Time travel can be a very fickle beast. It's a feature uncommonly explored and when it is -save for Chrono Trigger and a handful of other titles -it doesn't quite pan out in a favorable manner. Atlus, however, looks to combat these odds. Delivering Radiant Historia to us, a traditional RPG chock full o' enough space-time continuum frolicking to even get Doc Brown on the bandwagon, Atlus has struck JRPG gold in a time where original or quality titles are fading along with the "dying" genre.
Straying from their beloved Persona universe, Atlus gives us the world of Vainquer, where man and beast coexist, yet a massive war hangs heavily overhead between the two major nations of Alistel and Granorg. In an effort to gather intelligence for Alistel, Stocke is sent on a covert operation to discover the location and motives of the marching Granorg force. Yet, as Stocke is mortally wounded on the battlefield, he’s transported to the mystical Historia, where time and space no longer have any jurisdiction. Stocke learns that his world is facing imminent peril (shocker!) and that he, with the power to travel freely between the past and future, must liberally correct the past and change the future to save not only his country, but the entire world.
Utilizing the world of Historia will be vital to continue the quest, as you’ll need to manipulate events in multiple timelines in order to progress certain parts of the story. But this creates a convolution that tends to make time-exploring ventures falter, and ultimately leads to their downfall. Though where others fail, Radiant Historia shines; the convolution is never given a chance to take hold, as Atlus heavily explores the “butterfly effect” associated with time traveling, providing a robust experience where the “what ifs” connected with your time-and-space altering decisions are thoroughly fleshed out. Many of these choices may lead Stocke down a dead-end, yet experiencing the multitude of branching paths creates a unique, enthralling narrative that holds a feeling of total completion that many JRPGs are lacking.
Following suit with a wave of innovation is the finely tuned combat system. While thegeneral turn based combat has remained relatively untouched –you still take alternating turns and have normal, special, and magic attacks –its additions are a stellar improvement. Enemies are laid out on a 3x3 grid, where more damage is received the closer they are to your party. You can control enemy movements with abilities that shift them anywhere across the grid, where a strategic plan of action is necessary to take full advantage of each battle.
Depending on the attack order, which can be modified by switching places with an enemy, you’ll select all three characters’ actions before the enemy acts, allowing you to build up chains that will grant bonus experience the larger the chain, as well as causing greater amounts of damage. Enemies can also do the same, making advanced planning a priority even during the most random of battles. Historia’s battle system is a very welcomed and equally necessary improvement to the genre’s mold. It delivers a breath of fresh air into the lungs of JRPGs that will definitely have critics of the traditional system rethinking their stance. Unlike many of its brethren, combat rarely succumbs to tedium and continues to be excitingly original despite the inevitable grinding that waits ahead.
Though there may be no voice work, Atlus more than compensates for it with a stellar soundtrack composed by the “most famous female video game music composer,” Yoko Shimomura. Known for her work on the Kingdom Hearts series, as well as Super Mario RPG and Street Fighter II, Shimomura delivers a powerful score fitting the dramatic tone of the game’s story rather perfectly. Yet, where Historia succeeds musically, it fails to impress graphically. While definitely not the worst the console has to offer, RH doesn’t look much better than many titles from earlier in the DS life cycle. This may be a “staple” of Atlus developed games –keeping to traditionally graphical roots –but when games like Golden Sun: Dark Dawn and even Pokemon Black & White exemplify what the system is really capable of, it’s disappointing to see an average visual outing, highlighted by some poor character animations, that could have benefited from a virtual coat of paint.
Generally flying underneath the radar, Radiant Historia delivers a captivating time-traveling romp that will have you trekking between the past, present, and future for at least thirty hours, and much longer if you plan on tackling the enormous amount of sidequests and many branching scenarios. Though Historia may be a slight graphical bore, it thoroughly redeems itself with an original, engaging story, an amazingly varied soundtrack from one of the industry’s best, and a surprisingly innovative battle system that provides a unique experience difficult to come by among traditional RPGs. $35 may sound a bit steep for some concerning a portable game, however it’s well worth the expenditure; Radiant Historia really shouldn’t be passed up.