedding day, Toki/Towa travels back in time to uncover the truth. Zack comes along for the journey; unfortunately his soul is transported into Toki’s pet dragon, Drake. I don’t know if Zack is more annoying or less annoying as Drake, but he seems to be more useful in combat in his tiny dragon form. It’s a weird story, but I’ve seen weirder in my day.
The best thing about this game lies in the gorgeous hand-drawn art style. In many games (or I would argue, MOST games), there’s a pretty noticeable difference between cutscenes and gameplay. Even games that run cutscenes in-engine usually show a difference. Games like JRPGs are almost always more noticeable since they often employ hand drawn anime for cutscenes, and in-engine designs for the gameplay. This is not the case for T&E.
The cutscenes here are a beautiful hand drawn animation. So is the gameplay. The transition from one to the other is seamless. There’s a popular /r/gaming topic called “I was here, waiting for the cutscene to end….” That’s how I felt with T&E’s visuals. They are fantastically drawn and while they may not be Crysis 3 levels in terms of realism and detail, there is still an amazing amount of things to see. It’s simply gorgeous.
As beautiful as the art looks, however, there was one thing that kept bugging me. It took a bit of playing for me to figure out what is was, and it was one of those things where once you see it, you can’t unsee it: none of the cutscenes are really fully “animated.” It’s more like an elaborate motion comic with panels that move once or twice. That’s disappointing, especially when you consider how awesome fully animated cutscenes with this art style would have been. Very quickly you will realize that each character only has a handful of motions, and they repeat…over and over and over.
Gameplay is where I ran more hiccups. I wouldn’t say there was anything that was so bad that it ruined the experience for me, but there were definitely more than a few instances where I was thinking “Why would they….?” First off is the camera; my goodness I disliked the camera. It’s hard to describe without seeing it in action. Most third person games have a camera that’s pulled further back to give you a better view of your surroundings. Even shooters where you are rather close up give you some sort of field of vision. Here, you are pressed right up behind Toki, almost to the point to where she fills up most of the screen. You can zoom back one step, but even so she takes up way too much screen real estate. Not only that, but the way the camera swivels also seems a bit…off. It’s too “fixed,” which is the best way I can describe it. When you swivel the camera from side to side, it seems like the camera is focused too much on Toki, almost to the point where everything else in the background is distorted. It’s an uncomfortable experience and even to the end of the game, I hated having to move the camera around.
Luckily you aren’t forced into roaming too often. Most of the game is comprised of cutscenes, talking, and combat. There aren’t even really any towns or an overworld to explore. Most towns you go to are represented by an overhead view with interest points that you click on, which usually then take you to a text/talking segment. Let’s just say that exploration isn’t really a focus here, and people who hated the linearity of the first 2/3 of Final Fantasy XIII will probably not enjoy themselves here. This game falls into the trap of extreme linearity, and also tends to be a bit too “talky” at times. I spent more time reading text bubbles and listening to conversations than anything else. If that’s your bag of tea, great! It doesn’t bug me that much since I’ve been playing JRPGs forever, but those who are more action oriented gamers may find themselves wanting to give themselves a lobotomy.
Combat probably sees the most unique gameplay mechanic, and even though it was strange getting used to it at first, I found myself accepting it after a while. Combat employs a blend of real time attacks with turn based combat. When combat is initiated, you can attack at any time with the O button. If you are far back, you use a ranged attack, and pushing up on the left stick makes you jump in close for melee attacks. Pushing left and right on the left stick also performs evasive maneuvers like dodges and rolls. Holding L1 blocks, and you can also unleash special attacks.
Where this falls into “turn based” lies in how combat usually plays out. You can attack at anytime and roll around and dodge, but your opponent obviously isn’t going to just sit there and take it. They’re going to launch their own attacks as well, and if you study their attacks, there is almost always a pattern involved. In any given battle you are almost always forced into attacking, dodging, blocking, and waiting for you opponent to exhibit that window of opportunity before you can attack again; in essence “forcing” you into waiting you turn (“turn-based”). I know that’s probably not the best explanation, but I just wanted to point out that you can’t just rush in swinging your weapons like you’re playing Darksiders or something. It doesn’t work like that; it’s much more deliberate and forces you to wait for your window of opportunity before attacking.
Time and Eternity doesn’t really bring anything revolutionary to the JRPG genre; rather, it straddles the line between the familiar and new concepts. It isn’t going to go so far as to completely change things, but Imageepoch is not afraid to try something different and I’ll at least give them props for that.
The hardest part about playing through this game is realizing that there was so much unmet potential. For instance, I liked that the story presented something different to the “weak damsel in distress/strong male hero” stereotype and flipped it on its head, but then it ended up seeming like the game thought ALL men were just sleazy idiots. Even Toki’s female friends weren’t presented in the most flattering light. It seemed like an opportunity lost. Combat offered something different, but since you only fight one opponent at a time, it quickly fell into repetition. Along with the camera issues and “motion comic” cutscene style, I couldn’t help but wonder how “finished” this game actually was.
Time and Eternity is a risk; there fun to be had, but too many issues plague the game. It really comes down to where your priorities lie as a gamer; some people are willing to overlook issues and enjoy whatever they can. Others will quickly grow tired of all the hiccups, no matter how much they like the story or gameplay. It’s a tough one to decide, and like I mentioned earlier, T&E is neither good nor bad. It just seems like every good aspect was counterbalanced by something I did not like.