Developer: Image Epoch
Publisher: NIS America (Nippon Ichi Software)/Namco Bandai
Platforms: PS3 (Exclusive)
The PS3 is no stranger to JRPGS. But, in a generation that has seen a steep decline in the once-prominent genre, the benchmark for quality role-playing has certainly elevated to a near-elite status. Whether it’s due to an aging generation of gamers that no longer have the same level of time to invest in the grind, or simply a matter of outdated mechanics and tropes, the JRPG is becoming something of a lost art. One glimmering hope was Image Epoch’s Time and Eternity, a title looking to reinvigorate the JRPG with a stylized experience combining 2D anime art overlaid on top of 3D backgrounds. In regard to artistic value, Time and Eternity earns top marks. Where the game falls flat on its face is, unfortunately, everywhere else.
The most disastrous, if not entirely egregious error T&E makes is in the characters and story department. Assumedly attempting to toe a fine line bordering on self-parody, T&E collects every stereotypical anime character you’ve ever seen and puts them in a small living room together: There’s of course the young male protagonist, named Zack by default (though this can be changed), filled with perverted thoughts he can’t help but think out loud to the dismay of the women around him. Then there’s Reijo, the high-society socialite who takes every opportunity available to remind you how filthy rich she is and thus belongs to a higher echelon than those around her. There’s Wedi, the clumsy ditz who literally falls all over herself, and Enda, the wide-eyed teen who’s obsessed with sweets and carries around cookies or cake everywhere she goes. Surrounded by equally facepalmingly-lame characters, this group rounds out the majority of characters gamers investing in T&E will be spending their time with.
Then there are the stars of the show, Toki and Towa, the ladies featured on the front cover but are still somehow not the central protagonists. Toki is the sweet and sensitive princess of Kamza who takes people at their word, while Towa is a take charge, in your face kinda gal who isn’t afraid to rough you up if she doesn’t like the way you’re looking at her. Pretty disparate personalities, wouldn’t you say? That’s sort of the point, considering they share a body. Yeah… Toki “suffers” from a condition cleverly named “dual souls” which, stay with me here folks as we delve into rocket scientist territory, means two souls are sharing a single body.
An interesting idea in its own right, this still isn’t the plot of the game. Instead, the entire point of Time and Eternity is to safely get through Toki and Zack’s wedding without getting attacked. The game kicks off with the wedding about to conclude, but just as Zack leans in to kiss his beautiful bride for the first time, assassins strike and kill him. In response, Toki travels back in time to six months before the wedding to search for clues and prevent the events leading up to Zack’s death. Oh yeah, Toki can travel through time because she’s a princess and the royal family has time powers because duh, everybody knows that. One small hiccup with her time travel powers though, is that they send Zack back to the past with her, only his soul is instead placed inside of her pet dragon Drake. So, the majority of the game will be spent playing as Toki and Towa, yet experiencing the narrative from Zack/Drake’s perspective. (Oh, the duality of it all!)
From that point forward, the game is an endless stream of fetch quests and real-time battles in hopes of finally finding the princess’ happily ever after. It’s not so much the plot that’s terrible; Image Epoch tries pretty hard to get you to care about Toki, Towa, and Zack, and the complications that arise out of being in love with a person who shares their body with another soul. What sours the experience is the constant innuendo and perverted jokes Zack makes, in addition to the awful dialogue that’s paced painfully slow. It’s hard to commit to a game emotionally when the player will spend most of the cut scenes, which usually drag on forever, literally putting their palm to their face and asking a higher power how much longer this misery will continue for.
But everyone knows JRPGs can be pretty hokey sometimes, but so long as the combat is good, the game has a leg to stand on. Well, that’s strike number two for Time and Eternity; combat is, at best, a chore and, at worst, an abysmal obstacle standing between the player and another excruciating cut scene. Combat is initiated pseudo-randomly while navigating dungeon areas. I say pseudo-randomly because there is a gauge at the top of the screen that, once filled, will trigger a random encounter against whatever enemy types are relevant to the current dungeon. This meter builds simply by walking around the map, and can be slowed with certain items or altogether eliminated with a rare item; thus taking away any chance of random encounters.
Once combat is initiated, battles are a one-on-one affair. Players will either control Toki or Towa, with dragon pet Drake serving as an NPC who occasionally helps out. Toki is better at ranged attacks with her rifle, while Towa excels at close-quarters-combat with her dagger. Both girls are adept at spell casting, which plays a major role in battle, but more on that in a moment. Which of the two soul-sisters players will battle as depends on what level the character is. Every time Toki or Towa levels up, they switch personalities. Fortunately, should players develop an affinity for one lady over the other, there is also a not-too-rare item that allows the girls to switch out on the fly. It’s a shame that the concept of two unique characters with individual areas in which they excel is totally undermined by the fact that spells are comically overpowered, often resulting in one-hit K.O.s when cast by either of the girls. Using a basic rock-paper-scissors formula for elemental spells, it’s easy to target an enemy’s weakness and destroy them with a single spell.
