Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: July 16, 2013
ESRB: T for Teen
A download code was provided by the publisher for this review
It's a weird thing when I play a game I've been actively told to hate, even before the game was even released. I know for me personally, I'm a pretty stubborn fellow and my opinion tends to curve against popular consensus, so I usually to brush off most inflated criticisms when I'm curious enough about something.
Actually, if I think a game shows off enough interesting ideas, I become that much more willing to approach it with an open-mind in spite of people's opinions. An example of such a game is Time & Eternity: an action-RPG that blends a time-traveling narrative with a romantic tale of a heroine with two souls and... her pet dragon? Wait, I should probably clarify this.
The narrative in Time & Eternity starts off with the wedding ceremony between Zack, a blue haired knight, and Toki, a red-haired and kindhearted princess. Unfortunately for the pair, their ceremony is interrupted by surprise assassination attempt on the couple. Zack tries to protect Toki and becomes mortally wounded during the attack. Before Zack fades completely out of consciousness, he catches a glimpse of the secret alternate soul within Toki - the secret blonde-haired Towa, whom shares the same body as Toki - and helps fend off the assassin's attack. With the wedding in shambles, and the would-be husband nearly dead, Toki/Towa attempt to rewind time to 3 months past and change the future. Oh, and somehow Zack's soul gets transferred into Toki's pet dragon, Drake, when they rewind time to 3 months back. Don't ask me why.
Time & Eternity's main storytelling tool is the contrast between the two heroines, Toki and Towa, who share the same body and constantly switch places throughout. What's interesting is that story events as well as sidequest conversations are actually altered based on which one of the two heroines are present, both of whom switch every time they level-up in combat. For example, red-haired Toki will be more polite and understanding in story scenes while blonde-haired Towa has no qualms about being cold or choosing a violent solution to most circumstances. It's presented as a cute contrast, and the game is dense with conversations as well as dating-sim-like scenes between Zack/Drake and either heroine, and that is present throughout the entirety of the experience.
Unfortunately, a lot of the narrative“s charm ends there and is constantly broken up by the awkward writing. While it is appreciated in concept that Time & Eternity does not take itself too seriously, since the focus is on its characters rather than its main narrative, it doesn't pan out in the long run. The narrative frequently interjects poor attempts at humor at pretty much every step, and a lot of narrative context is pretty much ruined because of it. This is largely due to the constantly out-of-place, one-track perverted mindset that lead Zack/Drake tends to have as well as some really stale attempts at self-aware humor. There were so many moments where I felt the narrative had the potential to be endearing, only to have it randomly bogged down by the writing and just plain bad jokes.
My biggest complaint with Time & Eternity's storytelling is that I don“t think Time & Eternity actually reasonably justifies the relationship between the male lead and the two heroines from start to finish. It is one thing that I find the male lead Zack immensely dislikable and immature, but it's another when the narrative claims he has positive traits that he doesn't really showcase in the main story and/or the dating-sim-like scenes to a significant degree. Seriously, Zack/Drake feels like a one-note, perverted joke during the entire game. Even beyond my qualms with the writing and character interactions, the narrative by itself does not carry a whole lot of weight by itself. Actually, aside from a very forced attempt at serious narrative near the end of the game, the main story just sort of meanders throughout without any real focus.
The way Time & Eternity's structure plays out is actually rather straightforward and is pretty good at telling you what to do next. This goes from marking story objectives, quests, or a mix of the two for battles. Most of the time players will be traversing large field areas to hit the next story beat while slaying monsters in-between through random battles, or occasionally moving from a simple overhead map and accepting quests from local denizens.
Speaking of quests, almost every quest has a surprising amount of exposition. It's appreciated in theory to give context to the most menial of tasks, but I must reiterate that the game's writing makes it more of a curse than a blessing; that and the quests are rather dull for the most part, usually focusing on simple item gathering or battles.
Battles in Time & Eternity bear a lot of similarity to the PSP“s Black Rock Shooter: The Game, which I somewhat recently reviewed, and both also happen to be developed by Imageepoch. Combat is real-time and has Toki or Towa read and react to enemy attack patterns in simple 1 vs 1 skirmishes (with the occasional support attack from Drake). Toki and Towa play nearly identical despite the occasional deviation in their skill tree; Towa is slightly better/faster at attacking in close range, and Toki at long range. There are also spells (or later on, time magic), or chemistry, which can afflict certain status ailments if used in different combinations (some of which can easily destroy most bosses). Unlike Black Rock Shooter, though, I don“t think combat ever really hits a satisfying sweet spot in Time & Eternity. This is thanks in no small part to an insultingly sparse amount of enemy types, where even a good majority of the bosses are reskinned normal enemies, so the monotony of combat adds up very quickly.
If there is one thing that stands out at the first glance of Time & Eternity, it's definitely its in-game visual style. It utilizes a rather nice traditional 2D animation visual presentation for characters and a 3D plane for environments. Now, it isn't completely successful, since the 2D animations can be rather jerky and have weird transitions, especially in combat, but I nonetheless appreciate the bold visual endeavor. It's a shame that the lifeless 3D environments generally tend to sharply contrast, without many noticeable attempts of a cohesive visual style with the 2D animation, but I find myself appreciating the ambition more so than looking down on its actual execution of its presentation.
For the soundtrack, Yuzo Koshiro and Takeshi Yanagawa help forge Time & Eternity's score, which some may very well recognize their excellent musical composition work in the recent Etrian Odyssey IV. Unfortunately for Time & Eternity, the soundtrack doesn't seem to benefit from the ridiculous high standards that have been conducted by the duo, especially Koshiro. It's still a solid soundtrack, with some good field area themes and battle tracks, but it honestly lacks memorability, depth, and musical variety overall, especially considering the small track count and the composer's standards.
In regards to the voice acting, I'm actually rather mixed on both the Japanese dub and the English dub, since neither are exactly bad but noticeably inconsistent in some areas. That said, I found myself favoring the English dub though, surprisingly, because of the VA's for Towa/Toki in particular which I felt were actually rather fitting and somehow made the narrative a fair bit more palatable for me personally, which is odd considering the awful script they had to work with in it.
Time & Eternity is a strange game, it has a ton of crippling flaws from its storytelling and gameplay, but the end result is better than the sum of its parts, but not by much. While I do think the game has gotten a bit more hate than it deserves, especially when certain Idea Factory or Compile Heart games continue to make their strides without nearly as much flak, Time & Eternity is more than likely to be disappointing or a real test of willpower for most. Still, it's a shame that, in a year where so many RPGs play it safe with mostly iterative releases, one of the very few that happens to be a new IP is so very misguided.
+ Solid soundtrack and decent voice acting
+ Unique presentation that utilizes vibrant traditional 2D animation for characters
+ Main heroine with two different souls brings interesting ideas to the storytelling and how it is presented
- Shallow combat system with no enemy variety whatsoever
- Poor writing that makes a lot of the humor fall flat and narrative inane
- Bland quest structure (if I have to get another "hammy", I swear...)
- Stark 3D environments that contrast the 2D animation
Overall Score: 4.5 (out of 10)
Time & Eternity is an ambitious game that is largely bogged down by clumsy gameplay and even clumsier writing.