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Jul 09 2013

Review of Time and Eternity

TAE_PS3-jewelcase-front[rating=2]

I can tolerate a bad game, shit happens, but what really grinds my gears is good ideas going to waste in a bad game because then those good ideas can sadly become tainted. The scent of shit will follow them for years to come and any discussion of similar games will inevitably end with “Hey wait a minute, didn’t a terrible game from a few years back use that same mechanic?”. Well I have a feeling that Time and Eternity is going to get inserted into quite a few conversations that way, it’s got a lot of interesting ideas but man does it feel like a fat steaming load when it comes to its actual execution.

So the premise here is that you and a princess are about to be married when your wedding is attacked by assassins and in a real shit turn of events you are killed in the attack. At the last-minute though your bride to be takes you and her back in time (because that’s just something royalty is able to do in this universe} so can you find your attackers and stop them before they take your life. Also you’re now in the body of her tiny pet dragon and she has two souls in her body for reasons that are as pointless as they are convoluted. The rest of the game is you and her(s) going around and changing the past, going back to your wedding, and then predictably dying and travelling back again because you fucked something up thanks to time travel being wicked complicated. Story wise the whole point is you getting close with and learning to love your bride to be, both of them it seems as the two souls regularly switch up who’s in charge of their body. It all makes for a fairly original premise but they don’t really use the whole Majora’s Mask style time bending thing nearly as well as they could. What you do in the past only ever seems to affect to your wedding, the repercussions to anything else in the universe seem minor at best. Also the game’s writing just assumes you’re going to complete every extra objective and do every sidequest with no room for those who just charge through the game. Often times I would run into people who would be like “aw thanks for completing that sidequest for us three months ago, here’s the next leg of it” when I had never done said prior sidequest for them. It all just feels lazy, if you’re going to center your plot around time travel so damn much that you call your currency “Chronos” then you should damn well try to make your time travel and the effects of it meaningful.

They all seriously sit around and have girl talk forcing you to sit through every last pointless word.

They all seriously sit around and have girl talk forcing you to sit through every last pointless word.

The writing here is also just painful at points, this black cloud is half the anime equivalent of a bad harlequin romance novel and half the anime equivalent of Sex and the City though thankfully NIS provides a silver lining with some good funny bits here and there. A great example of this is how some of the bosses are written such as the likes of a Deathwing style ultra dragon who’s worried about you ratting him out to the BBB and a robot ninja who tries to recruit you to his guild while going on about the poor state of the economy. Another good part of the writing is the fact that your character is appropriately perturbed by the opening events of the story and essentially spends the first couple hours yelling about how this is literally the dumbest shit he’s ever heard. Of course this being an anime focused JRPG he’s also a massive horn-dog and spends equal time skeeving on all the women in the game and being just way too happy about his accidental polygamy. Even so his antics make watching the princess and her friends act out an animated version of Sex and the City way more bearable. As always with NIS games, their localization style adds a good edge of humor to everything and helps to thin out the bullshit a bit.

Where the game gets somewhat interesting is in its gameplay which is a unique take on standard JRPG combat in that it’s closer to Punch-Out than it is Final Fantasy. The reason for this is because all the fights are one-on-one, locked to a face-to-face perspective, and heavily pattern focused with the ability to block and dodge around almost all enemy attacks. Every fight is a matter of getting your licks in while you can and then dodging and parrying your opponents moves while smartly mixing together magic, buffs, and active attack skills to get things dealt with quicker. It smartly blends RPG-style stats and customization with the puzzle-esque pattern recognition gameplay that’s made games like Punch-Out and Sakura Samurai so damn fun. Unfortunately though they fuck that good concept up royal thanks to a degree of repetition so bad that it borders on factory work. You see this game loves its palette swaps (more on that in a bit) but when they palette swap not only do they repeat the enemy designs, they repeat those enemies’ combat patterns as well. Each overall enemy archetype only has a single simple pattern and they will use it every single time you fight, which is a lot thanks to an overly active random encounter rate. This means you will be doing the exact same very basic set of movements ad nauseam without even the slightest bit of variance; even worse is the fact that you can’t just lazily mash the X button while not paying attention like a normal RPG because you still need to dodge attacks and pop off the correct abilities.