As previously mentioned, battles are one-on-one (excluding Drake’s help from the sidelines); so in the case of encountering multiple enemies in a single combat scenario, Toki or Towa will fight a single attacker at a time before switching over to a subsequent enemy. The maximum amount of enemies in a single combat scenario seemingly caps out at around eight, from what I experienced. What this inevitably leads to is drawn out sequences that result in players mind-numbingly going through the lather, rinse, repeat sequence of dodging, blocking and attacking in whatever order matches the on-screen enemy’s weakness. What makes this worse is there are very few enemy types to encounter in the game. On top of that, every enemy that looks the same behaves in exactly the same manner. So, vampires, no matter what they’re called, have exactly the same attack pattern and move set. The same goes for Mages, Trolls, or whatever else you encounter. Progressing further into the game only results in fighting enemies consisting of a palette swap with more health; elongating battles that offer absolutely nothing new in terms of tactics. The one positive aspect of combat is that there is no penalty for dying, aside from restarting the current battle. Players won’t lose any save progress or items used, and have the option to simply retry the fight; thus encouraging experimentation and offering the opportunity to take some time to really understand enemy attack patterns to perfect dodges.
Aside from combat, there’s absolutely no reason to explore dungeons. Thanks to the handiest on-screen mini map that has ever existed, players can see every relevant point of interest, and I do mean every single one. The map displays where all treasure chests are located, where enemies and items needed for fetch quests can be found/obtained, where every save point is located, and exactly where to go to further the main quest. On one hand, the map is totally incredible! On the other hand, T&E is reduced to a linear series of running from A to B, leaving the whole experience feeling devoid of any sense of adventure. If it weren’t for the constant dialogue between Toki/Towa and Zack throughout the exploration segments, the entire experience would be one dull, repetitive sequence.
Still, there are some redeeming qualities to Time and Eternity. The animation is truly splendid, the 2D anime art is some of the finest in recent memory. On top of that, the 3D dungeon areas and other background art are equally easy on the eyes. Plus, with all of the hand drawn character animations during dialogue and the over-world map’s constant buzzing with activity, the game really gives off a strong sense of vitality. The score is serviceable, but not quite impressive enough to merit the pre-order bonus of including the game’s soundtrack. There’s also some splendor to be had in appreciating the game’s self-aware attitude and references to an assortment of other games and RPG tropes. As an example, NPCs will have ridiculous names. Lackadaisy, for instance, is always in need of a little enthusiasm. Likewise, recently-wed couple Thissun and Thattun can’t ever seem to come to an agreement. In regards to game references, there is a singular reference to Pokemon that is particularly amusing. T&E also isn’t afraid to let gamers know the fetch quest they’re about to embark on is a total waste of time, and will purposefully offer little reason for Toki and Drake to even accept the quest at all.
In a sense, this self-parody does help justify the potentially off-putting sex jokes and constant barrage of perverted remarks flying out of Zack/Drake’s mouth. Anime culture, and Japanese culture in general, has a lot more freedom in regards to sexual expression as opposed to Americanized cartoons; and while that doesn’t justify sexism or the objectification of women, it does put this game into perspective a bit. Time & Eternity caters to a very particular audience, and those who don’t appreciate the nature of that will be decidedly dissatisfied if not all together offended by its content. If the term “fanservice” widens the eyes and invokes the tiniest dribble of drool down the cheek, Time and Eternity is for you.
It may be hard to imagine, but there are actually a few smaller negative quirks about the game that need to be noted as well. As if the voiced dialogue wasn’t annoying enough, all side-quest conversations are done through unvoiced text displays. The issue here is that the subtitles are awkwardly overlapping similarly-colored backgrounds, so they’re hard to read. In fact, they’re damn-near impossible to make out, even on a big-screen HDTV. Why couldn’t they be placed inside of text boxes like every other JRPG? Luckily, the side-quest journal explicitly details what needs to be done, but that still doesn’t make up for all the missed dialogue. Aside from that visual hiccup, there is a problem with the audio as well. A strange sound mixing issue makes it so dialogue is curiously quiet, while sound effects during combat are irritatingly loud. Yet another issue is that not only are enemies generic palette swaps, but NPC quest-givers are as well. There are only a dozen or so types of people populating the world, differentiated only by the color of their hair and outfit.
Even the already-poor combat mechanics suffer from unfortunate drawbacks. A slight input delay means having to plan button presses in advance. This makes dodging/guarding tricky when trying to execute combos while sidestepping oncoming attacks. If that wasn’t bad enough, certain conversations take place with important enemies during combat. These are completely lost on the player as you have to remain focused on the action and, as already mentioned, dialogue is super quiet while combat is obnoxiously loud. Further complicating combat is an issue where enemy attacks are occasionally out of sync with on-screen prompts, making it difficult to effectively time dodges. This problem most often occurs during drawn-out, multi-enemy encounters, where the previous enemy’s attack prompts will flash across the bottom of the screen, leaving players to guess what the actual enemy on-screen will be doing.
There’s little praise to be heaped upon Time and Eternity. The game does have one thing going for it, though. It’s actually quite aptly named: For an RPG, it takes a relatively short time to beat, clocking in at around 20-30 hours for 100% completion on a first playthrough; but the slow pacing and clunky mechanics make it feel like an eternity. In fact, one could likely breeze through the main story in about 10 hours, dismissing all side-quests. While the art is certainly worthy of appreciation, it’s a sad fact that nothing else about the game is worth wasting a second glance on. Or probably a first glance, if we’re being totally honest here.
There’s really no way to recommend purchasing Time and Eternity, especially at full price. Anyone absolutely compelled to own it should at least wait until it hits the bargain bin. However, those interested in the few unique aspects of the narrative may find it worthwhile to simply run through the main story and nothing else; in which case, a weekend rental would suffice. Aside from that, T&E doesn’t contain enough pleasant characteristics to merit the suffering undoubtedly endured during the long-winded cut scenes and awful innuendos. In short, even during a generational drought of JRPGs, this is one to skip over.
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