Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology

When this game came out the first time, way back in 2011, I thought it was one of the best original rpgs to hit the DS. I found that it drew elements from a lot of games that I loved, from Chrono Trigger to Final Fantasy Tactics to Final Fantasy X, to make a game that felt simultaneously classic and original. This enhanced port, while fixing some of the game’s flaws, also manages to draw more attention to some of the structural problems the game has.

Perfect Chronology makes few big changes to the core of the game. It adds some new character art that is largely not an improvement. That is to be expected. Mostly what it adds are a lot of balance tweaks. The original game was not exactly smooth when it came to a lot of things. There were weird humps in the level curve and in enemy strengths and equipment costs. This remake does a lot to fix those mostly very slight problems. In my limited experience, the changes do a lot to just make the game simply play better. Most of what I said originally still stands.

My ability to accurately describe the changes to the game in detail is limited because I played it on Friendly mode. The difficulty levels are another new addition to this version and I choose the easiest one. Mostly because I had already played the game in its original form, this time I just wanted to take a tour of the game and be reminded of why I initially liked it so much. Which is what Friendly difficulty provides. It basically turns the battle system into just boss and scripted battles, which are easier than they normally are. If you just want to get the experience and story, it works just fine. If you really want to see what the game has to offer, I would not recommend it.

The new story stuff largely based about new character Nemissa, who possesses a new tome that controls alternate histories. Mostly these work as little side-stories of scenes you know from playing, and replaying, them in the main game. Eventually, completing them leads the way to alternate endings for a lot of the characters in the main game. That is where the new stuff really falters. Most of Radiant Historia’s cast is not exactly nuanced. There are some complex and thoughtful characters, but those aren’t the ones who get new stuff in this game. And the games doesn’t really flesh them out, it just adds discordant codas to what was already there. Take, for instance, the vain, incompetent Queen Protea. She is an out and out monster, ordering her own capitol city burned to root out members of the resistance. After a brief adventure in an alternate history where Protea is not a tyrannical puppet queen, but a major player in the resistance, the party gets a way to remind her of who she once was and her ending now has leaving the throne for a life of quiet repentance. That is probably the least objectionable new outcome for the villains, who get redemption without earning it. So the new story content is not great.

Radiant Historia was initially released in the fading days of the Nintendo DS. The 3DS was on the horizon and piracy had pretty well hollowed out the systems support. A great game disappeared pretty quickly after it was dropped into an ecosystem that would have been completely dead if not for the fact that Nintendo insisted on propping it up with some late Pokemon games. Now it gets a chance for release on a system … in much the same situation. I think the 3DS is a little healthier at this point in its life than the DS was when Radiant Historia released, if only because there is no successor on the horizon, but it isn’t enough the make a big difference.

Radiant Historia

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.

SMT Devil Survivor, with no “witty” title

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor is a game that, on paper at least, I should really enjoy.  I like strategy RPGs, I like Shin Megami Tensei and its rock/paper/scissors-esque battle system, and I like games with branching paths and different endings.  However, despite being made up almost entirely of things I like, Devil Survivor ended up being much more frustrating than fun.

It took me a while to figure out just why that is. It wasn’t because it is difficult.  I’ve played harder games than Devil Survivor, and though it was far from easy, Devil Survivor was far from too hard.  Actually, the difficulty is just about right.  It wasn’t the at times off putting character designs and characters.  Yeah, Yuzu’s boobs are weird and she’s kind of annoying, but for the most part the story stuff is pretty good.  After beating the game (taking Amane’s route out of necessity rather than choice) and thinking on it for a while I’ve realized what the problem it.  Devil Survivor needs a map.

I don’t mean an explorable map, like DQ VIII and nearly every other classic RPG.  That is not part of the game for a reason; it simply does not fit with what the game is doing.  I don’t necessarily mean a true map.  I just want some way of navigating the various game systems. I want a map of map of each character’s progress, some way of charting my progress towards the various endings.  Chrono Trigger had multiple endings, but its endings are dependent on big obvious things.  It is never hard to tell what ending you are going to get.  I don’t mind making tough decisions with real impact in games like this, I just want to know that I’m making such a decision.  With Devil Survivor, I really never knew where I stood.  I decided early on which ending I wanted to get: Atsuro’s.  I kissed his ass for four or so days in the game, only to get to Day 7 and realize that somehow I failed to unlock his ending.  I only had Amane’s and Yuzu’s endings to choose from. It was frustrating, and that frustration could have easily been avoided with a touch of transparency on the game’s part letting me know how about my progress.

It is not just in the story mechanics that need a map.  Even though Devil Survivor has the SMT series’ usual collection of demons, it lack the usual compendium.  The player can’t catalog and buy back old demons.  That makes the fusing process a constant move forward.  It doesn’t make it impossible to repeat specific builds, it doesn’t really even make it harder to do so, it merely makes it a longer more tedious process to do so.  Also, you can’t just look through a list for the demons with the right attributes for a tough battle, you have to get lucky with the auction house or fusing.  Just as with the story, Devil Survivor’s party building mechanics drops the player into the wilderness with no way to find their way around.  And for me at least, that is a big problem.

I love maps.  I doubt I would have enjoyed Super Metroid or Ocarina of Time without them.  I loved drawing maps in the Etrian Odyssey series.  Those are literal maps, sure, but the concept is the same.  I like to see where I have been and plan out where I am going.  Radiant Historia uses a timeline so the player knows where and when they are in the game’s time traveling, reality switching story.  Throughout almost all of Devil Survivor, I felt lost and I hated it. Which is sad, because otherwise it is a really good game.