Radiant Historia

This is one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. I loved everything about it, and you should absolutely check it out.
 
This is one of those instances where I don’t have much to say, but I felt the need to at least make a post not saying much for posterity’s sake.
This was an amazing, heartbreaking game populated by incredibly deep characters in a full world– exactly what I want from a jRPG, which I expect to be character-driven but so often are very, very flat.
It opens with the world’s destruction, and two people– seemingly children– saying they’ve failed again to save it, which I thought was a really excellent way to start. It opened the game with a sense of futility and desperation that would carry through everything. You jump to the protagonist, Stocke, who is an intelligence agent for the Alistel army. Over the past years, the continent has been slowly turning into desert for reasons no one knows, and the ensuing resource crunch has pushed kingdoms into war.
Stocke receives a blank book his superior refers to as the “White Chronicle” before he sets out on his next mission, and has a vision of his companions lying dead in the rain. Sure enough, on the mission his companions are killed and he is fatally wounded. As he lies there, time stops, and the two children from the opening appear to him, telling him he can use the Chronicle to travel  back in time and undo this. Using the book, he can save the world.
The main mechanic of the game is the time travel, which is similar in idea to Chrono Trigger but completely different in execution. The two games don’t really have anything in common aside from the phrase “time travel.”
I don’t really want to talk any more about the plot because I don’t want to give anything away. Go play it!
I will, however, say the game did really well with female characters. The biggest issue was that the cast tilted male, as these things are wont to do, but there was hardly a lack of women. They were everywhere! They were generals and doctors and researchers and royalty and townies and chefs and everything in between. The costuming was absolutely amazing:
ViolaSonja
I also appreciated that the game did something good that I complained was a problem in Dragon Age II, which was despite having a shitty queen as an enemy, the person who supplanted her was also a queen, so you avoid the “women are bad rulers” thing and just have “this person was a bad ruler.” I loved that Sonja wasn’t a nurse, but was legit a doctor and also an incredibly capable researcher. I loved that Raynie was the warrior and Marco the healer. I loved everything about Aht. The women, even if there were fewer of them, drove the story, from Eruca to Aht to Viola to Lippiti. It was really, really great.
I liked the battle system a lot– it made every battle unique and, most importantly, you had to actually play the game. If you tried to grind on auto, you’d get annihilated. The game had a real old-school difficultly, where bosses were hard and battles were challenging but never in a way that was frustrating or meant you had to grind. I also liked that you could adapt your own playstyle to the game– ie, there wasn’t really any “right” combination of party members. They were really well-balanced with perks and drawbacks and it was up to you to develop a strategy. This is how games should be!
There was a ton of flavor text everywhere, the townies even had personality, the settings were intricate, and you could just tell a lot of thought was put into each detail.
Basically, yeah, I loved everything. This is exactly what a jRPG is supposed to be, but more than that it’s just what a game is supposed to be. It’s that great games-as-art type of experience where there’s this amazing story that could only be told in this medium.
Also, advice: Talk to everyone, multiple times, after each node is completed. Clear every sidequest! Trust me, it’s worth it.

22 Comments

  1. Roarke says:
    According to my friend, who’s played a ton of DS games, this game retained its original price for a lot longer (since handheld games tend to age quickly compared to console) than you’d expect, which ironically put him off buying it. He says it still hasn’t reached that nuisance value most DS games do before they stop being made outright.
  2. Harpe says:
    I remember watching a really good walkthrough of this game. The game and Let’s Player were popular enough to actually get Atlus to reprint some copies.
    Yeah, this is easily one of the best JRPGs I’ve ever played. Everything just had so much soul to it and some points really made me tear up. Ah I’m getting nostalgic!
  3. Hadithi says:
    Looks like I have another game to add to my want list. This review definitely makes the game look fantastic, so I’ll be setting aside some cash and saving up.
  4. Ember says:
    Oh man, what timing! I JUST finished this game — and cried through the better part of the epilogue, ha. Thanks so much for recommending it on the suggestions post! It was so great, and I noticed and loved all the things you mentioned about female representation. On the other hand, the two human characters with the darkest skin were both villains… yikes.

