Time and Eternity
Rated: T for Teen
Developed by: imageepoch & Satelight
Published by: Namco Bandai & NIS America
Availability: Available now for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Network
Synopsis: Kamza, a vibrant kingdom located on a lush ocean island, is in the midst of a national event celebrating the upcoming marriage of Princess Toki to the valiant knight Zack. But when a group of assassins appears during the ceremony, this dream come true transforms into their worst nightmare. As Zack lays mortally wounded, Toki reveals her long hidden secret – there is a second soul named Towa living within her, and together they control the power to travel through time. But can they act quickly enough to reverse the course of history and find out what happened that fateful day? Only time will tell…
I really, really, and I mean REALLY wanted to like Time and Eternity, the latest Japanese RPG from imageepoch and published localized by NIS America. I had been anticipating this game for a couple of years now since first hearing about it and hyped myself up for its release. At the recent E3 expo in Los Angeles, it was one of the games that I simply had to get my hands on while there. I was looking forward to the game’s release with such enthusiasm that I almost missed picking up a couple of other games coming out in the weeks before hand. So when I finally received a review copy of Time and Eternity to review for Pop Cults and started playing you can simply imagine my disappointment when I got about halfway through the game and realized that it wasn’t going to get much better than what I had played. In fact, I think this was one of the most unsatisfying games I have finished in quite a while. Having said that, I am not sorry that I played the game… I just can’t consciously recommend the game for most gamers out there – even the hardcore JRPG fans that usually flock to NIS America games.
To get the basics of the story out of the way so you understand what I am talking about in the next couple of paragraphs, here is a quick rundown of the plot: In the beautiful island kingdom of Kamza, the beautiful princess Toki is standing at the alter awaiting to marry the dashing, yet egotistical knight Zack. However, a surprise attack on the ceremony leaves Zack mortally wounded and revealing a deep secret Toki had been hiding – that a split personality named Towa has been living inside her and is as different in personality from Toki as night and day. Now, Toki/Towa use some magic to go back in time, along with Zack’s soul who has bonded to their pet dragon Drake, to find out the reason why they were targeted and if there is any way to prevent the attack so they may live happily ever after… kind of…
So now that we have that out of the way, before I get to the skinny of why I can’t recommend Time and Eternity for the mass gaming public out there, let me talk briefly about what the game really does have going for it. To start, let me talk about the graphical style of Time and Eternity. The game is presented in beautiful, anime-inspired 3D environments while hand-drawn HD sprites comprise the moving characters and objects in the game. When combined together, for the most part, they give the game this sense that you are playing a living anime series. When it works, it is easy to get lost in the beauty of the game and awe at how much work went into trying to evoke that feeling when the game was being developed. It’s not often that game companies deviate from “tried and true” techniques and I commend imageepoch for trying something definitely new. But it does still have its flaws, and I will get back to that in a minute.
Secondly, the meat of the battle system is really great. Combining attacks between Toki/Towa and Zack/Drake really registers some amazingly powerful attacks on enemies that stand before the duo. Also, the memorization of enemy movements adds a small amount of tactics to the fights. It’s not much of an addition in strategies, but it diversifies the game’s battle system from other imageepoch games enough to really stand out for their fans. Lastly, the character skills and progression elements comes across as the most polished and well-presented aspect of Time and Eternity. Because both Toki and Towa have differing skill trees to enhance, you can make both aspects of the character as similar or as different as you would like. I found this freedom to make essentially the same character so vastly different from each of its personalities rather refreshing and something that looks like it could be incorporated to other games as well. Unfortunately that is where the better part of this review ends and the critical part begins.
For starters, going back to the graphical style of Time and Eternity, while it does look beautiful when it all works together, there is some bugginess and clunkiness in the movements of the characters when the game is in motion, specifically during the action and battle sequences of the game. When moving throughout the world, the graphics come together rather cleanly; but as soon as there is more than just walking around involved, you can see why something like this hasn’t been done before. During battle there is a clear difference in the animation styles of the game that give it this odd and unfinished look. It really detracts from the game and often “jumps” way more than a modern day game should. Kudos to imageepoch for trying this style in a game, but it definitely needs more work and polish before being presented to gamers again.
Also, since we are talking about the battles right now, while I love the style of the fights and the skills tree presented in the game, the random battles found in Time and Eternity are way to repetitive for my taste. I don’t mind the random battle here and there, but there were times in the game where I would literally only take a few steps and then get thrust into battle after battle making traversing the world of Time and Eternity a lesson in patience, endurance and composure: Patience for waiting to see how far I could make it before becoming annoyed with so many random battles, Endurance for making it through different sections of the world and wasting so much time just playing through random encounters, and Composure for not throwing my controller across the room because I have to fight the same repetitive enemies over and over again.
Look, I like to think of myself as an JRPG veteran, but the level of absurdity found in the numerous random battles was taxing and bothersome to a degree that I have rarely seen in gaming. And speaking of absurdity, let’s talk about the characters in the game. There is a certain level of adult entertainment and sexualization that I enjoy in most JRPG games. Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is a great example of what I am talking about. But the amount of sexual themes and comments found in Time and Eternity takes that theme and cranks up the knob to 11, overusing the concepts and making the game depend heavily on the subject. Worse than that, you have Zack constantly trying to get into sexually charged situations with Toki/Towa and other female characters in the game only to repent (when his plan fails or backfires) and talk about how much he truly and genuinely loves his bride to be. What the hell!? Nobody ever mentioned that Zack had a split personality as well. With so much of this going on you figure the game was written by a pre-pubescent youth.
That aspect would not have bothered me as much had the story for Time and Eternity been a little stronger, but instead we get a story that gets so lost in itself and has so little to offer by way of substance, that it fails to make up for any shortcomings the characters have. And on top of that, the voice acting in the game doesn’t help move the game along either – in both English and Japanese. The best voice acting in the game comes from the trio of heroes (Toki, Towa and Zack) but those three are barely passable at best. It seemed as though the voice actors for Time and Eternity were simply following the lines and trying to do as little as possible to draw the player into believing they were in character. At that point I decide to try the game in its original Japanese dialog when I found the same problems in that version as well. It seems that either ALL the actors involved with the game either tried too hard or hardly at all. And that is a shame because maybe, just maybe it could have made the story a little more bearable.
It saddens me to say that there is so much wasted potential in Time and Eternity. The game was chock full of possibility but waste away so much of it due to lack of clean and clear execution. The production values of Time and Eternity are certainly misleading since glancing at the game gives you one idea of the game but is quickly turned around when you actually play the game for yourself. I don’t see this game really appealing to many gamers out there, not even hardcore JRPG fans like myself. There are some that it may find some appeal with, but not many, and that is sad because this game really could have stood out from most others for trying something new and innovative. Now the only way it stands out is as an example of how not to produce a game of its quality. With a heavy heart, Time and Eternity barely manages a C- in my humble opinion.