JRPGs have an unusually high standard of quality to meet, due to the raised bar set by some of the best ones. From old beloved titles like Final Fantasy VII to newer masterpieces like Ni No Kuni, the best and brightest of the genre have created an expectation of excellence in the genre. Some games cannot meet that bar, but does that necessitate a lowering of expectations? Unfortunately, even taking that step toward expectation adjustment doesn’t help a game such as Time and Eternity – one that is simply flawed; it just can’t stack up.
The story earns points for turning convention on its head. Rather than the knight in shining armor rescuing the princess, this is quite literally the opposite: the princess has to save the knight. Things begin with “Zach” and his wife-to-be Toki preparing for their wedding the following day and attempting to stave off the looming prophecy that someone will be killed at the wedding. Sure enough, when assassins show up to the ceremony, it’s Zach that falls under the blade. As he dies, Zach watches the calm redhead Toki inexplicably transform into the ass-kicking blonde warrior Towa. After the dust clears, Toki/Towa is able to travel back in time, to the point of the prophecy, and attempt to stop the assassination from happening. Zach, for his part, gets placed into the body of Toki’s pet dragon Drake. Tonally, it’s a bit weird, since this should be pretty dark subject matter, but it remains fairly lighthearted throughout with a mix of amusing dialogue and poor recycled jokes.
Toki and Towa are two separate characters, which is a neat idea. It’s possible to build them up fairly differently with separate abilities and different weapons (even though weapons appear so infrequently this probably won’t be the case). Each time you level up, your character changes back to her other form. This forces equal leveling and makes sure that someone isn’t left underpowered. In addition, based on the things Drake says and does to either girl throughout the adventure and during specific opportunities in the overworld, his affection for each girl changes to favor one or the other. This builds toward a bigger choice late in the game, which will eventually decide which girl Drake ends up with. It’s a neat system that deserved more time in the forefront.
The most striking element of Time and Eternity is the art style. Characters are modeled in that classic, much-beloved hand-drawn style that looks like a moving anime. It’s colorful and expressive, just as it should be. The problems arise when they start moving in the open world and interacting with the 3D environments. The former causes frequent frame-skipping (understandably) and looks a little jarring in motion, which takes getting used to. The latter is just weird; these beautiful sprites run through drab 3D worlds, and the effect is like oil and water. Again, it’s possible to adapt to this, but the first taste of the aesthetic is not pleasant.
The battle system is strikingly unique in its reminiscence of Punch-Out. Battles are in real time, with characters free to attack whenever the opportunity seems good. The basic attack is deployed with the Circle button. Based on the proximity to the enemy, this is either a blade or projectile attack. The button can be pressed multiple times and even mashed for successive attacks. The coolest bit about the system is the ability to move along a fixed plane in real time. If it would work better to get up in the enemy’s face, you can jump forward to do so. Additionally, you can jump to either side to avoid attacks, or simply block them. This all makes for a dynamic system that can be pretty exciting. The enemies themselves make battles either thrilling or annoying, as most of them follow a specific pattern. Some simply use a lot of projectiles, while others will get up close and personal. These latter cases can be exciting, as dodging, blocking and mashing combine for a pretty thrilling fight. It takes a while to get to that point, as the first couple hours are filled with boring abilities and lackluster battles. However, after that time the fights get a bit more interesting, though dampened by egregious enemy palette-swapping.
Skills and spells are each assigned to Triangle, Square and X buttons. The currency for using these is SP, which is built up by attacking the enemy. Once enough SP is accumulated, a skill can be used. Most of these are aggressively overpowered, but satisfying to use. Each one is aligned with a certain element: Ice, Ground, Lightning, Fire, or Void. Like Rock-Paper-Scissors or Pokemon, the first four have their own strengths and weaknesses against each other. Void is neutral and has no strengths or weaknesses. It’s fun to try to remember these attributes and extremely satisfying to time a charged spell correctly and nail an enemy right before he’s about to strike. Later in the game, Toki/Towa has access to some time-based powers. They’re interesting, but there’s rarely any major reason to use them.
The key to obtaining new abilities lies within the Gift menu. Successful quests and victories in battle will also earn GP, or Gift Points. These are then fed into a tree in the Gift Menu and used to unlock new abilities. For example, one of the earlier options on the tree is Black Magician. Purchasing this gift will unlock the ability to learn Void-type spells. Later on, you can put points into Magic Warrior, which grants access to more physical abilities. A major disadvantage of this system is a strong case of delayed gratification; after purchasing a gift, whichever character you purchased it for automatically learns the new abilities upon leveling up….at which point you have to wait to level up again so you can use the character and the abilities. It’s harder to be invested in the system when you have to wait so long to reap the benefits, particularly when the Gift menu is, in theory, really cool.
Time & Eternity is filled with good ideas that either don’t fully cohere or take too long to take shape. The game as a whole is good, but there’s always the feeling that it could be so much better. Nearly every idea the game puts forth is inspired, and there are some really cool systems at play. At the same time, every turn seems to bring with it opportunities for further development or better execution. As it stands, Time & Eternity is a well-intentioned but ultimately hollow and forgettable adventure. You could do worse for an RPG, but you could also do far better.
Time and Eternity was developed by Imageepoch and published by NIS America. A PS3 copy was provided by the publisher for review purposes.