Hm. Very interesting. I've been wanting to get this game. It's nice to hear that it's pretty good.
Too many brilliant Nintendo DS RPGs have never seen a release outside of Japan and those that did were also often only localised for the North American market. Europe still got plenty, but only a fraction of what could have been released. Atlus USA is one publisher that would often release RPGs on Nintendo DS in North America that never turned up in Europe: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, Legacy of Ys and My World, My Way are some such games. Radiant Historia is another to add to that list, designed mostly by Atlus employees joined by members of tri-Ace who worked previously on Radiata Stories - in fact, for a time it was also referred to as the Radiata Stories of Nintendo DS, due to both games sharing the same character designer, Hiroshi Konishi, and the DS game being developed by some of the staff from tri-Ace that worked on the aforementioned PlayStation 2 title. Just how much has the European market missed out on with the lack of release for Radiant Historia?
To make an RPG that stands out from the rest it certainly takes a special twist on the genre, and Radiant Historia is no exception. Its key feature is the possibility to travel through time. Chrono Trigger comes to mind right away when talking about such a system but it works differently here. The main character, Stocke, is an intelligence agent of the holy nation of Alistel, a nation at war with the Kingdom of Granorg. He is sent by his superior on a mission with two recruits, Raynie and Marco, to rescue a fellow agent. However, just when they manage to locate the agent, they are surrounded by the enemy. The agent is killed, and so are Raynie and Marco. Stocke is badly wounded and loses consciousness. When he wakes up, he is in a place named Historia with two mysterious twin children, Teo and Lippti, who have been watching over the chain of events taking place on the continent from their place outside of time. There, Stocke learns that the unfortunate turn of events could have unfolded much differently had he made alternate choices. He is given the White Chronicle, a book with the power to enable its wielder to travel through time, so that he can help avoiding the destruction of the entire continent, which is threatened by desertification.
Stocke tries it for himself and succeeds in saving the agent and his friends, changing history. Back in Alistel, he is soon faced with an important choice: his old friend Rosch offers an avenue to leave the intelligence agency and join the army. This important choice splits the storyline in two, and the player must travel between the two to progress through both. The game events are scripted, and should the player make bad decisions along the way, it often leads to a dead-end for history and sends him or her back to a ‘node’ (checkpoints in the flow of time) so that they might try again and avoid repeating the same mistakes.
There's not room to explore tons of different possibilities aside the ‘right path’ in both storylines. Rather, there will be some times when you'll realise that something more could have been done in the past, and will have to travel back to rearrange events so that the present is changed. Sometimes the situation in one storyline will seem completely stuck unless the characters have an item which cannot be obtained at any time in the current timeline, forcing you to travel to the other one to get it.
You keep jumping from one storyline to the other because you'll never be able to progress more than a few hours into one before getting stuck, forced to either go backwards in the current timeline, or travel over to the other. It can be hard to keep track of events happening in two stories at once. Fortunately, it's always possible to go back in time and replay any event, or read a summary of every major event that the party has already experienced. Additionally, finding what's needed in one timeline to solve the situation while you are in the other becomes more and more complicated as you progress because you don't get as many hints.
All this helps keep things fresh and interesting throughout Radiant Historia as you delve into the nicely designed environments. While not the best showcase of the full graphical capabilities of Nintendo DS, the art direction for the environments and character design vastly enhances the experience, though the character sprites lack a bit of the pixel art charm that makes some old 16-bit 2D games still so appealing nowadays. The mood is further enhanced by the magnificent soundtrack composed by Yoko Shimomura, famous for her work on the Mario & Luigi and Kingdom Hearts series.
Exploration plays a big part in the game. The party is limited to a single continent, and certain parts of the world are only accessible through the very same powers or items necessary to progress through both story paths. A sword that can cut through vines, or the powers to become invisible or see invisible items, are examples of such elements required to access previously unreachable places. This leads to quite a bit of spatial-temporal backtracking for items or side quests. Those abilities, added to the fact that some crates and barrels can be moved around, add a minor puzzle element to the mix that reminds of the Golden Sun series, though it's nowhere near as prominent in Radiant Historia.
