Learning From Mistakes
Thinking of Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology on 3DS as a finished, tangible product is in direct correlation to its gameplay and plotline. From a gameplay perspective, the player uses time travel to fix mistakes of the past, sort of like the movie Groundhog Day. This 3DS port of the original DS version fits this bill as it is a re-do of the original game but only made better through quality of life trial and error.
Players that missed the original 2010 DS release will most likely not notice any of the enhanced features that were upgrade in this 2018 3DS version as this new port feels like a nicely polished product. While the original DS version received critical praise, this 3DS re-release smooths out the rough edges of gameplay and even adds some new playable content. Simple gameplay tweaks like being able to push barrels in any direction, having more information available during combat to indicate positioning and turn order, a redesigned menu screen to make healing and equipping between battles a snap, and even the map has been updated. There are dozens of these small changes that really iron out the edges to make gameplay more enjoyable all the way around. But again, new comers would most likely not notice these enhancements as they feel like they should have always been there.
Beyond these quality of life modifications, some bigger enhancements have also been made. Character portraits have been completely redrawn and look better than ever. The 3DS screen is larger than the DS version so more of the environment can be shown at one time. But perhaps coolest of all, each major character is now fully voiced, and voiced exceedingly well, which provides another layer of detail to this re-release. In fact, the voice work is so well done that it rivals any AAA console game and is one of the best highlights of the package.
Radiant Historia sometimes gets compared to Chrono Trigger but that isn’t accurate as both games handle time travel in completely different ways. Stocke, the main character, gains the ability to travel back in time to specific points by using the White Chronicle, a special book that provides a means to travel through time. Referencing the movie Groundhog Day again, Stocke essentially plays through the story until he gets stuck or something horrible happens like a character dies or the bad guys invade. At these critical points, the player has the ability to go back and replay these key events differently to yield a new, and often more positive outcomes. Stocke, however, is able to retain information from one time when reverting back to another, taking with him his skills, items, and knowledge.
For example, without giving away too many spoilers, Stocke joins a group of stage actors mid-game and poses as one of them to gain entry into an enemy stronghold. Along the way, Stocke gets stopped by a guard as he looks suspicious. Calling his bluff, Stocke kills the guard but the alarm sounds and essentially becomes game over. Going back in time to an alternative timeline, Stocke learns some sword dancing skills from a NPC, then takes this knowledge back to the original timeline, and using this skill to impress the guard without killing him, allowing him entry into the enemy base. Plot points like these are well written and engaging so the player always feels a constant sense of accomplishment. The pacing of the main plot is near spot on and there are also many optional side quests, some new to this 3DS version, to complete to earn additional rewards. Everything is easily maintained through the visual timeline found in the menu screen.
Combat is also a unique. A mix of turn and grid based mechanics, enemies can occupy any space on a 3×3 grid. The gimmick is trying to chain combos together by pushing enemies onto the same occupied space to deal more damage. For example, using the push technique will knock an enemy from the center tile back one square into the enemy occupying the back space. Then, if a party member has the next turn, can attack that back square to deal damage to both enemies at the same time. Pushing, pulling, and shoving enemies left and right onto the same square is required for the success of most battles. Luckily, pulling off these special attacks only takes a few skill points and each playable character usually has plenty. Since using these shoving attacks is pretty much required, the game gives the player enough ability points without having to be stingy. Like the plot’s sense of constant reward and progression, combat is the same.
Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology doesn’t have random, annoying battles either. Instead, the player sees the enemy on screen. With a minor amount of skill, the player can usually just run around the baddie to avoid battle. At the same time, Stocke has the ability to swing his sword from this overworld screen to stun these enemies that mindlessly chase the player. Once stunned, if battle is initiated, the player can gain the upper hand with a preemptive strike. Fans of Earthbound should see a similarity. But this makes gameplay more friendly towards the player as battling some common enemies can be annoying when you are just trying to backtrack to collect that one treasure chest you couldn’t obtain earlier; here you can just slash and walk around them. There is also something strangely satisfying about slashing an enemy from this overworld screen too. The player even has the option to play on easy mode which can result in an instant win without seeing the battle screen. Alternatively, there is a hard mode for veterans.
When in combat and analyzing the enemies on the grid, comboing is key. One key factor to note, and another point that makes RH:PC’s combat unique, is that an enemy will still be attacked even if its health reached zero hit point. For example, say the three playable characters are going to attack the same enemy one after the other. After the second attack, however, the enemy’s HP reaches zero but the third playable character will still attack that enemy instead of hitting another, essentially acting as a wasted attack. In any Final Fantasy game, in comparison, once Enemy A is defeated, all further attacks will be assigned to Enemy B. This is the downside to the combo system as players will need to be mindful of every attack. Not that is this negative, this is just how comboing has a give-and-take philosophy and needs to constantly be monitored as some battles need every hit to connect to yield victory.
My biggest complaint in terms of balance, however, is the low income of money gained by defeating enemies in comparison to the high cost of obtaining new armor and weapons. Since each piece of armor carries such a high price, I was only able to buy a single piece at a time, and this was without buying anything else and grinding for a while. This becomes worse in time as the player starts to gain new party members and outfitting them all with the latest and greatest armor sets is impossible without hours of grinding. Armor and weapons are even more of a tease and each item can drastically increase stats. Luckily, I was still able to progress through most situations without equipping the best armor and weapons available.
Even if the player has plenty of ability points, eventually the player will need to go back to the inn to regain stats by sleeping. Unfortunately, traveling all the way back to the town sometimes isn’t an option or requires a lot of back tracking (and costs 50 gold which is a high price to pay when trying to save for that new piece of armor). However, there is the option to use special crystals at save points to replenish all lost health and ability points. These crystals are very rare and literally carry a high price if you find the merchant who sells them. These crystals, in fact, carry a higher price than most armor and weapons, making the use of one of these an anxiety filled moment. It might tear you up using one, but sometime it is enough to save your life.
For the most part, Perfect Chronology still looks like a sprite-based DS game from 2010, or a really nice looking SNES game. But to be clear, this is perfectly okay as the charm of the sprite work is something that is not common nowadays, especially in this quality of an RPG. Stocke moves smoothly thanks to the 3DS analog stick and his “en-guard” sword swiping animation is pretty badass; even the footsteps from walking just feels right. One thing to note is there is no stereoscopic 3D effect available so true 3DS users might feel a little disappointed. Like the stellar voice work, the soundtrack is also spot-on and always conveys the mood of the narrative. There are a couple sound effect though, like the goblin’s grunt, that are very annoying. Each main character is fully voiced but there are other NPCs that occasionally say simple phrases to convey emotion. This actually reminded me of the 3DS Fire Emblem games. Point is, turn up the speakers and use some headphone to fully appreciate the polish that went into this game.
Without question, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is one of the best classic style, JRPGs I have played in a long time and I think is one of the best on the 3DS. With an engaging plot that ties directly into gameplay and a combat system that always invites new tactics and upgrades, this is one RPG that 3DS owners should take full advantage of, especially if players missed the original DS version.
Even though the 3DS is getting pretty old at this point, Atlus is almost single handedly keeping the system alive by providing top quality content with games like Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, the upcoming The Alliance Alive, and Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux in 2018. Here’s looking forward to the rest of 2018 and beyond.
Try To Forget: Mario’s Time Machine
Better Than: Spider-Man: Edge of Time
Also Try: Super Time Force