Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is a turn-based JRPG released for the Nintendo 3DS in 2018. As I wrote two years ago in my review of the video game Zero Time Dilemma, “I usually don’t review video games, since my two readers don’t understand much about them and I like writing about things that are cared about my more people than me.” But I will make another exception for this game since I think it is cool.
Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is a remake. The original game, Radiant Historia, was released for the Nintendo DS in 2011. It was well-received by critics, and actually sold really well for a game released late in the DS’s lifecycle. What doomed the game from reaching more people was that the Nintendo 3DS was released a month after the game came out, and the early buyers of 3DSes were buying all the hot new games for that like, uh, Steel Diver, and Pilotwings Resort? Wow, that system had no games whatsoever at the start. Regardless, the 3DS’s launch kinda took any attention away from Radiant Historia’s initial release. As such, the fine people at Atlus decided to remake the game for the 3DS now that games such as this:
would no longer detract from sales. Instead, the general slow decline of games being made for the 3DS as developers turn to the Nintendo Switch will detract from Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology’s sales. Whoops!
As most remakes of games do, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronolgy improves on every part of presentation. The biggest addition to Perfect Chronology is the voice acting. All of the main characters now speak their lines. The game also has an option where the text automatically advances as soon as the speaker is done talking, letting you sit back, close your eyes, and just let the game play itself as you list.en. Honestly, it’s pretty awesome, even if you get sick of hearing the main characters all speak “Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology” in unison every time you open the game up. The graphics/spritework looks really good for the most part; there are a few animations that are janky but such problems are negligible. Some of the character art got updated along with the spritework. For instance, Princess Eruca grew out her hair:
I’ll be honest. I kinda like the older character art, now that I’m comparing the two for the first time. I can appreciate the brightness and cleanness of the new character art, but the old style had this rough shading style that actually made it stand out from the more standard look that Perfect Chronology gave its characters. Here, compare this image of the DS’s characters to the Perfect Chronology boxart above:
The old style is slightly “worse” in terms of clarity, but the style is slightly cooler. Ah jeez, I just realized I got on a lame tangent that nobody cares about. I’ll never save the world in this timeline.
Radiant Historia is about time, and history. You control a soldier named Stocke who is given the White Chronicle, a book that allows its user to jump to different times when the user made choices. It also does not allow the user to go any further back in history than the time the user is granted it. Finally, the user can only jump to times in their lives; no hopping into the mind of a politician during the vote of some bill or something. This means that, if you were given the White Chronicle in our modern world, you could go back in time and say that really cool one-liner to your fourth grade bully before he punches your lights out instead of saying it while in the shower at 24 years old.
This makes for a really cool, but really limited-in-use, power for Stocke since you can only return to branches in the story that have two options (or, in the case of exactly one sidequest, three options). Most of the time, one option will lead to a bad ending and game over screen that comes with a short explanation of why that choice led to the end of the world (like how introducing vegetables that can be farmed for Mana to an R&D military team lead to too-powerful weapons that blew up any chance of Stocke making an impact in the war). I can forgive games these days for not being able to account for every possible choice Stocke making as a choice you can return to, but I expect by 2120 that video game technology will be advanced enough to re-remake this game and go all-out on choice. You know, if we don’t die by the main problems in our world that this game’s narrative warns of.
Radiant Historia is political. You are given the White Chronicle by your military boss who initially hopes for you to end the war between your country of Alistel and the aggressor country of Granorg. However, the true end goal of the game is soon revealed: some calamity is sucking out the “Mana” of every living thing in the world; when the mana of something is gone, the thing dissolves to sand. Not only do you play peacemaker, you also play as treehugger.
The game is shockingly liberal in its politics. It’s standard JRPG fare to overthrow a corrupt government, but Radiant Historia offers no easy solutions. Sure, the kingdom you’re initially conscripted to fight against is evil, but you quickly find out that your hometown government of Alistel is just as bad, if not worse. When you liberate the princess of Granorg you were ordered to kill, the game offers the initial solution of reinstating her to the throne as fixing all the political problems, but Stocke knows that won’t solve much. Especially not the end of the world via desertification. Just the focus on climate change and unwillingness to make restoring the rightful ruler to power the solution to every problem elevates Radiant Historia above basically every other JRPG story out there.
But Radiant Historia is not perfect. The remake unfortunately adds in the easy answer to the land’s desertification that the original game purposefully lacked. In true JRPG fashion, you have to kill a warped human who tried to stop the same problem but somehow became the problem while you fly to its place in the parallel universes on a skyship. But the ending isn’t the only problem with the narrative. Stocke is thrown from the main conflict between Alistel and Granorg in spurious ways–in one timeline, he’s somehow kidnapped and shipped to the desert (which has always been a desert, not a victim of desertification) despite being a master of stealth soldier. Radiant Historia is much better when it has a tight focus on the main plot of saving the world and ending a pointless war. The excursions into ruins of beast-like creatures feel so far removed from this focus that they don’t feel like they share the same game.
