With each successive subpar effort, the question of the JRPG decline becomes clearer. When we reach the abysmal depths of a promising title like Time and Eternity , we finally have to accept that decreasing interest in the genre is directly tied to the corresponding decrease in quality. The bottom line is that such productions lag so far behind the rest of the industry, it has become impossible to recommend such games to even die-hard aficionados. At this point, it’d be unfair to them as consumers, because the most outspoken supporter of the niche genre will be heavily disappointed. And really, it’s sad.
The disappointment began to creep in the instant I laid eyes on the latest from Image Epoch and NIS America. I am always willing to be lenient in terms of technical proficiency, especially if the story and combat (the backbones of any great RPG) excel. Tragically, those two elements are even worse than the visuals, but we’ll get to those in a minute. Graphically, the animation suffers from jerky, unrealistic movements, the backdrops are reminiscent of long bygone eras, and the entire presentation is just unappealing and even downright ugly. Plus, there’s so much recycling of various designs and environmental detail that it’s unfortunately comical.
If you’re wondering, “outdated” is the accurate term here. Then you’ve got the audio, which features a repetitive, absolutely annoying soundtrack and some of the blandest, least emotional voice acting you’ll ever hear. Any attempt at giving a character some sense of flair or personality falls horribly flat. The entire sound presentation is dull and drab, and you forget even halfway decent musical pieces the instant they draw to a close. Between the terrible, amateur-ish voice performances and the inconsistent, jarring visuals, you get a game that struggles to be taken seriously. It’s just so vastly eclipsed by most all modern titles currently on store shelves.
This all being said, I’ve been known to play – and even enjoy – plenty of JRPGs in the past that didn’t exactly push the technical envelope. That’s because they offered intriguing, in-depth combat mechanics and great storylines that kept one interested in the adventure. So, despite being saddened to the point of shedding tears when analyzing those terrible technical aspects, I still held out hope for a riveting plot, likable characters and a fighting mechanic that was deep and rewarding. But I was disappointed again, even though I did like a few of the gameplay ideas.
In the first hour, you note a distinct lack of polish and pacing and an adolescent sense of style with which I can no longer identify. I don’t mind a little innuendo; in fact, I expect it in such games. But when that’s essentially the cornerstone of all dialogue, we quickly lose interest and in turn, we lose a lot of respect for the developers. This poorly written and acted farce begins with Princess Toki, who is getting married to a handsome young man named Zack. But during the wedding, they’re attacked by assassins and Zack falls dead. And we learn that Toki has a split personality; Towa is a bad-ass fighter and she even has a pet dragon named Drake.
So, in order to prevent the tragedy, the Princess goes back in time in an attempt to stop it from ever happening. It’s a cheesy, clunky plot line that isn’t emotional or even remotely amusing. The characters are painfully one-dimensional and Toki/Towa spends most of her time yelling at the female members, accusing them of being obsessed with men. Then she yells at the men who only exist to try to get the women. It’s just an insulting mélange of outmoded stereotypes that grates and chafes. My eyes never stopped rolling and eventually, you just want everyone on the screen to shut up. I’m all for tongue-in-cheek humor but that’s not what this is. This is disgustingly stupid.
From the development to the performers, it’s as if nobody really cared about the project. They certainly didn’t care enough to deliver a dynamic, in-depth battle system that is both satisfying and challenging. Instead, we get an overly tedious and simplified mechanic that takes very little practice, and only requires a lot of patience. Toki handles the long-range attacks while Towa is a stronger fighter, capable of landing heavy melee strikes. Unfortunately, as both feel basically the same, the character-specific differences don’t seem to matter much. You attack when an enemy leaves himself defenseless and the entire process is repetitive and mind-numbing.
The only cool part is Drake, who can perform special “chemistry”-based assaults with his owner. If the heroine and Drake combine a couple magic spells, the result is a seriously damaged opponent. Getting accustomed to the chemistry aspect of the battles is essential and thankfully, it’s mildly entertaining. Toki and Towa have their own abilities as well, but none of them seem all that compelling or interesting. The most fun can be had when bringing Drake into the mix and making mincemeat of your foes. The controls are relatively simple, as skills are mapped to the face buttons and magic and items are mapped to the trigger buttons.
It’s a mostly streamlined mechanic but like everything else in this game, it all falls flat. There really aren’t that many abilities to learn, winning usually requires the exact same formula repeated over and over, and the difficulty is all over the place. One minute, you’re crushing anything that comes your way and the next, you’re getting bi***-smacked by a giant boss. I’m not really sure why they did this; maybe to spice things up, or maybe it’s just another example of poor pacing and general game construction. Toss in a ridiculous and just plain bad story and offensive characters, and you get a game that feels like a chore to play.
I know a lot of JRPG enthusiasts were looking forward to Time and Eternity . I was, too. The hand-drawn artistry was a definite high-point and the gameplay and plot definitely had promise. Sadly, this is an example of a production that needed a lot more in the way of resources and effort. And as much as I will defend the kooky Japanese style and culture, this one just makes you cringe. The humor is too stupid to be funny, the characters are narrow-minded and boring, the plot is silly (and not in a good way), and the boring, plodding, monotonous battles are a huge letdown. There are a few amusing parts, I suppose, and Drake is a great addition to the combat.
But other than that…an absolute dud.
The Good: Some okay humor. Drake is a cool part of the combat.
The Bad: Terribly outdated technical elements. Mediocre animation and detailing. Poor voice performances. Tedious, uninspired combat. Story is juvenile and even offensive. One-dimensional characters. Uneven pacing.
The Ugly: “The current state of JRPGs is really, really depressing.”