"Radiant Historia is poised to be as good as Japanese RPGing gets."
Radiant Historia, the upcoming DS RPG from Atlus, comes to us with quite a pedigree. Staff from Shin Megami Tensei and Radiata Stories worked on the game, and Yoko Shimomura handled the soundtrack. After about ten hours of play time and only 37 out of a possible 236 plot points uncovered for a "perfect" game, I can safely say that this game is proving to be a superstar effort.
Yoko Shimomura is considered a superstar among the RPG crowd for her wonderful soundtracks. Personally, her material can be hit or miss with me, but the music for Radiant Historia has been fantastic so far. And since the game contains no voice acting (a smart move in my opinion), the music gets its due attention. The stirring compositions featuring classical instrumentation are deep, complex, and sound surprisingly full and lush through the DS' sound chip. Of course, it is best to play this game with good earphones to really enjoy the music.
The game is best played in a well-lit area because the graphics are quite lovely. The polygonal environments are some of the smoothest and most detailed I've seen in a DS game, and the color palettes used are exceptionally pleasing. Sprites are not as detailed as environments, but they are bright, stand out well, and make playing the game very easy on the eyes. Graphics are very important in immersing players into a game's world, and players will get blissfully lost in this one.
Another reason players will want to play in a well-lit area is because it requires a lot of reading. It's good reading, though, because Atlus once again delivers a well-written script. The game is quite text heavy and while the dialogue is more formal than that found in Persona 4, for example, it captures the sense of period very well. Characters develop in a believable fashion, with plenty of skeletons in their closets that I want to uncover. Despite a reputation of being cold and aloof, protagonist Stocke is a refreshingly caring leader who endears his companions to him. If there is any one area where Atlus went the extra mile on this game, it is definitely story and narrative.
The storyline surrounding Stocke takes place in a medieval fantasy setting and focuses on an involved political drama similar to those in Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre. It also incorporates time travel aspects similar to Chrono games where players flit back and forth between alternate realities to make sure history progresses as it ideally should. Unlike other games of this ilk where a decision locks you onto a set path to follow, Radiant Historia has players switching between multiple sides/pathways in the story in order to progress the game. This is similar to EVE: Burst Error where if players encountered a roadblock in Marina's path, they'd have to play through Kojiroh's path a while in order to lift that Marina-path roadblock. The road to a "perfect" history is difficult since the twisted political climate may have you questioning your duties, not to mention the regulations on using the time travel powers. Everything does make sense within the context of the game, and I can foresee multiple outcomes based on player decisions. I myself uncovered three "bad endings," but the game mercifully granted me redos with hints to circumventing those outcomes.
Experiencing the game does not require a PhD in License Boards or anything like that. The menu interface is uncluttered, intuitive, and free of any silly gimmicks. The traditional turn-based battle system incorporates a simple, but effective twist. Enemy characters are placed on a 3x3 grid, and hero characters must effectively use special skills to manipulate enemy position on the grid for maximum results. Hero characters can even swap turns with each other and enemies to set up combos. So far, the game's difficulty balance is very good: neither too difficult nor too easy. I also like that encounters are visible in the field and appear at a manageable rate. The only issue some gamers may have is that saving is only done at save points or on the overworld. I don't mind it too much, but a quicksave feature would definitely help when playing this game on the go.
There is not much more to say about Radiant Historia other than that it's a polished traditional RPG. Instead of banking on flashy cutscenes, gimmicky gameplay mechanics, needless fanservice, and all that superfluous nonsense, Radiant Historia embraces the heart of a good RPG with a serious storyline, top-notch writing, fantastic music, and fun gameplay. No additives, no fillers, all-natural, Radiant Historia is poised to be as good as Japanese RPGing gets. Radiant Historia hits US retail outlets on February 22nd and preordered copies come with a CD of piano-arranged music.