|Pub: NIS America|
|Release: June 16, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes|
by Shelby Reiches
The basic idea behind Time and Eternity could work. That even seems like a distinct likelihood, given the names behind it and their places in the JRPG development scene. It’s that potential, and the small glimpses of something far better, that make Time and Eternity not only a lackluster JRPG experience, but an abject disappointment.
Spawned from the depths of Imageepoch and published overseas by Nippon Ichi Software America, Time and Eternity follows the young princess Toki and her fiancé, whose name you are allowed to choose (though it defaults to Zack), as their blissful wedding day is interrupted by a group of assassins who kill Zack and force Toki to reveal her second personality, Towa.
Where Toki is a gentle, soft-spoken red-head, Towa is billed as a colder, more violent blonde. Using the time-based powers granted to them as members of the royal family, Toki and Towa return to the past, six months before the wedding, in an attempt to uncover and defuse the plot to attack the royal wedding. Zack is dragged along, his soul caught in Toki and Towa’s pet dragon, Drake. Together, they must change the future.
The plot isn’t anything mind blowing, drawing on a combination of harem anime tropes to fill itself out and trying to plug the remaining gaps with anything its developers considered sexy or humorous. The writers, though, had a sense for neither. “Comedy” often consists of one-note character traits being exploited at every opportunity to provide either slapstick or a chance to say, “Gee, look at how silly/stupid this character is. Isn’t that funny?” No, Imageepoch, it isn’t funny. Just like it isn’t funny or pointedly referential to name a pair of wannabe assassins “Linus” and “Lucy.”
The comedy isn’t supposed to be the focus here, though. More than anything else, Time and Eternity is about its aesthetic. The game melds 3D backgrounds and gameplay with 2D, hand-drawn character art. This all animates smoothly, particularly Toki and Towa’s running animation, though it tends to hitch up a bit on uneven terrain or when one comes to a sudden stop and turns.
And you’ll be stopping and turning a lot, because the art-style necessitates tank-like movement. The camera must remain positioned directly behind you when you’re on the world map, at all times. This results in an effect where it doesn’t so much appear that Toki and Towa run across the map as that they run in place on your screen while the world moves around them.
While the art is well drawn, created by Taiwanese artist VOfan, and reportedly took three years to complete, it is used in a manner that makes it seem both unappealing and lazy. Character designs are clean, yes, but they have very few conversation animations that they engage in, which often means that the way a character is actually behaving in no way (or just barely) links up with what they’re actually saying. Since all of the main plot dialogue is voiced, this can be particularly jarring, and doubly so since the movement of characters’ mouths never seems to match up with their dialogue.
But what about in combat? Isn’t that where the primary focus of the art should lie? And so it does. Combat definitely has a smooth and dynamic feel to its visuals, and the actual mechanics are somewhat enjoyable if a bit clunky. Even here, though, there are only so many times you want to watch the same enemies go through the same attack animations, and you’ll watch Toki and Towa fire their rifles and slash their knives incessantly for hundreds of combats over the course of the title. More disappointing, though, is the sheer number of enemy recolors there are. Single-eyed, floating stingrays, big-toothed golems, and chubby birds spawn in multiple sizes and colors, but it doesn’t feel like you’re facing new enemies.
Functionally, combat is almost like playing a game of Punch-Out. Viewed from behind Toki/Towa’s back at an angle, players can dodge to the left or right, out of the way of enemy attacks. Combat can be carried out at range, or the player can rush into melee range. The enemy can also charge the player, though, and there are specific attacks that can knock them back out to long range, though they often possess similar attacks to use on you. This is the basis for a fast-paced, enjoyable combat system, but it ends up feeling clunky and disjointed. While the 2D animations are certainly attractive, they necessitate a degree of abstraction in the game’s hit effects. I’d much prefer full-3D models that could provide a real, meaty sense of impact.
The game’s most interesting functional twist is that one switches between Toki and Towa upon leveling, automatically. The former is better equipped to fight at range while Towa aims to close in on foes and dish out punishment there. This does require some minor adjustment in one’s tactics, but it still boils down to dodging enemy attacks, mashing the standard attack button, and using special abilities when one has built up enough “SP” to do so.
Other complaints: Despite featuring the composition talents of Yuzo Koshiro, who created the music for the Etrian Odyssey series, Time and Eternity is largely too quiet. When it isn’t excessively quiet, its music tends to clash with what’s happening onscreen, the exception being during combat when the up-tempo battle theme kicks in.
In general, the game feels slapped together. This comes out in the user interface, which lacks basic quality-of-life features that would have made the game less of a chore to play. From a map that is far too small and can’t be zoomed in further than its default position (though it can be zoomed out), to a weird, pastel glow that lines the outer edges of the screen, Time and Eternity is a frustrating game to interact with. Subtitles often blend into the visuals; HUD elements are confusing, filled with extraneous characters and unintuitive information; and the visuals as a whole have a too-bright, washed-out appearance that makes discerning detail, and particularly reading text, incredibly challenging. Add to this the ubiquitous too-small interface elements, especially on the world map, and my eyes would burn after less than an hour of playtime (I was playing on a 42” HDTV from about six feet away). Oddly, the game also discourages exploration by pointing you, on every map, to the exact location of every treasure box, quest objective, and point of interest as soon as you step into an area. Where’s the mystery?