Reviews are never an easy matter, with plenty of commentators discussing the need for objectivity in what are, if we’re going to be totally honest, hugely subjective critiques of games. I personally land on the subjective side, arguing that people should review from their own experiences, as opposed to some other supposedly more factual criteria.
If you enjoy a game, it is well scored. End of story. If you don’t agree with such a review, it’s probably because your tastes are a little different to the reviewer in question. Time and Eternity presents a particular issue then for, though it mechanically falters at various points, I had an immensely enjoyable time playing through it.
I enjoyed Imageepoch’s recent JRPG because it appeals to every one of my bizarre and esoteric interests. So here’s what you need to know about me: I love JRPGs, have a soft-spot for hugely clichéd anime and am more than willing to forgive technical flaws if a game has ambition. Time and Eternity plays up all three of these things, with ridiculous plot threads wrapped around a cool real time battle system and topped off with an innovative animation style that merges 3D rendered backgrounds with lavish 2D sprites.
Set in a pseudo-medieval kingdom, Time and Eternity sees princess Toki preparing for her wedding. On the big day though, assassins attack killing her almost husband in the ensuing melee. Toki is able to fend off the rest of the attackers thanks to Towa, the other half of her split personality that has more gall than the dainty princess we are initially introduced to. The plot becomes even more ridiculous when it turns out every member of the royal family can control time, so Toki/Towa go back in time to prevent the assassins from attacking her wedding in the first place.
As if the ridiculous meter wasn’t already full, the spirit of the husband travels back with her, but accidentally gets misplaced inside the body of Toki’s pet dragon. What ensues is an absurd love story between a princess with a serious mental illness and a dragon with a human’s soul, and this is seen by the other characters as totally acceptable. It’s one of the stupidest premises for a game ever, and that is why it is so brilliant.
Many will disagree, but Time and Eternity’s stereotypical character roster and over the top fan service all add up to give the feeling that the writers new exactly what they were doing when they penned this “so bad it’s good” plot. Think of films like The Room, Birdemic and Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus and you’re in the right ball park. I’m sure some may feel I’m covering for weak writing with my analysis, but the inclusion of a transformation scene when Toki and Towa switch personalities is too extreme in its presentation to be anything but a self aware reference to some of the stranger idiosyncrasies of anime.
Adding to the anime fan pleasing is the visuals. Many said the cel-shading boom in the mid-2000s was creating games that looked like anime, but Time and Eternity is the closest a game has ever come to capturing such delicate animations. Beautifully crafted 2D sprites are layered upon 3D backgrounds for a unique effect. It isn’t without flaws, of course.
The 3D environments look like something out of an N64 game, and the character animations tend to be repeated in story sequences where they don’t feel relevant. I understand drawing so many frames must have been demanding, but it still seems cheap. This is made all the worse by Toki and Towa’s animations being identical. Whilst I’m sure this saved a huge chunk of development time, the dainty animations for Toki just don’t seem right when performed by the more aggressive and energetic character of Towa.
The sound likewise is a mixed bag, and often in ways you wouldn’t expect. English and Japanese audio with subtitles are available and, as you may have guessed, the English voice cast is disgracefully bad. Switching to the Japanese audio is a better choice but, whilst the acting is much better, there is still some really low quality voice recording going on at Imageepoch. Though the majority of the soundtrack is fairly forgettable, Yuzo Koshiro of Streets of Rage, Sonic and Shenmue soundtrack fame lends a cracking battle theme.
Speaking of battles, Time and Eternity’s battle system does a good job of silencing the usual hate people level at RPGs. Players control Toki or Towa in a one on one fight against an enemy, using a combination of basic attacks, special skills and guards/dodges to get the jump on their foe. All this takes place in real time, lending battles a real sense of speed.
The roster of skills becomes a boon later on, particularly as you learn to manage the “gifts” that grant Toki and Towa new skills. Battles do become undeniably repetitive though. The problem comes in the enemy AI, which uses the same attack patterns every time you face them, rather than adapting to the player’s fighting style.
This repetition is alleviated by Toki’s split personality. Rather than being merely a plot device, the multiple personality disorder of the heroine means that she changes back and forth every time you level up. Subtle differences between the two characters keep you on your toes accordingly, with Toki’s long range proficiency making for a different game to Towa’s more aggressive melee skills. Though monotony can definitely set in due to the high encounter rate, Time and Eternity manages to hit a pretty good rhythm that alleviates much of the grind.
Grind is one word I would certainly use to describe Time and Eternity but, much like the rest of its RPG elements, the grind is wrapped in a very user-friendly shell. Maps are clear and concise, albeit often sparse in content. Likewise, side-quests, though repetitive and of the basic fetch quest variety, are plentiful and concise.
Level ups also come quickly, resulting in a gameplay experience that, though sometimes lacking in variety, has a swift and satisfying pace. There is no doubt Time and Eternity has issues with repetition, most notably in the later game, but there is usually always something to look forward to. Whether it be a level up and the chance to switch character, or the undercooked but rewarding dating sim elements that see you balancing the dragon’s affection between Toki and Towa, there’s a lot to love here.
Time and Eternity stands toe to toe with many of the RPG greats in some ways. Fresh combat ideas, a massive amount of content and beautiful visuals are but some of the areas where it excels, but the next Final Fantasy 7 this is not. It has all the trappings of a game that should reinvent the genre for a new audience.
Battles are first and fun, and there’s not a hint of angst or world saving anywhere in Time and Eternity’s hilarious script. Still, it taps into a series of anime and JRPG tropes that many will misunderstand, and even more will just find alienating or annoying. If you’re anything like me though (an angsty gamer with a passion for RPGs and cheesy anime romantic comedies), Time and Eternity deserves your attention. Where its mechanics fail, its ambition stays strong and righteous, and we really need more games doing that sort of thing at the moment.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 3.