The Nintendo DS has a treasure trove of Japanese RPGs. They lie underneath a plethora of shovelware and casual games. Gems like Radiant Historia were deserving of a second chance to prove their worth. It seems Atlus felt the same way as they gave us a remake for the 3DS.
The story of Radiant Historia starts in the middle of a war between two nations, Alistel and Granorg. The main character, Stocke, is a special agent working for Alistel. He receives a special gift, the White Chronicle from his superior. This book grants Stocke the power to travel through time. With it, he must find a way to stop the war and bring peace to the continent.
Radiant Historia presents itself as a time travel story. The plot revolves around Stocke’s time-travelling powers and different timelines. It’s not quite as compelling as Chrono Trigger. The main restriction is Stocke can only travel to time periods where he exists. There’s nothing crazy, like jumping back in time to 63 million B.C and hanging with reptilian people.
Where the story falls, the characters are there to pick it up. Radiant Historia has an outstanding cast of characters. They’re likeable and bring a lot of heart to the story. Stocke may appear to be an edgy protagonist, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. He’s a kind man, who cares deeply for his friends and beliefs. In a genre where teenagers seem to save the world on a regular basis, it was nice to see an older main character. The tone feels more mature and serious because of it.
The excellent characters also have amazing voice acting. The voice acting work in this game is professional and well-done. While the standard of JRPG voice acting is better than it once was, you still get a lot of stinkers. Atlus has made a good investment in voice acting to ensure the experience is enjoyable. Stocke, in particular, has a superb voice actor. Hats off to Xander Mobus for the great performance.
Battles in Radiant Historia are turn-based. The enemies are on a 3 by 3 grid, which is important since you can change their position. Enemies on the frontline deal and take more damage. On the backline, their attacks are weaker, but so are yours. Magic does the same damage regardless of position. The emphasis on positioning makes for a challenging combat system. If you don’t plan your approach, you’ll find battles to be very difficult.
During combat, you must also exploit weaknesses and use status conditions. Decreasing enemy attack and defence is the key to victory. Going all in with your strongest attacks will get you nowhere. The need for strategy helps the combat in Radiant Historia stand out.
Yet, the combat also gets repetitive after a while. After ten or so hours of playing, you’ll find yourself avoiding most of the regular encounters. This won’t be a major problem since levelling up is never an issue. As long as your armour and weapons are up to date, there should be no drama. While regular enemies get stale, the bosses always offer something unique. You have a great fight to look forward to at the end of every dungeon.
Keeping up to date with equipment may be frustrating at times. Money is sparse in the early game so you have to spend wisely. You do have a few alternatives. Sidequests are plentiful and offer great rewards. They also add to the story in a meaningful way, so all of them are worth doing. Especially if you want the better endings.
Your other option is the Vault of Time, a special place beyond time and space. Here you can fight enemies to collect Mementos. Using this extra currency, you can buy special equipment and items. Keep in mind that your Mementos will reset every time you leave the Vault of Time. So, only use this room when you need a specific item.
A remake suggests significant changes and new content. Radiant Historia doesn’t quite hit the mark here. There are some presentation differences, such as the new artwork and voice acting. Other than that, there’s an alternate timeline of new possibilities. Essentially, it’s a series of extra missions. You revisit the same locations, albeit with some differences.
Honestly, this doesn’t add anything substantial to the story or experience. The missions are uninteresting and bland. The slight differences in the timelines aren’t enough to justify fighting old battles. These extra quests also force you to jump around the different time periods. A cheap way of padding out the missions and increasing play time.
This remake also has new sprites and graphical details. Overall, it looks appealing. One day, a full-blown sequel with full 3D graphics could be possible. For now, this is a good look for the game. It’s a great throwback to classic RPGs. There’s an abundance of colours and the city of Alistel, especially, looks great.
The drawback is the lack of scope. The world you explore is small with very few locations to visit. A handful of towns and environments, which is disappointing. With an RPG, you expect a large world with many beautiful locales. Radiant Historia drops the ball in this regard.
The composer for Radiant Historia is Yoko Shimomura, from the Kingdom Hearts series. This woman is an absolute genius. She brings her A-game to this title with a stunning soundtrack. The battle themes are epic melodies that fit the serious tone of the story. The music in dungeons and towns is also excellent, especially the final stage.
The only issue is how small the soundtrack is. There should be more to it than what we have here. Several areas use the same track, which is not a good sign. Each of the areas needs distinct music. In Radiant Historia, the world map theme is the same as a few of the environments. Despite this misstep, the OST is memorable and fantastic.
It’s hard to recommend this one to those who have the original. There isn’t enough new content to justify buying this game at full price. For new players and RPG fans, this is a must-have. If you have a 3DS lying around, do yourself a favour. Dust off that old console and get yourself a copy of Radiant Historia. You won’t regret it.