As someone who quite enjoys JRPGs in general, I’ve always appreciated NISA’s knack for bringing over some lesser known titles to the States. Excellent titles like the Atelier series of games may never have seen the light of day here if it wasn’t for NISA. So whenever a new title is published by them with some signs of promise, I make it a point to at least check it out.
Unfortunately, NISA also has a bit of a shaky record in the choice of games that they decide to publish, as is the case with the less than stellar Neptunia series.
So when Time and Eternity (Toki to Towa in Japan) was announced for localization, I approached with cautious hopes and after playing through the game, I can safely say that my hopes have been dashed to ribbons.
If nothing else, Time and Eternity begins with an interesting premise.
On the day of wedding between the princess Toki and the player, they are attacked before they are able to seal the deal with a kiss. The would be husband is fatally wounded protecting his love and after revealing that Toki had another soul living in her body named Towa, she uses her royal powers to go back six months so she can stop the attack on the wedding. With the help of her trusty companion Drake, whose body was now inhabited by her would be husband, they go on a quest to get married- for better or for worse.
While finding out the identity of those who would be devilish enough to attack someone on their wedding day seems serious enough of a task, the game handles the overall plot and narrative with lighthearted glee.
The silly nature of the game works well for its sense of humor, as there are a few moments spread throughout the game that gave me a good laugh. Like a wish granting dragon being terrified of being reported to the better business bureau for his shady dealings or a cake that tastes so terrible that it has the power to let people commune with the dead. While there are some common rehashed gimmicks that are repeated too often to remain funny, the overall tone is campy and enjoyable.
The graphics of the game, which were lauded as something of a selling point of the title, are an ironic weak point in more ways than one. There are beautifully drawn 2D sprites in Time and Eternity but they do not animate very well with constant, awkward looking repeated frames during conversation and battle alike. To see the high resolution sprites on a crudely rendered 3D world is jarring to say the least and it never quite looks good in motion.
Worse yet, many sprites, from the monsters to the townspeople, are all rehashed over and over again with incredible frequency. By the time I was done playing through the game, I had fought four different colored palette swapped of each and every monster that I ran into and saw the same character sprite representing at least five different people.
In all honesty, all of that could be overlooked as a simple problem with budget restraints if the actual game play of the title was good. Unfortunately, this is not the case as the combat system in Time and Eternity proves itself to be its Achilles heel.
The combat in Time and Eternity is timing based, meaning that choosing the right moments to attack is just as important as the attack itself. Building the SP meter by using regular attacks while dodging attacks that drain the meter on knockdown, then unleashing a massive magic attack is a cornerstone for success. However, this is hindered and almost downright killed off entirely by the length of each animation and delay of action after a move.
Being stuck in a long animation when the enemy initiates their knockdown move to do massive damage and drain me of all my precious SP is a frustrating event and it happened all too frequently. Eventually, I was able to learn the patterns of the enemy and pick my moments better but there are many foes present in the game that gave me absolutely no space in between attacks to avoid getting hit. I was forced to just take the hits and hope that my magic attack would work before I was interrupted.
If I wasn’t being frustrated, I was being bored because I already knew the pattern of the enemy and was just going through the motions. There was never a happy middle ground for challenge in the game for me and I grew so weary of the combat mid-way through the game that I started using items to make the random encounters less frequent.
This made it so that I was severely under leveled for some of the bosses near the end of the game. This wouldn’t have been much of an issue due to how items could be spammed to recover health at almost any given time but the bosses started doing unavoidable one hit kills in the form of cinematic skills which added to the frustration.
To put something like that in a combat engine where the main focus is supposed to be finesse is the kind of mind boggling game play decision that makes me want to grab the developer by the shoulders and yell “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING!?”.
Fortunately for me, I was able to completely break the combat with the use of the time manipulation skills. While limited in their use, they allowed me to speed up my actions exponentially faster or even stop time for the enemy entirely. In fact, the last boss would’ve been impossible for me to defeat if I didn’t. He had instant kill cinematic skills which were unavoidable and would often heal himself… back to full health.
So I took a different approach to the fight. As the battle began, I stopped time immediately and just attacked him with no resistance. When the time freeze wore off, I immediately activated it again. When I was out of the resources to use this skill, I quickly went into items and replenished them and did it over and over again. More than Ten time freezes later, the final boss of the game was dead and he (she?) hadn’t made a single move.
Cheap I admit, but given the final boss was level fifty or so and I was still in my twenties, I didn’t really have another option. Ok well, I did but I sure as hell wasn’t about to grind levels using this terrible combat engine.
Then there’s the skill tree which is as needlessly convoluted and as ill conceived as it gets.
Using gift points earned through mostly through the completion of quests, I was able to unlock skills that could be put into limited slots for use.
Unfortunately, even when I would use the points to buy a skill, I would not get anything immediately. All that would do is unlock the potential of learning some skills when I got to the high enough level. If there was a skill in there that I was at the right level to have already, I wouldn’t even get those till I leveled up either. It wasn’t enough for them to be vague about the skills I might be able to get but also when I might be able to. In fact, what’s the point of letting the player buy a skill that they’re 30 levels away from using? The effect of the skills I was getting was in question as well as I didn’t know if it would be useful at all or just was a complete waste.
So instead of making me want to do quests to get more gift points to spend, I eventually stopped caring. What good were more skills if the ones I had were good enough to get the job done, after all.
Even though there are two characters (Toki/Towa) with their own respective skill sets, I found myself using all the stat increasing items on Towa and leaving Toki in the dust as given I couldn’t change between the two in combat, it was silly to balance out the power between the two.
The idea of two souls in one body was quite the novel idea but it isn’t used to do much in the actual game, which is a missed opportunity in my book.
The voice work in Time and Eternity ranges from passable to god awful and it’s good that there’s the Japanese voice track fully intact in this release.
There is also a new game + mode where things like gift points and skills carry over while unlocking a new ending after the finish but I had a hard time completing my first play through, much less a second.
Time and Eternity is a game of great ambitions, but due to some rather poor design choices and budget restraints, it manages to achieve almost nothing it sets out to do. I’m sorry NISA (you know I love you), but it seems you picked a stinker this time around.
Fun Tidbit: Do check out the companion video for a closer look at the game and see what’s wrong with the combat engine.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.