Closing the Loop – A Look Back at Time and Eternity
So it’s been quite some time since Time and Eternity hit the market here in the States; long enough that more than all the reviews have already been read, the critical dust has settled, and the overall response been simplified to:
“Meh,” and, “It had a good battle system.”
It’s interesting, because the former isn’t too far off the mark while the latter is possibly up for debate. Overall, it’s not a bad experience, but Time and Eternity, to me, was a game that tried to be too many things at once. It was also a very easy game and one whose battle system I grew bored with very quickly.
But we shall begin, as they say, at the beginning. Let’s talk about this one’s misguided goal: Here we see a game that is taking the cel-shaded animation style to the next level in animating every character and monster and NPC on top of a 3D background. Okay, cool, nice idea. Some complained that this look proved too jarring to be enjoyable. I disagree, but that’s, just, like, our opinions, y’know? Here’s the problem; sprite re-usage is common in RPG’s, but Time and Eternity pushed it a little too far.
Early in the game the player meets “Boy-genius Killia,” a quest-giver with a moderately interesting side-story involving one of the supporting characters. “Okay, cool! He’s animated, doesn’t move as much as the main characters, but fine. NPC. Got it.” Exactly 15 seconds later, the player is introduced to another brat in a back alley (called Back Alley) for a quest – and he looks exactly the same. The colors were even barely changed.
This is only one example of a recurring phenomenon in the game, one that is echoed further by the repetitive actions of the main characters who, while animated more dynamically than the NPC’s (which is to say ‘at all’), only have 5 or 6 animations with a few specials thrown in there for those cutscene moments. This was a common complaint, and it’s easy to see why. Causes like budget, memory, and other resource constraints are probable, but the result remains the same; the animation, a major selling point of the game, comes across as a little lackluster even though it is quite pretty.
What most critics praised about the game was its battle system. Dynamic and fun, it pitted the main character and her dragon sidekick against single enemies in one-on-one slugfests of magic, bullets, and blades. Again, it’s a great idea and was well-executed except it got boring fast. For this game, the trick to winning battles was too easy to figure out, and even as the game progressed and the difficulty supposedly ramped up, the fights never felt hard. Boss fights ended in less than a few minutes, and the contrast with games like Resonance of Fate and Star Ocean: the Last Hope left a bad taste for one who expected something a tad more epic in a time-traveling, spell-slinging game.
Looking at the game’s story, it’s typical time-travel stuff. The heroes go back in time to avert disaster only to realize that their very act of doing so caused the events to take place, ensuing in what they call a Moebius Loop (a poetic application of a geometric structure; y’all should check this out) of repetition breakable only by sacrifice.
The key to this journey is definitely the characters. Though the protagonist, Zack, spends most of the game as a baby dragon Drake, the exploration of his love for the dual-souled Toki and Towa is sweet without being cheap. The heroines themselves contrast nicely, with Toki’s sweetness playing against Towa’s gung-ho personality perfectly despite the two never directly interacting until the end.
Interesting and far from one-dimensional, the story takes some very interesting twists and turns and the cast themselves is nicely explored. Where the game falls short are its little, poignant moments. Some quests have pretty tragic conclusions, but rather than take advantage of the mood with some special music or pauses (for dramatic……… effect, of course) the game simply diddles along at its own pace, uncaring for the dropped jaw of its player as it casually drops bombs about its characters.
Time and Eternity could have been a fantastic anime. It also could have been a great visual novel with a minigame or hybrid battle system. The end result, though, feels like a mashup of all these things combined together, stripping out only the good bits — and a lot of the okay bits — and then adding some not-so-great-bits.
However, this game shouldn’t be slammed to badly for these decisions. Time and Eternity took a lot of risks in its presentation that show the genre isn’t stagnating. While hand-drawn graphics like those found in Vanillaware games i.e. Odin Sphere aren’t anything new, full, playable animation is brand-new. Perhaps the next time around, a developer will take the lessons learned here and create something even more groundbreaking. JRPG fans can only hope.