Not only are you stopped from immediately roaming the whole continent to your heart's content due to these restrictions, but also enemies are out and about to hamper your progress, as in most RPGs. Enemies appear directly on the field so battles can be easily avoided. However, the battle system is another original aspect of Radiant Historia. It's based on the classic turn-based system, with characters and opponents attacking in an order determined by each one's speed statistic. The catch, however, is that enemies are set on a 3x3 grid, some taking up more than one slot depending on their size. The playable characters learn techniques and magic that let them either move most types of enemies around the board or target more than one slot on the grid at once.
Simply attacking enemies without thinking about their position would take ages, as they take a lot of hits most of the time. Taking advantage of the system is essential to end battles fast and avoid taking too much damage by remaining on the field of battle for too long. If you move several enemies to a single square and hit one of them, all other enemies standing on that spot will take damage too. Enemies can also be moved onto the zone covered by a bigger enemy, and by hitting the big one, anything sitting in the area it covers will take damage. However, your foes won't just stay where you move them. As soon as an enemy's turn comes, they will separate again, so chaining the moves of the party is very important so that several enemies get hit before they can re-spread on the field of battle...and that's where another twist comes into play.
When a character's turn has come, players can choose to switch its turn with another's, either enemy or ally, at the cost of half of its defence; the character then turns red to inform of its resulting vulnerability. That way, the order that the characters act during battle can be arranged to a certain extent. It's a tactical aspect that makes you look for the most effective way to deal lots of damage. The combat system is cleverly designed and very fun. Some boss battles are difficult, but as long as you cleverly plan your attacks and you level up just a tiny bit sometimes, getting into deep trouble is avoidable.
No gameplay issues to report. It plays really well, but doesn't revolutionise anything either. However, the combat system is a nice new twist on the old turn-based formula and will ensure that battles remain interesting until the end of the game.
There are better 3D graphics on Nintendo DS, but Radiant Historia still manages to best most of the competition. This is helped by a great art direction, both in the environments and character design. The impressive art direction is definitely the game's biggest strength. Sprite work, however, turns out to be the game's visual weak point.
For this game, Yoko Shimomura has composed one of the best soundtracks to grace Nintendo DS’ entire existence, though it could have used a greater number of different tracks. The first limited print of Radiant Historia even came with a bonus CD soundtrack containing five beautiful piano renditions of tracks from the game, played by the composer, though the second print lacks this CD. The sound effects are just okay for the most part and could have used a bit more polish to equal the excellence of the music.
A completely original adventure that will surprise even the most seasoned JRPG fans - and might even please detractors of the genre in the process - which will last 50 to 60 hours. Not much grinding is required, so most of that time will be spent experiencing the main story, backtracking and side-questing.
Nintendo DS, without a doubt the queen of the RPG genre in recent years, gains another incredibly good addition to its library in Radiant Historia. It looks and sounds good and has a compelling story that doesn't fall in with most of the genre’s clichés; it’s a a very engaging experience that has the potential to get you hooked for hours and the characters, though seemingly nothing special at first, are revealed to be very original and not what you'd expect from a JRPG. Alas, once again, Europe isn't getting the goods that it should, with the majority sure to miss out on an awesome experience without localisation. Import Radiant Historia, if you can, while it's still rather easy to find - this won't last forever.
Hm. Very interesting. I've been wanting to get this game. It's nice to hear that it's pretty good.
Nice review I have this game and the music cd that came with it in my collection.
Proving to be a very fun game. Just got it on saturday thanks to the wonders of Gift Cards hehehe.
Nice review. Game was fun all the way through. A must buy if you're looking for RPG's to add to ur collection on the DS.
Despite having this, you know what I've had to resort to? Using a Flash Card to strip away that DAMN ANNOYING FOOTSTEP NOISE!!!!
Honestly, doesn't it bother anyone else? Sounds like a horse is clip-clopping REALLY loudly!
Otherwise it's a stunning game with a gorgeous soundtrack and yet another Atlus gem that will seemingly never reach Europe.
Who votes for Atlus Europe? I bloody do, that's for sure!
I did find the footsteps noise annoying but only in some specific cases, like when the characters are walking on a wooden floor. The rest of the time, it didn't bother me as much, but I still reckoned that the sound effects in general did lack polish, which is why I mentioned it in the review.
I'd certainly vote for Atlus Europe too if this allowed us to get more gems here, like this one
I think we need to write an article on the fantastic DS games that Europe has missed out on this generation
Even watching videos of the game, the ra-ta-ta-ta sound is crazy. Why did they include it?!