Time & Eternity, Toki to Towa in Japan, is an action JRPG by the now-defunct game company Imageepoch. Imageepoch released a small selection of fairly niche’ titles over their ten year life span, undoubtedly most well-known for the series Luminous Arc but also having produced games for rather hot recent IPs such as Fate/Extra. Time & Eternity’s US release was handled by NIS America, a company that gives the English speaking market it’s fair share of popular titles such as Danganronpa, Atelier series, and Hyperdimension Neptunia, to name a few.
Time & Eternity – I’ll call it ‘T&E’ from here out – is one of the more recent titles I’ll speak of despite now nearing six years of age in it’s US market release (wow… it is really that old…). The game is an action RPG that utilizes what is a quite novel design of 3D game world against 2D sprites. That should be giving you some initial cringe, but the 2D sprites are well-developed, and actually work with the game engine fairly well.
T&E is a story about a princess name Toki who, on her wedding day, is assassinated. Following the event she’s thrown back into time in an attempt to find out exactly what happened and save herself. She also deals with an internal alter-ego, Towa, whom they both share a stable and understanding relationship of what goes on between the two of them. The time and alter-ego aspects of the game are key points in how the title progresses. Toki’s fiancee’ in the time traveling escapades has been inadvertently placed into her familiar Drake, and he assumes the role of an almost comic relief of sorts.
The game plays from an 3rd person perspective behind both Toki/Towa and Drake. Again it might sound a little strange seeing 2D characters against 3D backgrounds but it’s well thought out and surprisingly works well. The characters are animated quite beautifully and you can tell a lot of work went into them (although, by admission of the lead developer of the title, part of the reason why there is an alter-ego between Toki and Towa was to save on animation costs.). I have to say I’ve read some negative reviews in this aspect that supposedly the title’s animation is poor but I’m guessing these critics are somehow not playing the same game because the animation is very good; damn good.
Toki switches back and forth between her alter-ego Towa when she levels up, and part of the switching aspect is for each personalities’ affection towards Drake. When Toki/Towa find out that Drake is currently housing the embodiment of her fiancee’ (opps…) the game takes on a visual novel dating game-esque aspect. Certain events throughout the story and in battle push affection towards either Toki or Towa, and the player has the ability to control which personality they want to prevail (through DLC they can also get items that force the alter-ego changes at will).
The story then revolves around Toki/Towa trying to solve the mysteries of that day. While they do have help from various friends the entire game is played by only being able to control one party member. The game still plays similar to a turn-based RPG but it’s not in the same vein as them. When you enter into battle, you control either Toki or Towa – whichever ego is currently in play – and square off against a particular foe in what is effectively a highly glorified version of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Toki’s advantages are long ranged attacks, while Towa is a better melee fighter. You have the ability to move Toki/Towa either forward or back, very similar in aspect to the classic Final Fantasy series ‘row’ command, however in T&E it’s done in real-time.
And that’s where the dynamics of the battle system come into play. Each foe you face against has a set pattern of attacks, and you have to determine both whom is more effective against a particular set of foes and what particular attack to use at a given moment. Some of the foes are relatively easy to deal with, but many that you come across you won’t be able to just wail on them. You have to observe particular attack patterns and determine when to use long-ranged, melee, or special attacks. Later battles become fairly dynamic, and some boss battles go on for a LONG TIME, as you have to work through rounds of combat evading or blocking particular attacks to then engage when you have a opening. There is a lot of strategy to employ, and the game awards strategic players that master the combat system.
Outside of combat, there’s mostly running around various locations to complete side quests. They’re your typical JRPG fare; a character asks you to do something – typically to find an item, you locate the item or defeat a particular enemy, then return to the character. Some of the side quests do get fairly involved though and some are even given to you prior to actually being able to proceed to various points in the game. There’s a lot of time where you’re just seemingly running around nowhere.
And to get one of the first real critiques out of the title and one I actually agree with; you’ll find the 3D locales are really… boring. They’re dull. And they can get repetitive. This is something that’s not really uncommon in JRPGs (all of the modern JRPG titles are guilty of it), but here it’s really glaring. Most glaring of all is that many of the side quests force you to go back to these dull locales to back-track for items. It get monotonous quick, and isn’t fun at all.
Away from the combat areas you are primarily going about towns or similar locations. They’re not 3D traversable, to my personal dismay, and so you have to select where Toki/Towa proceeds. When you get to a particular place you typically converse with characters, and while some of the dialogue is informative a good amount of it is just incredibly dull. Toki/Towa has three friends she converses with in between quests and battles and while some of it is informative a lot of it is just banter that can be skipped.
The unfortunate critique that is warranted is that the title just is very repetitive. There’s no mini-games or similar types of events that could break up some of the repetitiveness or give some replayability. You effectively just keep rinsing and repeating the same gameplay over and over to progress the story. The only real break up in the story comes in the special events you can trigger. Depending on whether or not you’re Toki or Towa a special event can proceed in a particular manner, and so you have to at the least play through a particular scene twice to get each character’s interactions (that you of course can revisit in the game’s media library of scenes.). Of course since this is Japan the scenes are either incredibly suggestive or give off some similar fan-service.
You’re also given an ability to listen to either English or Japanese voice over work, and the English dialogue is in the fair level of decent. It’s not the ‘Tales’ series decent, but for NIS it’s good.
So is the game good?
It’s not great, at least I don’t think so. I however don’t think the title is as terrible as a lot of critics say it is. It’s interesting to say the least. However what really stymies this sort of gameplay is it was done VERY good prior with Valkyria Chronicles which featured a similarly control scheme and presentation but much better presented (and, honestly, I think T&E would have similarly worked well as a more strategic title than focusing hardcore on moving and real-time battles). Unfortunately unless this is a title that can just be had for incredibly cheap it’s not one to rush out and add to your PS3 library. It is however a romp that won’t leave you completely dissatisfied.