Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology Review
This review, like a lot of my reviews as of late, is a bit behind the times. Why the delay? I'll just go ahead and quote Jurassic Park here and say, "Life... uh... finds a way." Anyhow, I really couldn't have picked a better game to come back from hiatus on than Radiant Historia for Nintendo's 3DS. With only one major flaw to speak of, this remake of the similarly excellent and woefully overlooked Nintendo DS RPG succeeds on so many different levels, it is almost enough to give a pass to the one aspect that drags the entire experience out of the sumo salt ring of immortality. Sure, everyone seems to have moved onto the Switch these days, but Radiant Historia is as good a reason to dust off the 3DS and prepare for the adventure of a lifetime.
Author's Note: Just as an FYI, I did play the original DS game through when it was first released, so I wasn't coming into this remake entirely fresh. It makes really no difference for the purposes of this review, but I thought it worth mentioning.
I'm going to start with the story for this one because it's as engaging, mature and memorable as any I can come up with from recent memory. The only caveat is that I can't give too much away without ruining it, so forgive the vagueness; I promise it is for your benefit. The story centers on Stocke, a soldier in the Allistel army, which is a years long war with the neighboring nation of Granorg. All this is set against a background of a world rapidly dying, turning into sand before its citizens' eyes. So the two nations are basically battling over what is left, and the conflict hasn't gone particularly well for either side. Early on in the story, Stocke acquires two comrades, Raynie and Marco, as well as a book called the White Chronicle.
The White Chronicle is really the catalyst for the entire story. With it, Stocke has the ability to jump both backward and forward in the past, and this quickly creates two separate timelines. Accomplishing one goal in a timeline can directly affect the other, and vice versa. For example, in one timeline, Stocke does battle with an enemy who teaches him the art of invisibility. In the other timeline, Raynie, Marco and Stocke are hopelessly stuck in Granorg Castle. By learning invisibility in timeline one, Stocke and his friends can effortlessly sneak away, whereas without it, certain death would be imminent. The hopping back and forth works so elegantly it almost makes the game by itself. At first, as I'm sure many of you are thinking, with so many balls in the air, it could be easy to get lost and have no idea how to progress. Not so. In my 60+ hours of playtime before the end credits, I got stuck exactly once. All it took was a little reading of the history of what had already happened and I was back on track in no time. The game's two stories are conducted and handled in a way that is beautiful, jaw-dropping and most of all intuitive, so that whole thing flows like a symphony. The story, its ins and outs and all the hopping around is a masterclass in storytelling, and is one of the reasons I recommend the game so highly.
Next let's talk about how the game looks and sounds. Much ballyhoo has been made by fans of the original for the redesigned characters and their portraits during dialog, but as a fan of the original myself, they really do add a lot of emotion to a game that already had it in spades. The minute-to-minute gameplay still resembles the DS original quite a bit, but the new voiceovers, portraits, songs and music make what was once a great game into one that is nigh unto unforgettable. Just like every other RPG, deaths with rip your heart out, triumphs will make you stand up and cheer and the ending with knock your socks off, but the extra flair added for this remake takes what was a simple shovel and transforms it into a hydraulic jackhammer. People on message boards love to complain about nonsense, but this remake is a filet mignon compared to a ribeye cooked on a Weber grill in some redneck's backyard. Both taste great, but one is just a little different while also clearly and undeniable superior.
The story, the presentation and the enhancements to the original are all what every remake should strive for, but one thing about Radiant Historia remains a huge problem - the battle system. It is a bit tough to explain, so bear with me. Each battle has enemies appear on a 3x3 grid. The goal is to use your turn to knock the enemies back, left, right and forward to group them together, allowing for the next member of your team to attack multiple enemies at once. At first, it is original and kind of neat. But after 30 hours in, it becomes an unpleasant chore. Your best attackers end up spending time moving enemies into position while your weaker ones end up dealing damage. Even when that is reversed, your weaker party members don't often have the abilities to move the enemies where you need them, meaning the battles - even minor ones against nobodies and plant life - can take much longer than they should. The game gradually introduces fixes for this - swapping turns, etc. - but everything outside of boss battles becomes a time-wasting pain in the butt. And being an RPG, you can't just skip battles or else you'd find yourself in front of a super-powered enemy with no chance for victory. Thankfully the battles are not random encounters, so that's a plus, but grinding is more than necessary if you want to finish the game. And with a battle system so tedious, grinding becomes an almost painful chore and a black mark on an otherwise AAA game. A simple turn-based battle system would have elevated this to my favorite 3DS RPG ever made, but this obnoxious system leaves a horrible taste in my mouth, kind of like eating a lobster tail with an aftertaste of Clorox and fish heads.
Battle system aside, Radiant Historia is such an amazing masterpiece of a game, one that is made even more masterful by a remake that almost invalidates the original, that it becomes easy to overlook a busted battle system that, in all honesty, should have been replaced in a remake so well done as this one. If your Nintendo 3DS is collecting dust, it is time to bust out the Swiffer, clean the old girl off and buckle up for one of the greatest adventures ever to appear on a portable system. The Nintendo 3DS still has games coming for the somewhat foreseeable future, but if your looking to retire your personal system, you owe it to yourself to let Radiant Historia be the game that renews your interest in the platform.
Final Rating: 90% - An amazing masterpiece of a game.