I'm always happy to see developers try something new when it comes to my favorite genres, even if the end result isn't perfect, and Time and Eternity certainly fits that description. An interesting attempt at a hand drawn visual style, one-on-one real-time combat, all wrapped up in a story about time travel and dating two girls that inhabit the same body. Yep, it's certainly different. However, is it different at the cost of being enjoyable to play?
Technically speaking your main character is an un-named knight and soon-to-be prince that you get to name whatever you like. Unfortunately, I never noticed my name actually being used, so that distinction is pretty meaningless. You're about to be married to princess Toki and you even get to the “You may now kiss the bride” part of the ceremony when assassins bust in and you protect your beloved by throwing yourself at a mortal blow. As you lay dying, the princess has a personality change along with an instant hair dye job and fights off the remaining assassins. While that's all well and good, you're still dying in a pool of your own blood, so the princess uses a previously unmentioned time travel ability to transport herself six months into the past and foil the assassins' plans before they are made. Thankfully, you aren't dead, but your consciousness has instead been transported into the body of Toki's pet dragon.
Toki has two personalities inside her: the Toki the knight fell in love with and an unknown and notably more dangerous woman named Towa. She also has the ability to travel through time, which is used somewhat in the gameplay but is mostly important from a story perspective. Lastly, while the knight stuck in a tiny dragon's body is the main character as far as interactions like dialogue choices and narrative are concerned, he's pretty useless in battle, so most of the gameplay involves controlling Toki or Towa. Personally, I came out of it thinking of Toki as more of a main character than the knight I had named, but it's a debatable point.
Overall, the story is a lighthearted affair with a few laughs to be had as well as a few groans. Since there aren't really any hard-hitting, serious moments at any point in the game, the final decisions (which I'm sure are meant to be gut-wrenching) are pretty humdrum. Time and Eternity is definitely at its best when the knight is being a funny pervert and not during these duller, more sincere moments.
Beyond just yourself and Toki/Towa, the supporting cast of the couple's friends are almost always gathered in your home, ready to dish out quests and instill in your characters the sort of hardline conservative morals that require that two people in love get married before they kiss. Talking to Toki's friends is your first hint at how the game looks in motion, and it's a pretty good first impression. Characters are all hand drawn and endearing, even if the animations are often repeated and are also a bit stilted. The voice acting is well done and none of the voices really grate, although none of them particularly stand out well either. On the downside, as far as the localization goes, I did notice a couple grammar/spelling errors and voice acting is present for only about half of the dialogue scenes (although this does include all of the main scenes). Time and Eternity only froze on me once, when I went through an exit I apparently wasn't meant to at that point in time, which was quite frustrating as it cost me about a half an hour's worth of progress.
Once you step out into the world it becomes apparent that the hand drawn characters' visuals come with some distinct drawbacks. The 3D backgrounds don't match their quality, and they necessitate odd tank controls for movement. While Time and Eternity may look like your standard 3rd person JRPG ,while exploring it actually controls more like an old school first person game before the advent of the second analog stick. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it's not so bad after a while.
The battle system is made up of mostly one-on-one battles, with the knight providing slight support with dragon breath attacks. It's a pretty simple combat system; you can move towards the opponent or away with up and down on the left analog stick, while left and right on that analog performs a dodge move. One important thing to note is that there are only two possible planes, so if the opponent runs up at you first you'll have to knock them back and can't simply back away further to increase the distance between you. Attacks with a knife or a rifle (depending on how close you are) are performed using R1. You can use spells, items, or time altering abilities with the other buttons on the controller.
Each battle comes down to pattern recognition. Spells are by far the fastest way to take out an opponent, but they have a long lead-in and can be interrupted, so you have to time them correctly. Figure out the enemy's attack patterns to dodge at the right times so that you have a long enough delay to cast a spell and you win 99% of the time. To be honest, it's actually more fun than it probably sounds, but things get bogged down when you have to fight large groups. Like I said, the battles are all one-on-one encounters, but sometimes Time and Eternity wants to throw a group of weaker enemies at you. Since you have to take each of these opponents out individually, these can turn into quite a slog.
Killing monsters and completing side quests rewards you with points that unlock new abilities for Toki or Towa. You'll only get the ability when Toki/Towa levels up and that's also when they switch places, so if you're playing as Toki and unlock a cool new ability for her you'll actually have to wait two levels before getting to try it out. Toki and Towa have slightly different play styles, but it typically doesn't affect the strategy you'll use for any given monster type. Towa may fire a rifle more slowly, but that's rarely a deal breaker for your spell timing.
Every once in a while you'll fight a large enemy and the battle system completely changes. Instead of fighting with a knife and rifle, you'll have an assortment of spells with cool down times. You'll as be able to freely move around the map to avoid incoming fireballs before responding with your own. It's an amusing diversion from the standard gameplay but the four spells you can use during these fights have nothing to do with the abilities you've unlocked thus far, so I was glad to see this battle system used only a couple times throughout my 24 hour play through.
Time and Eternity comes with a bit of replay value after those 24 hours are done, with multiple difficulty levels, dialogue choices sprinkled throughout and an affinity meter between Toki and Towa that decides the final choice. Playing new game plus allows you to get the affinity meter to be perfectly between Toki and Towa, and I'm sure we all know what that means.
When images of Time and Eternity (or Toki to Towa, as it was known as at the time) first surfaced it had the niche JRPG fans of the internet in a tizzy with excitement over its visuals. The hand drawn anime-style characters are indeed mighty impressive, but the backgrounds they walk on are notably less so. Personally, I was always more concerned about how well animated Time and Eternity would be, and unfortunately my concerns proved justified. But thanks to an interesting battle system and some cute humor, Time and Eternity is still a decent game that any JRPG fan should check out. If you're looking for something different during these slower Summer months and you don't mind a bit of pervy Japanese humor then look no further, and let me know when/if you get that coveted harem ending.
This review is based on a PS3 copy of Time and Eternity, provided by the publisher.