The princess is the one you control through both combat and exploration.

The princess is the one you control through both combat and exploration.

Also worth mentioning is how ridiculously easy this game is and not in a good way. Because the combat quickly became so mind numbingly boring and the conversations, despite having the occasional funny line were painful to sit through, I did my best to just blast my through this game. While I didn’t finish the game, I got way farther than I should have for not doing 90% of the sidequests and avoiding as many fights as I could have. The reason for this surprisingly low difficulty is those very simple enemy attack patterns I mentioned above mixed with the game just showering you with health items and money. I used this game’s equivalent of a repel item constantly for the majority of my time with it and was still easily able to gather up enough cash to always afford the best equipment as soon as it was available as well as stock up on extra health items. Similarly my abilities were always more than enough to deal with most foes despite the fact that by the time I had finally gotten fed up with this game I was fighting dudes more than half my level thanks to all the fights I was skipping. The big reason I didn’t just push through to the ending is because I ran up on a boss who was just way too cheap for me to beat and I didn’t feel like grinding for another 10 hours to level up back to par as I was already fairly close to the end of the game anyways.

The other neat thing this game does is with its visuals as pretty much everything in the game is a high def animated sprite; it’s to the point that it is just one small step away from literally playing an anime. The only thing rendered here is the-sadly bland looking-environments which couch all the anime sprites that stand out so much that they pretty much steal all focus. Overall they look pretty good, as I’ve said before I have no love for anime so I can’t really say much about their designs but the quality of the art seems good if not somewhat standard for the style and the sprites are of a sufficiently high definition. Where this neat visual treatment falls apart however is in the complete and utter repetiton of animations and sprites. With the exception of a few main characters every fucking sprite is reused constantly from NPCs to monsters to even bosses; it just kills any sort of immersion when you see the same dude you talked to five minutes ago just wearing different coloured pants and still doing the same three canned animations. I know drawing stuff is hard and making a whole new sprite for every monster and NPC would be asking for a lot, but for fuck’s sake at least put an extra embellishment on your reused sprites. Seriously how hard would it be to go in and throw an antenna or something on that bird sprite you’ve used four times already? Even the environments all feel eerily similar thanks to them just reusing and reorganizing chunks of geometry in area after area with only a change in the color of the lighting to signify that what you’re in is supposed to be a whole new level. It all just feels incredibly lazy and wastes what could have been the start of an incredible new visual style perfectly suited for JRPGs.

I really can't tell what demographic this game is going after.

I really can’t tell what demographic this game is going after.

My last complaint with this game is the surprisingly long and frequent load times that really shouldn’t be in a game that is like 75% drawn 2D graphics. It’s not like the game doesn’t install to the hard drive, there’s a nice long install when you first boot it up but every time you switch environments there’s a good 5-10 second load and before every fight the game pauses for at least 2 seconds. That may not sound like much but when you’re in town switching from place to place you’ll spend more time watching the loading screen then actually playing the game and with the encounter rate the way it is, it’ll just give you one more reason to hate the combat.

Time and Eternity is a few good ideas poorly strapped to a horribly mediocre JRPG and that is just a goddamn shame. There was potential here, time travel stories can be incredibly engrossing if done right and the unique combat mechanics and visual style could have been a revelation for the genre if the time was put in to make them anything more than just boringly one note. To put an analogy to the first paragraph of this review: A bad game is like getting a shitty taco from Taco Bell, it sucks but what were you expecting? A bad game with good ideas is like getting a shitty taco from a real restaurant, there was actual potential for quality which makes the fact that it wasn’t there all the sadder. Time and Eternity is a taco platter I would not order again and for that it gets a 2 out of 5 stars and honestly that’s me being generous on account of it having a couple cool ideas.

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