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Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology

Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo DS
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Atlus U.S.A.
Release Date: Feb. 13, 2018 (US), Feb. 16, 2018 (EU)

About David Silbert

I'm a recent college graduate from Boston, MA. When I'm not writing for WorthPlaying, I'm probably researching Celtics trade rumors or struggling to keep up with the growing library on my Nintendo Switch.


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3DS Review - 'Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology'

by David Silbert on March 12, 2018 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Channeling the heart and soul of fan favorite 16-bit RPG classics, Radiant Historia combines a unique position-based battle system, intricate hand-drawn details, and one of the best soundtracks in recent memory as it takes gamers on a steampunk adventure back and forth through time.

Buy Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology

Time travel is a tough concept to portray in fictional storytelling. Over-explanation of ideas like the theory of relativity or the speed of light can leave people scratching their heads. On the other hand, under-explaining aspects of a story may create unintended plot holes and cause just as much confusion.

When the original Radiant Historia released on the Nintendo DS in 2011, it garnered acclaim among critics and fans for its intuitive story. Weaving sci-fi elements like time travel and alternate timelines into a fantasy tale of warring nations and corrupt leaders, Radiant Historia was a JRPG experience that did just enough to avoid the common pitfalls of time narratives. Some even went far enough to call it the best time-travel video game since Chrono Trigger.

Seven years after its original North American release, Radiant Historia has been remastered and re-released on 3DS in the form of Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology. Sporting an upgraded visual style, English voice acting, and a brand-new dungeon and timeline to explore, Perfect Chronology promises to be the definitive version of a game that many passed over on the DS. It also marks the first time Radiant Historia has reached a European audience (the original game was never released in the EU).

With its engaging character-driven story, phenomenal voice acting, and distinct combat system, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is a great JRPG and an excellent entry point for those unfamiliar with the series. Sluggish story pacing and repetitive backtracking prevent it from reaching the heights of the games it emulates, but Perfect Chronology is a welcome addition to the 3DS library.

As is customary with a good JRPG, Radiant Historia pulls you in right away with its world and characters. The continent of Vainqueur is suffering from a mysterious process known as the "desertification." Due to this phenomenon, the land and inhabitants of Vainqueur are gradually turning to sand. With the sand creating a scarcity of fertile land and resources, war has sparked between the neighboring nations of Alistel and Granorg. As Stocke, a member of Alistel's covert Special Intelligence (SI) agency, players work to stop the spreading of this "Sand Plague" and bring an end to the conflict with Granorg.

Perfect Chronology's story, while slow-paced, is engaging thanks to its large cast of characters. The nations of Alistel and Granorg are home to a variety of military leaders and politicians, and much of the narrative hinges on their various interactions and backstories. Stocke, an ex-military man with skilled experience on the battlefield, is quiet and aloof, yet clever. Heiss, his boss in the SI, is a calculating strategist who knows more about the overall conflict than he lets on. Rosch, a captain in the Alistel army, is a courageous war buddy of Stocke's with a kind heart for his soldiers. Above Rosch is the famed war hero Field Marshal Viola, the pragmatic Lt. General Raul, and the scheming General Hugo.

A lot of what makes Radiant Historia's narrative so compelling is the way in which it avoids the black-and-white "good guys, bad guys" dynamic that plenty of fictional war stories tend to tell. Several people on the command chain in Alistel have ulterior motives, while many within Granorg fight for the same peace that Stocke is pursuing. The constant layering of new characters, each with their own motivations, kept me guessing as the story moved from chapter to chapter.

Although Radiant Historia's narrative was strong back in 2011, it's even stronger in Perfect Chronology thanks to the addition of English voice acting. Each major cast member is fully voiced, and the original game script has been revamped so lines flow smoothly when spoken. While the inclusion of voice acting in a JRPG is always a risk, Atlus has done a phenomenal job casting strong actors to voice the cast. There are no weak links: Stocke's soft-spoken voice complements his calm and composed demeanor; Heiss' gravelly delivery reinforces his cunning and two-faced nature; Rosch's emphatic lines illustrate both his sternness as a leader and his compassion as a friend. The energy that each actor gives to his/her respective character's performance pays dividends, and I found myself paying even closer attention to lines of dialogue than I had in the original game.

Of course, the political story of two warring nations is only half the experience in Radiant Historia. Another huge aspect comes in the form of the White Chronicle, a magical book that Stocke receives from Heiss early on in the game. When a life-altering choice during the prologue branches Stocke's adventures into two possible timelines — the "Standard History" and the "Alternate History" — Stocke is tasked with a seemingly impossible situation: live through both realities in order to come to a desired conclusion. With the White Chronicle in hand, Stocke is able to travel between these timelines and influence the actions that transpire in each.

