I still remember when I learned about Radiant Historia all those months ago. I remember not being impressed with it, that everything was a bit too trite. It looked like one of those games that we, as gamers, have seen one too many times before. I remember when I saw it in action over a month ago online, and it started to impress me with its soundtrack. And now that I have my hands on it, I can honestly say that this game surprised me. It sucked me into its deep plot, soundscapes and accessible yet tricky combat. This is definitely one of the unassuming masters of the role-playing genre.
Radiant Historia follows the adventures of a special intelligence agent by the name of Stocke. A veteran of the army, he is considered an expert agent despite his young age. Currently, the nations of Alister (the kingdom he resides in) and Granorg are at war over the last few acres of viable land. Stocke’s job was supposed to be simple: Go to the forest, rendezvous with the Alisterian spy and bring him back. Unfortunately for him, everyone died — including him. Luckily, he held the White Chronicle in his hands at the time, and it allowed him to go back and correct history. Now, his goal is slightly different from his job: Save the world from turning into a desert and bring forth the correct history.
That is the real draw of this game: the plot. There are two different timelines to follow, and each of them intertwines the other in different ways. One character is in a different place instead of being on the other side of the map, a bomb dealer’s death in one path affects the other, monsters are different types and what’s going on in the background might actually be occurring naturally in both. The themes of politics, religion and time all combine to create a fascinating plot. What impressed me the most is how the concept of “time” is treated: It is always in the here-and-now.
Graphically, Radiant Historia is downright amazing when taken as a whole. However, when broken up things are a bit underwhelming. The main graphic engine is somewhat pixelated and look like a very high-end Super Nintendo game. This is especially true when it comes to the spells during combat. However, it shows its strengths when displaying burning buildings, rain and gestures of your characters and enemies. Every gesture is shown, and it is amazing how smooth and personal it is. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that multiple enemies can attack at once. It’s awesome.
Gameplay is that of a traditional role-playing game. You will have Stocke run around towns, gather information for advancing the plot, purchase items and fight monsters. It works on two different levels. First of all is the time mechanic. As I wrote in a previous article, Stocke can travel back and forth in time provided there is a node in the White Chronicle. Then he can change previous events to a happier conclusion. And the White Chronicle does a pretty good job keeping it all straight. Second, the game keeps adding a new trick toward you every few hours. At first, it’s simply moving blocks around. Then it’s blowing up barrels of gunpowder. Then it is learning a sword dance that allows you to cut specific parts of the map. It is an interesting mechanic as it allows you to do things you previously haven’t done before, and it helps keep the gameplay fresh.
Combat is also traditional, though it also has unique spin. Battles take place on 3-by-3 squares with your party all lined up in a row on the right side of the screen. You can see when the enemies (though it won’t tell you at a glance which one is going first) and allies move on the top screen. Most enemies can be moved around the board using special attacks. And you need to master this skill as it allows you stack monsters and cause massive damage as a whole. Gathering all the enemies together on one square doesn’t give you a massive advantage other than possibly killing them all at once.
What’s also awesome about this is that each character has a specific role to fill. And who’s in your party depends on which timeline you’re following at the moment. Raynie and Marco tend to be your main assistants as they give you a very balanced party: one mover/generalist, one healer and one spell caster. Other characters play off those roles: Aht sets up traps that cause massive damage, Eruca is a pure spell caster and Gafka is a heavy hitter. Mixing and matching which characters you bring into battle is a joy because each party configuration provides a different strategy.
Sound design wise, the music in Radiant Historia is downright excellent. A mixture of violins and drums create tense battle music, the pitter patter of rain, horns signify victory and synthesizers with a Parisian flair set the tone for adventure. I really don’t think I can do it justice. Atlus did package the game with a piano CD that is five tracks long. Although I do enjoy the album, it’s hard not to wish for something longer.
Radiant Historia is a game that defies expectations. It’s like the underdog team or boxer that no one wants to root for. It doesn’t look like much, but once the action starts, it doesn’t stop landing blows until the bell rings. Out of all of the portable RPGs I have played over the previous year, Radiant Historia puts most of them to shame. It is easy to justify the $35 price tag with its awesome soundtrack, fast yet complex battles and intriguing plot. So what are you waiting for? A lantern? This is a game that radiates excellence on nearly every level.