Born to Change History
The original Radiant Historia for the Nintendo DS was a hard-to-find game released near the end of the portable system’s life. The title has found a new home on the Nintendo 3DS as Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, adding a new what-if timeline, dungeon, and quality of life improvements. As a “definitive edition,” the game is well-suited for new players, but my big question was whether this upgrade was enough to warrant a replay.
Before diving into the new content, here is a primer for newcomers. The story follows Stocke, an agent involved in an ongoing war between two kingdoms. The source of the conflict is the desertification of the land – transforming into desert sand. During a mission gone wrong, Stocke ends up in the mysterious world of Historia and receives the White Chronicle, a book that allows him to travel through time and seek a timeline that will end the desertification.Time travel is not only the impetus for the game’s complex story, but also the basis for its dynamic time-hopping gameplay. Similar to adventure games and visual novels, Radiant Historia has crucial choice points that lead to different outcomes. After making a choice, you can return to an earlier point on the White Chronicle’s organized flowchart to change your decision. You can freely try different choices at any time thanks to the game’s concept of multiple timelines. In fact, one of the first major choices splits the entire timeline into two parallel universes that you can jump between.
What makes the dual universes fascinating is that you must play through one to progress in another and vice versa. For instance, you may get stuck in one timeline because you need explosives to get through a rock blockade. By visiting the alternate timeline, you can save an explosives merchant, which will help you progress in both timelines.
Constantly hopping through time and space might imply the story is difficult to follow, but the game manages to narrowly avoid that in two ways. First, the helpful flowchart details each node’s story and sidequests, making it easy to keep track of everything. Also, the game limits the scope to these two universes, for the most part. Unfortunately, this means most choice points have only one correct answer. The incorrect choice simply leads to a paragraph briefly explaining what goes wrong before whisking you back to redo it. These seemingly rushed endings don’t expand on the intricacies of why Stocke failed. Nevertheless, playing through both timelines allowed me to appreciate this unique brand of storytelling. The excellent scenarios, robust character development, and juicy twists formed a plot that was hard to put down.
The engaging narrative is the highlight of Radiant Historia, but the game is also a well-constructed traditional JRPG. You travel through fields and dungeons with minor navigation puzzles, and you level up characters by fighting and buying better equipment. Although there is no traditional overworld (you select locations from a large map) this RPG excels where it counts: the battle system. To begin an encounter, you simply run into any enemies on-screen. You can also sword slash them for a preemptive strike.
Combat utilizes a 3×3 grid, and each enemy occupies a tile. Special skills let you push your foes around on the grid, and if you manage to get multiple on the same tile, your attacks hit them all simultaneously. This blend of strategy and traditional turn-based mechanics lends to a dynamic combat system. In another strategically inspired mechanic, you can swap your character’s turn with your foes’ to chain more attacks together, further increasing your damage efficacy. It’s extremely gratifying to control the playing field and maximize damage to all enemies at once with a 10-hit combo. There are other niceties in battle such as powerful abilities that consume your constantly filling Mana gauge, but the core mechanics are what define the game.
The story and battle system are mostly unchanged, which is fine since they made the original so enjoyable. So what’s actually new in Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology? Sticking to the topic of combat, characters outside of your main party now randomly show up in battle to use bonus support skills. It’s a nice touch but hardly a game changer due to its random nature. More impactful are the new difficulty settings. Hard difficulty is a welcome challenge to veterans of the original, as battles require more careful planning. On the opposite extreme, Friendly difficulty not only makes battles easier, but outright lets you skip them. By using your sword to slash enemies on the map, you immediately defeat them without battling but still gain the experience and money. It’s cheap compared to the well-balanced Normal difficulty. For players who have experienced the original or want to focus on the story, the Friendly option conveniently bypasses lengthy grinding. The downside is you are locked into this difficulty upon choosing it.
By far, the most notable additions to Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology are Possible History – a new timeline – and the Vault of Time – a bonus dungeon. Between the two, Possible History is more significant as it adds novel what-if scenarios. In this additional timeline, the new character Nemesia tasks you to seek artifacts by completing sidequests. I enjoyed seeing characters in slightly different situations. The missions here weren’t as entertaining, however, and mostly consisted of fetch quests and boss battles – nothing too deep. While Possible History ties into the overall lore and endgame, it doesn’t add anything important to an already complete plot. Rather, it feels tacked on to the point that you can actually play a separate mode that removes the Possible History storyline until you beat the game, which results in a better paced story.
Meanwhile, the Vault of Time is even more superfluous but still a welcome addition, providing an extra place to grind against strong enemies. Fighting here earns you a special currency called Mementos, which you can use towards special items, including new support skills. The dungeon opens up and leads to interesting developments as you play through it, but it hardly affects the main story.
The remaining changes are related to quality of life and presentation. Compared to the original DS game, the action is now on the 3DS’ wider top-screen, and the bottom screen displays a map that, while not detailed, is useful for locating room exits. There are now 14 save slots (assuming you have an SD card), eclipsing the original’s three. The character art is also updated, adopting a more standard anime style that radically changes some of their looks. Although I liked the original’s unique artstyle, the anime art is consistently good and lends itself to the stunning animated opening and gallery images. The prerendered backgrounds weren’t changed, though, and look a bit outdated compared to the upgraded assets. Nevertheless, the game sports a charming old-school look reminiscent of sprite-based classics from RPGs of yore. Yoko Shimomura’s signature music stylings deliver an ethereal yet militaristic quality to the soundtrack, which is virtually unchanged except for a few new songs. Finally, the newly added English voice acting is solid, as expected from Atlus. I particularly liked Stocke’s stoic performance.
Radiant Historia is an underappreciated gem that is getting a second chance with its enhanced rerelease on 3DS. The additional content may not be substantial enough to entice seasoned players, but it adds to the complete lore, so hardcore fans may find it worthwhile. Not to mention that it adds at least 10 hours to an existing 40-60 hour playtime. Newcomers and veterans who want to relive the excellent story, time-travel mechanics, and combat system will find Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology to be worth their…time.
Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was originally written on DarkStation.