These critical junctions, known as "nodes," are the crux of Perfect Chronology's time-traveling story. When obstructed by an obstacle in one timeline, players can travel to the opposite timeline in search of a solution. An explosives expert needed to blow up the entrance to a mine in the Alternate History might have gone missing due to an assassination he suffered in the Standard History. By saving him in the Standard History, players are able to ensure he survives in the Alternate one, allowing them to travel further in that timeline.

This time-traveling mechanic works well, for the most part. Though it took me a while (and some suspension of disbelief) to get used to the idea of two separate timelines affecting one another, Radiant Historia's dual timelines provide some interesting conundrums for players to solve while allowing a degree of flexibility in how the player chooses to progress. Don't get me wrong; the game is no Mass Effect. Though there are branching choices throughout the game, most are shallow scenarios that lead to cheesy "your efforts were in vain" dead ends in the narrative. However, the two branching timelines offer plenty of opportunities to employ player agency when deciding what to tackle next.

Outside of the main story, a series of smart side-quests require careful attention to what has transpired when in order to properly complete them. Perfect Chronology also offers two brand-new distractions in the form of a third "Possible History" timeline as well as a dungeon known as the Vault of Time. The Vault of Time gives players a place to grind enemies for experience and exchange a currency known as "mementos" for powerful mid-game gear. The Possible History timeline, meanwhile, adds some bite-sized "what if" scenarios to complete for some extra cash to use in the main game. Whatever the distraction may be, Perfect Chronology's time mechanics make the experience feel surprisingly non-linear.

While Radiant Historia's time traveling is liberating, it's also an unfortunate source of frustration. By nature of the game's design, players will be revisiting the same nodes several times. The title smartly allows players to skip previously read dialogue, much like with redundant paths in a visual novel. However, the game still forces you to trudge through past areas, such as Lazvil Hills or Alma Mine, in order to trigger the thing you need to progress. Add to this the fact that these zones are large and filled with enemy encounters, and the process quickly becomes tedious.

Even when you're not replaying past nodes, the game has a weird habit of having players backtrack through previous areas. Chapter 1 of the game, for instance, has Stocke and his subordinates running through Lazvil Hills a whopping three or four times before they eventually leave it behind for good. This has an impact on the story pacing, as it feels as if characters are hanging around the same areas for hours on end before making any tangible progress. For a game about warring nations and civilizations turning to dust, the characters of Radiant Historia are a surprisingly sluggish bunch.

Thankfully, a lot of the tedium is remedied by its exciting combat. Battles play out with Stocke's party fighting a 3-by-3 grid of enemies. Enemies can move between different squares; the closer they are to the party, the more damage they'll deal, and vice versa. By using MP, players can activate special attacks that push, pull, and slide enemies from one box on the grid to another.

Through careful planning, players can set up devastating combos that pile enemies up into a lone corner of the board, allowing the main cast to whittle away at their health. Throw in the ability to swap turns with an enemy or ally at the cost of leaving yourself vulnerable to a critical attack, and Radiant Historia's combat makes for an interesting mix between a puzzle game and a turn-based RPG.

While the inclusion of voice acting makes up the bulk of Perfect Chronology's remastered presentation, it would be remiss of me to not mention the upgraded visuals. From up-rezzed sprites and textures in the field and in battle to crisp new character art that brings added detail to the main cast, Perfect Chronology does an admirable job transitioning Radiant Historia to the 3DS's superior hardware. It's not a game that will blow you away visually — the lack of 3D support feels like a missed opportunity — but Perfect Chronology gets the job done.

The soundtrack, meanwhile, has made an even better jump to the 3DS, sporting the same beautiful music featured in Radiant Historia on DS along with some added tracks for good measure. From the whimsical battle theme to its melodic yet solemn Alistel town theme, the music of Perfect Chronology is a good complement to the strong narrative and characters. However, due to the game's slow pacing and repetitive backdrops, expect to listen to the same few songs on repeat during any given chapter.

Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is a game that's bursting at the seams with interesting ideas. Its story is gripping thanks to a diverse cast of nuanced characters, while its time-traveling structure and grid-based combat provide a challenging mix of planning and puzzle-solving for those familiar with RPGs. At the same time, however, its frustrating backtracking and slow-as-molasses pacing drag the experience to a disappointing halt at times. Despite its issues, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is a strong addition to the 3DS and a fitting swan song for a handheld that's beginning its descent into the annals of gaming history.

Score: 8.5/10

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