Radiant Historia is one of the best original RPGs on the DS. The system has been a haven for fans of 16 and 32-bit role playing games, but a surprising amount of the systems library is remakes and ports. Not that that is a bad thing, it is the only way people are likely going to be able to play things like Dragon Quest 5, but the original games have mostly paled in comparison to the classics. Radiant Historia, though, stands among the best in the genre, managing to feel simultaneously classic and original.
In a lot of small, hard to define ways, Radiant Historia feels like an SNES game. Which coming from me is the highest of compliments. Give or take some rough sprites and 3D backgrounds, it looks like an SNES game. Maybe the feel is in the fact that the game really doesn’t take advantage of the DS’s special features, making it not unlike many of the ports and remakes. More than anything, though, it is that there is a comfortable familiarity to the game. It plays exactly like one would expect an RPG to play. It is accessible and intuitive.
The accessible nature is amazing when you consider that a lot of what Radiant Historia does is pretty novel, at least as far as RPGs go. It combines the time travel of Chrono Trigger with the alternate realities of Chrono Cross, but in a way that is more in depth than either of those games. In Chrono Trigger time travel was mostly an excuse for different environments, Radiant Historia uses it for the opposite reason. It allows the game to reuse the same areas over and over, but in turn they really take advantage of moving through time. The battle system is not exactly standard either. It combines Final Fantasy X’s emphasis on turn order with the grid set up of a tactics game. The end result offers a variety of effective and interesting strategies. The player can set trap on squares and knock enemies on to them, or manipulate the turn order to build a giant combo or even do both at once.
The end result is a highly satisfying game, the kind expected from the twilight of a systems life, when all the tricks are known and developers have familiarity with the tools. Perhaps the most satisfying part of the game is actually the story. Radiant Historia’s story, at least for much of its length, is much more like a piece of Western fantasy than the typical JRPG. Sure, eventually the anime-influenced JRPG stuff seeps in, with the forgotten pasts, secret siblings and plots of world destruction, but for the first two thirds of the game there is more emphasis on political maneuvering and small scale conflicts. Much like the rest of the game, it is a refreshing change of pace.
The game isn’t perfect. For too long it sticks players with party members with the least interesting abilities. They are fine individually, but Raynie and Marco do not have much synergy. The game also takes a little too long to get going and it starts to fall apart near the end. Small flaws in an otherwise terrific game.
Though it more likely to be forgotten than celebrated in the years to come, Radiant Historia deserves a place in the pantheon of great DS games. It is not only probably the best original RPG on the system, it is easily among the best DS games. I’m not sure if it is still widely available, but players owe it to themselves to give this gem a try.