"Time & Eternity is one of the most harrowingly repugnant video games I have ever had the misfortune of playing."
One thing I love about video games is that developers are constantly trying to innovate. A common design philosophy is to renew an existing concept by adding unique themes and features, and while that method has produced some genuinely memorable games, the ones that tend to stick with us the longest are the bold experiments that dare to chart new territory. Sometimes, the daredevil approach pays off, wowing players and critics alike with a unique experience that sends shockwaves through the industry. Who could forget the dynamic battle system of Chrono Trigger, the philosophical sci-fi opus masquerading as a game called Xenogears, or the surreal world of NieR? Other times, developers take a risk and fail. The latest ImageEpoch game to reach North American shores, Time & Eternity, is not only a failed experiment, but it is one of the most harrowingly repugnant "video games" I have ever had the misfortune of "playing." The game effortlessly combines headache-inducing graphics, a banal plot, offensively stupid characters, inappropriate music, and puddle-deep gameplay in an absurdly bad attempt at providing entertainment that I will never forget — and that is nowhere near a compliment.
Time & Eternity begins innocuously enough. Scarcely a day before Princess Toki of the Kamza kingdom is to be wed, she sits chatting with her eccentric friends, a pet dragon, and the groom-to-be, a blue-haired man whose name is defined by the player. For some reason, this man is actually considered the "protagonist" of the story, despite the fact that the player never controls him directly. After the idle banter comes to an end, the scene shifts to the aforementioned wedding, where the protagonist is suddenly murdered before the ceremony is complete. The distraught Princess Toki reveals that she has a violent alter ego by the name of Towa, who swiftly dispatches her aggressors, but it's still too late for the groom. Using one final ace up her sleeve, Toki/Towa employs the Time Magic passed down her family line to turn back the clock and prevent the murder from ever occurring. The spell succeeds, but strangely enough, the protagonist's soul is trapped in the body of Toki's pet dragon, Drake. The pair begins their search for answers and vows to prevent the fated assassination.
I'm going to start by saying that everyone in this game is an idiot or a psychopath. Every single character is a vapid, uninteresting cliché, bereft of personality and prone to obnoxious mannerisms. Toki is demure and submissive to a fault, Towa threatens to kill people for no reason, the protagonist is a perverted chauvinist, Reijo is a tsundere rich girl, Ricardo is a creep and a stalker... I could go on. The game attempts to justify all of this bizarre behavior by playing it up as humor, but the dialogue falls completely flat, even by tropey anime standards. As someone who has no issue with clichéd characters as long as they are charming and well-written, I still found the entire cast utterly unlikeable. Moreover, the story fails to provide any compelling impetus for progression, instead relying on lowbrow humor and impossibly contrived plot twists to push the action forward. (Spoiler!) You mean that the assassination only happened because we traveled back in time to prevent it from happening, thereby provoking the assassins to attack? Egads! (End spoiler!) If I had to describe the feeling I took away from the game's narrative in a single word, it would be "insulted."
Calling Time & Eternity a "game" is perhaps a little too gracious. The entirety of gameplay is limited to traversing palette-swapped areas, fighting palette-swapped enemies, taking fetch quests from palette-swapped NPCs, and being subjected to ham-fisted dialogue. Exploration is tiresome for several reasons; areas are unnecessarily huge and empty, devoid of interesting landmarks, and populated by hordes of identical foes. Combat is essentially "Punch-Out: Toki Is So Gonna Be My Waifu Edition." The player fights one-on-one as either Toki or Towa, who are functionally identical with a few differences in their respective ability repertoires, by dodging to the side and shooting/slashing when the enemy briefly relents. I'm not exaggerating when I say that there is almost no change to this system throughout the entire game. Bosses are just enemies with more HP, and many are actually palette-swaps of regular foes. I was already tired of combat after the first couple of hours, so one can imagine my misery as I repeated the same actions for the duration of my playtime. It was nothing short of excruciating.
The big gimmick in Time & Eternity is its special graphical engine, and it's a mess. The engine mixes animated 2D characters and unattractive 3D environments for a bizarrely dissonant presentation that legitimately gave me headaches. The idea of "playing" an anime is quite novel, but it is most definitely not achieved with the system ImageEpoch created. Characters have an astonishingly small number of animations, which are repeated ad infinitum in completely inappropriate situations. The running animation, for example, is an extremely short loop that abruptly ends if the player changes directions. The result is a glitchy jumble of unrelated frames that should never have made it past the game's alpha testing phase. It's even less polished than any screenshots might indicate. This amateur sensibility permeates Time & Eternity from start to finish.
It's a shame that talented composer Yuzo Koshiro put his time into such a dud of a game, because a few of his compositions are somewhat decent. I enjoyed the bombastic, high-energy battle themes since they made combat a bit more tolerable. Unfortunately, nearly everything else was either forgettable or outright bad, especially the ill-fitting wacky event music that played more times than I can count. Similarly, the voice acting is universally subpar; I've heard many of these actors before, and they are definitely not performing at their best. I can't blame them, though, because I would be embarrassed to spout some of the lines these characters have. The original Japanese audio is available, and while I only listened to the English dub, I can't imagine it could be any worse.
I cannot remember the last time I had such a negative experience with a video game. Time & Eternity is by far one of the worst RPGs I have ever played, and even when accounting for different tastes, I cannot recommend it to anyone. At best, a select few may enjoy the game's sense of humor, but I'm convinced that the gameplay is so broken that almost anyone will regret purchasing this game. There are an infinite number of things you can do with $50 that would serve you better than picking up Time & Eternity.