    But yeah, it was a great experience. Groundhogs Day stories where things go horribly, painfully wrong again and again are so satisfying in that moment when everything finally works out, in a very similar way to how satisfying it is to finally clear a part of a game that you kept dying on. So getting to play a Groundhogs Day scenario as an RPG works really well emotionally.

    There was actually one part of the game where I managed to end up under-leveled and having to grind, and the part of the story I kept returning to for grinding happened to involve the death of a certain character, so I saw that death scene like six or seven times. It didn’t even occur to me that it was something I would eventually get to fix, and the moment when I finally did was possibly the second-biggest pay-off of the game. (The biggest, of course, being the entire epilogue.)

    Out of curiosity, who did you end up playing with most? I generally went with Stocke, Raynie, and Aht. Stocke was a higher level than anyone else so he could tank, and was versatile with physical attacks, magical attacks, and healing. Raynie was my heavy hitter with her magical attacks, and Aht could either heal or build up combos for the other two to play off of with that one skill of hers that hits like seven times.

    1. actonthat says:
      [On the other hand, the two human characters with the darkest skin were both villains… yikes.]

      Hugo is definitely Unfortunate Implications, but I think it’s at least a little mitigated by Garland, who was a super good guy (and darker than Hugo IIRC), and the “stop with the imperialism already” thing with the dark Gutrals and the Satyros. Race stuff def isn’t my specialty, though, so perhaps I’m being too generous.

      But yes I cried on like three separate occasions. It is not a happy game.

      I used Stocke and Aht most, but my third member rotated. I used Eruca to beat the final boss, Rosch or Gafka to deal with soliders, and Raynie otherwise. Marco was probably who I used the least.

      edit: Also, obvi: SO glad you enjoyed it!

      1. Ember says:
        Garland’s not *that* dark, but he is a pretty great character! Re: the beastkind though, having non-humans stand in for POC in fantasy is generally regarded as… not so good.

        On the note of averting unfortunate implications though, I also liked that it looked like the whole Granorg plot was going the typical high fantasy way of ROYAL BLOOD IS MAGICAL AND MONARCHY IS AWESOME and then the *reason* royal blood turned out to be so important was… well, you know. Although Protea being SO ridiculously stupid and bad at everything did sort of verge on “no, really, ~common people~ shouldn’t rule” territory.

        1. actonthat says:
          [e: the beastkind though, having non-humans stand in for POC in fantasy is generally regarded as… not so good.]

          Eep, yeah, mea culpa, shoulda caught that one. This would be why I don’t write for a literary antiracism blog.

          (Very) Mild spoiler alert:

          I really liked that Alistel ends up with a Prime Minister, implicitly an elected official, and not another king or military leader. Actually, I think Eruca would be someone who would institute a parliamentary system after things stabilized. She’s super in touch with the people, and she knows the danger of consolidating power.

  5. Zephyr says:
    Yesss, so glad you enjoyed the game :) Pretty minor, but one of my personal favourite points was how you can tell Stocke’s worked out most of his big reveal before the game does – he is meant to be an intelligence guy, after all, and it’s really refreshing to actually have a smart protag. The only part of the game I didn’t really like was the romance at the end, which felt very tacked on and unnecessary to me, but I admit I tend to judge romance subplots pretty harshly. What did you think?
    1. actonthat says:
      I agree. I actually can buy her having a crush on him, but I just can’t see him reciprocating after everything he went through. I wonder if some higher-up didn’t insist on having a romance, and that was their way of technically putting on in– it wasn’t integrated into the story at all. Which I actually really liked– a game without romance! How novel!
      1. Ember says:
        That would explain how impossible to just stumble across it is! I never would have found that sidequest without a guide. (And I almost wish I didn’t, because yeah, incredibly tacked on and unnecessary! And Raynie suggesting they just stop fighting seemed kind of out of character for her too.)
        1. actonthat says:
          It being added in after would also explain why there was no node for it, which was really bizarre. The whole thing was weird and had the stink of marketing people on it.
  6. Kirk12 says:
    Sounds rather Puella Magi Madoka Magica, too. I’ll try to check it out.
  7. Xander77 says:
    Stocke is a perennial favorite due to being competent and actually *thinking* about what he does. That reaaaaaaaly shouldn’t be quite so rare a quality among protagonists.

