Time and Eternity was originally published in Japan by Namco Bandai, but it is being brought to North America by Nippon Ichi. It’s one of the most unusual RPGs released in some time in look, feel and design. Nippon Ichi sent me a review copy a little bit ago, and I recently finished the first chapter in the game. From that, I can honestly say that Time and Eternity is shaping up to be one of the best games of the year.
As I’ve said, everything about the game is unusual. It’s a return to old school Japanese RPGs where you have a single player character instead of a team on the battlefield. Battles are one-on-one encounters, but tend to involve three or four battles in a row. Most JRPGs these days tend to field teams of three or four on the field, so this might be a bit of culture shock for those used to Final Fantasy or Megaten games. For those that play, say, Skyrim or Fallout 3, this idea of a single character navigating an exceptionally large world, doing small scale battles, will feel more at home. So in a sense, Time and Eternity may appeal to those who like western action RPGs rather than the typical JRPG turn based crowd.
Combat is one of my favorite things about the game. Do you remember the Judgment Wheel from the Shadow Hearts series? It’s rare to have a JRPG that requires exact timing and hand-to-eye coordination like that, but you can add Time and Eternity to that list. Combat is done in real time, more or less, although some actions, like spells, require charging time. You have two planes of combat, near and far, and you’ll use the shape buttons for various attacks. The circle button is your standard rifle shot or blade attack, depending on which plane you are on, and the other three buttons correspond to spells or physical attacks that you have customized. You’ll use the L1 button to block or the analog stick for dodging. So there’s no picking a command from a menu, watching your character take a step forward, swing a weapon and step back in line here. The end result is a form of combat that will keep you on your toes from beginning to end, learning enemy attack patterns and honing your split second timing. I absolutely adore combat, and again, it’s so different from the typical JRPG that I think it will be more inviting to those that don’t normally play these. Fighting game fans will probably get a kick out of the combat. I found my days as an SNK arcade hog to be really helpful will the longer battles, like the Time Golem or the four armed mecha-ninja, especially frame counting.
So combat may be a single character affair, but you do have three main characters, two of which share a body and one who has supplanted the original owner of another body. Your first main character is Toki, the princess of the local kingdom. She’s a very sweet, demure pink haired young lady who is about to marry her long time love. This love, who is a brave and well respected knight, is your second main character. The default name is Zack, but you can change his name to whatever you want, so I changed it to York because well, the coffee told me to (Someone please get that joke.). At their wedding, Zack is mortally injured by strange antagonists, and as a result, Toki reveals two powers. The first is that she actually has a second soul living in her body, and when it comes to the forefront, her physical appearance changes slightly (pink to blond hair and sharper, slightly crueler features) and Towa comes into play. It’s basically twins in the same body. The second power is that the royal family has time manipulation powers. Toki and Towa agree to travel back in time to figure out who is behind the attack on the royal wedding and nip the plan in the bud. Unfortunately, Zach/York’s soul is accidentally brought along for the ride and stuffed into the body of Toki/Towa’s pet dragon, Drake. In this role, Zach/York/Drake (TOO MANY NAMES!) can be a support character for your female combatant, healing or doing elemental based attack damage. As the game progresses, you can unlock the ability to direct Drake with specific commands, but at the expense of using up one (or more) of your magic or combo attack slots (so get more).
Toki and Towa play slightly differently from each other. Towa does better with ranged combat, while Towa is a close attack fighter. Toki learns different spells (Fire and Stone) from Towa (Lightning and Ice), but as the game continues, you’ll be able to customize the girls however you like. It’s worth noting that the “gift chain” is exceptionally long, and there are so many options to choose from, you’ll have to play the game twice to get enough GP to unlock everything for both characters. You’ll have to play the game twice anyway to see all three endings (both main endings on the first playthrough by using the same save twice, and then a second full playthrough for the “True” ending. In my game, Toki started out with the Rifleman skill, and then I gave her Flame Magician and Rune Knight, followed by Black Magician, Beast Master and then White Magician and Princess of Time. Towa, on the other hand has been built quite differently. I started with Swordsman, then gave her Bolt Magician and Rune Knight, and followed things with giving her lots of skill slots, both active and passive. This meant the Twin Tail, Mathematician, and Bolt Guardian gifts. The end result was that Towa was a great defensive and ranged attacker, while Towa was a close distance fighter with extra health damage, condition causing abilities to her strike and, if needed, was extremely good with distance lightning spells.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t close out this preview with the visuals. The entire game looks like a high definition anime. The visuals are gorgeous. There aren’t a wide range of visuals, so characters will make the same few motions repeatedly, but what is here is fully animated and just blew me away every time I encountered a new creature, attack or character. This really is one of the most innovative games I’ve encountered visually, and it reminds me of how everyone was taken back by FMV games like The 7th Guest or Phantasmagoria in ye olden times when I was a kid.
Honestly, Time and Eternity is crazy awesome so far, I will be shocked if it’s not at least a nominee for some award come the end of the year, and it’s definitely in my top five games of the year. Of course, I’m only a sixth into the game, so things may change, but right now (God knows that has happened before…), it’s hard not to gush over this game in every way. The visuals are gorgeous, the voice acting and music are top notch, the story is whimsical and a huge change from the usual “mopey anti-hero saves all of creation” that we find in a lot of JRPGs. Combat is extremely unique and a lot of fun, and I love the customization tree for both girls. This is definitely a game that is going to be a time sink for me. I can’t wait to see what else Time and Eternity has in store for me.
Time and Eternity has a release date of July 16th and an MSRP of only $49.99, so strongly considering pre-ordering this one. If you do pre-order it, you get a soundtrack CD with nine tracks from the game. I love the soundtrack, so this is a wonderful pre-order bonus. If you go directly to Nippon Ichi’s website, you can preorder a limited edition version of the game for $64.99. This version includes a special slipcase for the game, the pre-order CD, a hardcover art book and poster. I’m tempted to get this version and I have my free review copy – that’s how much I’m enjoying the game. Hopefully, I’ll still be feeling the same way once it’s review time for Time and Eternity.