Time and Eternity continues the quirky line of Japanese RPGs from Nippon Ichi Software, which has offered past titles like Disgaea and Hyperdimension Neptunia. This time around, they’ve provided a game that sounds quite interesting, at least from a technical standpoint. Unfortunately, though, not only is the unique art style not pulled off particularly well, but the actual gameplay lacks variety and substance, making for what is overall a substandard game.
The zany plot starts off following a betrothed couple named Toki and Zack. On their wedding day, ninja assassins invade the ceremony and fatally stab Zack. Toki then unveils two major secrets she’s been hiding from her fiancee. The first is that she has an alter ego named Towa, who is not merely a split personality, but an entirely separate soul sharing Toki’s body.
The second is her ability to time travel. Both Toki and Towa travel six months into the past. Zack is carried along, but his soul ends up stuck in the body of Toki’s diminutive pet dragon, Drake. From there, the three set out to investigate who the culprits behind the wedding attack are and prevent it from happening in the first place.
In terms of characters, Toki and Towa both end up coming across as rather boring protagonists, with Towa’s more ruthless nature being the only personality trait of note. Zack, on the other hand, does occasionally drop a funny line, but he also comes off as a bit of a sleaze, such as his continually expressed desire to take a bath with his fiancee. I know that perverted characters aren’t uncommon in Japanese media, but they’re usually comic relief. Making your main protagonist slimy isn’t a good way to get players to like them.
The outlandish setup leads to a game that is framed with a now-standard quest system, where you’re given primary objectives to accomplish as the story progresses, as well as the ability to find optional sidequests throughout the game’s world and accomplish them for bonus goodies. Don’t go in expecting a very expansive world to explore, though. Players make use of a world map to go to individual locations, and towns consist of static screens with a few spots to click your cursor on rather than lively environments.
Sidequests are generally routine, with common objectives such as fetch quests, finding hidden items, or slaying a certain amount of a specific monster in battle. They are given unique characters and dialog to set them up, but there’s no denying that the actual objectives lack creativity.
The meat of the gameplay has you traversing through wide environments with a specific destination on your mini-map in the corner. A bigger map would have been nice to allow for better route planning around obstacles like hills and mountains that you can’t traverse, but I couldn’t find that option. Going further, the in-game battles use the age-old random encounter system, though the encounter rate is pretty lenient, so you probably won’t find yourself thinking there are too many encounters.
At the same time, while the game’s battle system is unique, I can’t call it particularly fun or intuitive. Essentially, players view Toki/Towa and Zack from behind, and have the option to attack an opponent from a distance with various projectile attacks, or run up close and attack with a dagger. Enemies have their own unique attacks, some of which are easier to avoid if you’re not up close, while some can be avoided by simply sidestepping at the right moment. Finally, using the default attack with the circle button builds up a meter that can be spent on more powerful attacks, such as flurries of knife swipes or magic spells.
This is interesting in theory, but the controls could have used some fine-tuning in terms of responsiveness. To better explain this, you’re immobile for a moment after a default attack. While it is brief, it can be all an enemy needs to pull off a heavy-hitting attack of their own. Some may argue this adds an extra element of strategy, but for a battle system so reliant on good timing, it feels like more of a hindrance than anything.
One of the more interesting features is how the game handles the character switching between Toki and Towa. Basically, the only way to initiate a switch is to level up, at which point you’ll automatically find yourself in control of the other character until the next level of experience is reached. Various actions, from fighting to accessing specific spots in the environment, will increase Zack’s affection for whichever girl is active, complete with a meter in your pause menu that will show which one he’s leaning more towards at any given moment.
Voice work ranges from decent, such as the main trio of characters, to grating, such as Toki’s hyperactive friend Enda. Some of the music for the explorable environments also works pretty well. Finally, from a technical and graphical standpoint, the game tries to pull off something I can’t recall any other Japanese RPG I know of doing. This is the idea of the environments being standard 3D polygonal levels, but the characters being hand-drawn 2D sprites at all times.
I thought this was a neat idea when I first heard about the game, and I still think it could be pulled off well. The problem is that the execution here feels a little sloppy. Traversal in each level feels awkward, as the camera stays fixed behind your character, meaning you have the now-antiquated “tank” control scheme, where your character only backs up slowly instead of turning around when you press down on the control stick. Finally, it’s common in cutscenes for characters to briefly appear in a different position, then magically pop into existence where they’re supposed to be. It’s a minor quibble, but one that still manages to screw up the intended experience.
Time and Eternity does some stuff I haven’t really seen before in a JRPG, and I commend the developers for trying them. The problem is that most of it simply isn’t done very well. Battles are repetitive and awkwardly controlled, the story and characters aren’t engaging, the quest system lacks depth and variety, and the ambitious graphical presentation feels sloppy. As it stands, I’d only recommend it to diehard fans of the sub-genre of Japanese RPGs, who feel the need to play every title that gets translated. For everyone else, this can be skipped.
This review is based on a copy of the PS3 version of the game that we received for review purposes.
Time and Eternity presents some interesting gameplay and presentation concepts, but executes them clumsily in a package that never quite comes together.