    (A protagonist whose friends are attacked in a cutscene and actually moves to defend them also shouldn’t be that much of a rarity – yet that stands as Stocke’s [to use tvtropes parlance] big damn moment of awesome)

    1. Ember says:
      I know! He’s so mature, I was kind of startled when I read that he’s supposed to be nineteen. It made the few times he started to crumple or lost his temper really poignant, because he’s usually so composed. In particular, that one scene with the dummy gave me chills.

      It was a refreshing change of pace from the usual Spiky Haired Hero.

  8. Wright of Void says:
    Hm.

    I just finished this. It was good, but it didn’t live up to your hype or my own expectations. I was expecting a proper time travel/Groundhog Day story, but it’s actually just standard high fantasy with time travel as a gimmick. The time travel mechanics made absolutely no sense and seemed to run on plot fiat, which distracted me a lot – like, really, you can go back in time to convince a secondary commander to slightly change the outcome of a battle, but you can’t go back just a little farther to tell the primary commander it’s a trap and not to go in the first place? What’s to stop him from going back to the start of the timeline and blabbing about all the dark secrets he learned? And it’s especially grating because Stocke changes tons of stuff at multiple points when doing minor sidequests – there’s no “oh no there’s no node I can’t save the guy who died from plague”, he just does it – yet when it comes to the main story he’s rigidly locked into a linear plot. Stocke basically acts as if he doesn’t retain his memories through his travels, even though we’re explicitly told he does.

    I mean, I get that it has to be a simple, linear plot because otherwise it would take forever to write, but it still feels like such a waste, especially since the twins imply that your choices are going to be important. If the bad ends had more substance that allowed me to get emotionally invested before sweeping the rug out from under me instead of just “and suddenly a bad thing happened because this isn’t the way the plot is supposed to go” it would have worked a lot better. Heck, Virtue’s Last Reward realized that, and that was written by the hack who produced 999! As-is they just feel really token. I would often purposefully try to choose the bad ends just to see them all instead of really being invested in keeping the characters alive. I felt that the time travel lessened tension instead of heightening it – it could have been a good opportunity to abandon plot armor and similar conventions to show horrible things happening over and over again, but it…didn’t, really, so all it left was a sense of “oh it doesn’t matter, I’ll just go back and fix this in a second”. Maybe I’m just way too dispassionate and dissociated, I dunno. If the entire game had been more like the prologue I would have really liked it, I think.

    The villain also confused me. Their actions, especially at the start of the game, didn’t match up with their stated motivations at all to me, to the point it feels like there was a plot rewrite midway through. I was particularly confused by, uh… trying to avoid spoilers here… the thing they orchestrate at the very beginning. It seems wholly counterproductive to their goals. I mean their motivations made sense, I just didn’t see how it led to them doing the things they do. In general, the plot was somewhat disappointing – I saw most of the twists coming a mile off but convinced myself the hints were so obvious that there had to be more to it, but there wasn’t. The one thing that surprised me was that there was no deus ex machina to save you-know-who and make the ritual unnecessary like there usually is in these kinds of stories. It’s possible that between stuff like Last Scenario, Fleuret Blanc, and especially Virtue’s Last Reward I’ve gotten so used to high-level mysteries that standard twists seem too easy now.