The other main problems with the game are in the gameplay itself. I genuinely like the grid combat system. It leads to sick combos with teammates. It’s just too simplistic for a 50+ hour game. After hour 30 of using Stocke’s slash that pushes a bee into another bee so Princess Eruca can shoot them, you kinda get the point. Fortunately, the remake adds in a mode that lets you skip most combat, except for the bosses (which are fine but don’t do much with the gimmick). Hand in hand with this problem is the problem that you do need to grind at times if you don’t choose that mode. Whether you need to grind for experience or for money for the gear in the newly-added “side dungeon” (that is pretty mandatory whenever it gets updated), you’ll need to take yourself out of the immersive story to get enough power to keep following the immersive story. Imagine if every time you wanted to watch an episode of a show on Netflix, the service would have to see you do 10 push ups. That feature is why I don’t watch TV.
Despite all this, Radiant Historia is absolutely worth your time. Radiant Historia is one real word and one nonsense word combined to make a kinda cool Latin-esque title. The remake is one real good base game combined with alright but ultimately by-the-numbers new content that slightly sours the overall kinda cool experience. I didn’t do a good job selling the game in this review, but that’s because I played it in 2018, and am finishing this review in 2020. I know that I was captivated the first 25 hours, and was still compelled enough to see it through as the game sort of lost track of itself and then decided to come up with a far-too-simple solution to the very real and intriguing problems it raised.
It has been nine months since I’ve written the previous 675 words. If I was clever, I’d make a meta-narrative joke about how I’ve used the real-life White Chronicle to travel back to the past to finish this review. There are some things up there I’d like to expand upon now that I can only half-remember the game.
The thing that stands out the most is how good the presentation was. I can still hear the title screen line of all the characters saying “Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology”. The voice acting really added to how gripping the narrative was. Speaking of, the narrative is… genuinely good, but ultimately let down by being a video game. What I mean is that the stakes in this game are enormous. Stocke starts as a soldier in a war–in most games, ending the war in his favor would be the extent of the plot. But being granted the White Chronicle puts Stocke in a much bigger role as literally The World’s Savoir. Yet despite those illustratable stakes, the game struggles being able to show, not tell, them. Especially as the plot gets more and more complex.
When the game is at its most focused in chapters 1-3, it is very easy to track your progress narratively. Stocke’s first step to saving the world IS ending the war between the two major countries, so your initial decision is a choice between how you’ll actually end the war. Whether you choose to stay a soldier with your best friend or take a reassignment into another platoon as a spy is the game’s major split. Most of the decisions after this only decide if you’re seeing a game over or not, which is very disappointing, and the perfect example of the mechanical problem this game has in fulfilling its promise. If it wanted to let the player actually decide for themselves how to save the world with the White Chronicle’s time-traveling power, so many more variables would have to be introduced that were not and are not feasible at this time for game development.
Along those lines, another big hardware limitation to the game’s hook is how small everything is actually displayed. The main country you start in is the second-biggest country in the world. Yet you can only traverse three “screens” of it, and go into 8 buildings max. When you travel from country to country, it takes about 3 screens, or a minute of in-game time if you avoid any battles, to complete the journey. And ancient ruins that have never been explored are just as close, and just as small. Again, this sort of scale vs. promise imbalance is something one has to expect from games at this current state of technology, and games that tried to mechanically fulfill such a promise would take eons to beat, so I understand why it is not like that. But it’s so hard to believe in the stakes at times when you see Stocke’s squadron of 15 people get turned into sand by the bad guys’ superweapon, and then Stocke says their entire army has been wiped out. It was 15 people!
But I digress. I had fewer problems with the lunacy of claims that Zero Time Dilemma made, most of the time, because fewer people were involved. Only 10 people exist in that game. There are over 20 people in Radiant Historia who have voice actors. For any game, that’s a lot. For an obscure handheld JRPG, that’s probably a record. A lot of people who play handheld games play with the sound off since they’re playing it in public, and these people won’t ever hear those voices. Point is, Atlus put a lot of effort into presentation that a fair amount of people won’t ever see or appreciate.
And that’s somewhat a theme of this game. The main character Stocke is the man in the shadows, the vigilante who can fix what everyone else sees because he’s gone through and seen every other timeline where everything is broken. It’s a position we all wish we had, or at least wish that SOMEONE in the world has. After all, there has to be a moral arc to this universe that points towards justice, right? Someone has to be making sure that happens, and the someone in Radiant Historia’s universe is Stocke, one multiple-choice action at a time.
Well, I think I’ve said everything I’ve wanted above and below that earlier line. Just think of these two unmerged sections of the review as my own version of the literal Radiant Historia. One is the white one that will guide you, the reader, to saving the world of Pungry.com. The other is the black version that a force of evil is using to destroy Pungry.com.