    The gameplay, though! The gameplay was probably the best part. You were absolutely right about every battle feeling unique, and I loved plotting out those perfect combos where you line up enemies just right and destroy them all with a single powerful strike. Every new movement skill made me squeal with glee and I made sure to use them as much as possible. I loved Aht’s traps, too, especially the two-tile ones that you can push wide enemies onto for double damage. Spacial elements just add so much to tactical games, and I don’t know why jRPGs haven’t caught on sooner! I was pretty disappointed to discover that the final boss took over the entire battlefield though; I get that it looks impressive, but the end result is that it just turns into a standard jRPG battle. Those spiders too, argh. I brought Aht into both fights then WHOOPS no traps for you. But yeah, overall really great. The animations were so detailed, too, especially since there were unique ones for almost every skill. You can tell that a lot of love was put into it.

    The characters were good too. I loved Stocke for the reasons you’ve outlined – it’s a shame that cerebral, mature protagonists are so rare. It was indeed nice to see so many women in so many important roles, though I would have liked to see more – I actually thought Dias, Raul, and Teo were women at first, which would have made the game a fair bit more balanced. Opening the story with a Bechdel pass would have been really excellent, but alas ’twas not to be. I sort of get the impression that even semi-progressive media draws the line at gender equality – like we couldn’t have both guides be girls, that would make one subgroup 100% female AND THAT’S JUST UNREASONABLE.

    I loved that Raynie was the warrior and Marco the healer.

    I loved this too, though I was a little disappointed to discover that the other two women were squishy casters while the men were both heavy bruisers. Magic trumps physical in this game so it works out, but still a little annoying.

    But overall it was good, and I’m glad you recommended it! I’m just a cranky nitpick who’s impossible to please. As a time travel story it was a bust, but as a jRPG and a fantasy story it was quite enjoyable.

    1. actonthat says:
      But the point is that Stocke can’t control where he goes back, Lippiti and Teo do, and for that exact reason– they don’t want him going back and changing huge things, they just want little decisions that can effect the outcome. They’re trying to affect the world as little as possible while still getting the result that everyone lives. That was the point of his freakout about there being no node with Kiel.

      I mean, in-universe, Stocke has to relive these things over and over. I was thinking about how trying it must have been in each of the bad ends to see the world collapse– even if you know you can try again, you still lived it. I understand him not going back for tiny things, since he’d have to relive everything.

      I also don’t see what the benefit of playing through each dead end would have been from a gameplay perspective. At first I thought it was odd, but it’s not a VN– it would have just been massive gameplay bloat, and would have been incredibly frustrating to play for hours only to find you’d hit a bad end. And there’s so many of them– they way they did it may have cut content, but it was a sensible way to keep things in line.

      I never really thought of this as a time-travel game so much as a jRPG that also happened to involve time travel, which may be the difference. I went into it literally knowing nothing, and so the time travel thing was a cool mechanic I didn’t expect as opposed to something I was looking forward to. If you went into it knowing time travel was involved and expecting it to be huge and involved it would definitely be disappointing, but at the same time, for better or worse, I don’t think the game really cares about that. I think it was a way to tell a story, not the main thrust of the game.

      1. Wright of Void says:
        But the point is that Stocke can’t control where he goes back, Lippiti and Teo do

        ??? I guess I can’t read because I didn’t notice that at all. I thought the only restrictions were that he could only change what he personally experienced, and he couldn’t go back to before he obtained the Chronicle. If there’s an external railroad factor that makes more sense, at the cost of making things less interesting. Except I still don’t think it makes sense in the context of the sidequests – again, why can he save the guy in “Second Opinion” but not Kiel? None of the sidequests are explicitly attached to nodes. And even within the story, why is he allowed to go back and warn Viola but not go back even further to warn Rosch? Why is he allowed to save Cygnus but not the brigade? (And he does save the brigade in the true end anyway so ???) Those are all pretty major changes to begin with, which sort of violates the subtlety clause.

        I was thinking about how trying it must have been in each of the bad ends to see the world collapse– even if you know you can try again, you still lived it.

        That’s the disconnect, though – Stoke lives through it, but we just get a sanitized summary nine times out of ten. He only rarely reacts like a traumatized wreck when he returns to Historia, too. That really jarred me out of the experience and prevented me from immersing myself in the character’s tribulations. Show don’t tell, you know? If we actually got to experience how everything fell apart ourselves it would be much stronger, I think. I dunno, maybe it’s just personal taste.

        I also don’t see what the benefit of playing through each dead end would have been from a gameplay perspective.

        Plot keys! There’s already the mechanic where you hit a dead end and have to go to the other timeline; why not expand that to make it so there’s something important you can only find by making a stupid choice that leads to disaster? That’d be a fine justification for them, and would do a lot to take the sting off of suddenly springing a bad end on you. (The time travel mechanic would also make it pretty easy to get back on your feet, since you wouldn’t actually lose progress.) And as with all stories, I think it’d be tolerable as long as the bad ends were interesting stories in their own right. I know a lot of VN players like bad ends and sometimes even prefer them to some of the good ends, as you’ve seen in the F/SN comments; it wouldn’t be impossible. The overall timeline would probably have to be shorter to avoid bloat, but it could work.

        I went into it literally knowing nothing, and so the time travel thing was a cool mechanic I didn’t expect as opposed to something I was looking forward to.

        Ah, I see. Yeah, that’d be the difference. I had the opposite experience – pretty much everyone on the internet just says “I can’t tell you anything except that it involves time travel” so that’s all I had for expectations, and was disappointed to see it turn out differently.

        1. Wright of Void says:
          Okay, I checked an LP, and the explanation is The points in the timestream that you are capable of returning to are fixed. The best way to describe them would be as pivotal moments in history. You can travel to these pivotal moments and get a second chance to act. But you cannot change and parts of history that aren’t directly related to those moments. which just sounds like the story desperately bending itself to justify the gameplay rather than the other way around. There doesn’t seem to be rhyme or reason to whether or not a given choice will generate a node, which is what I meant by plot fiat. Why did Viola generate a node but Rosch didn’t? The twins can’t possibly be generating them, because they’re not omniscient. How could they know what precise points Stoke needs to return to, especially when one of them only becomes important after the BC wielder messes it up? And again, the sidequests: none of them are directly related to the key node decisions, so they seem to violate But you cannot change and parts of history that aren’t directly related to those moments.

          I get that there has to be limitations on the time travel to prevent the story from spiralling out of control, but the mechanics just weren’t very clear or consistent at all, which I found really distracting.

  9. Zephyr says:
    Don’t know if you’ve heard or not, but Radiant Historia’s getting an expanded remake for 3DS, with “renewed visuals”. Highlights include Stocke now being a generic blond bishounen, Eruca being a longhaired moeface in a supermodel pose, Aht wearing just about no clothes, and Raynie of course having a bigger chest -__-
    1. Roarke says:

      Coming in a hundred years late to say that, while the remake’s art team was definitely more objectionable, that’s almost the only negative thing you could say about it. The remake is extremely competently made, being essentially the exact original with a slew of Quality-of-Life changes and DLC-like expanded content. Highlights include:

      • The option of having the expanded content integrated into the story or appended to it for people who want to play the story as originally written first.
      • More difficulty options, especially a mode with the combat essentially trivialized for people who just want the story (think Pillars of Eternity’s Storytelling Mode).
      • More save files, menu options, and generally more user-friendly interface.
      • An auto-read mode that goes at the speed of the new voice-acting.

      That’s all just from first impressions – I haven’t actually progressed too far in the remake yet. The art problems do show up early as well: hilariously, whoever drew Raynie doesn’t seem to care if she’s supposed to be dead in Stocke’s initial vision of her/Marco’s death – she’s going to be attractively supine, and that’s that. Maybe Butcher did the art direction.

      1. Nerem says:
        I’m super late to but the idea of ‘tough but fair battles that you don’t need to grind to beat’ being ‘old-school’ makes me laugh, as I played a lot of old-school games and boy did they love ‘unfair battles you need to grind to beat’.

         

        I remember my hours grinding away in Bard’s Tale in a fight involving 500 enemies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar