Imageepoch’s games have always been divisive among gamers. The creator of titles like Luminous Arc, Luminous Arc 2, Sands of Destruction, Fate/Extra, Arc Rise Fantasia, and, most recently, Black Rock Shooter: The Game, their games seem to polarize gamers’ opinions, leaving no middle ground. They either absolutely adore their games, or they absolutely loathe them. NIS America has picked up the studio’s most recent game, Time and Eternity (http://nisamerica NULL.com/games/time_and_eternity/index NULL.php), and after my hands-on time with the game, it already feels destined for a similar fate.
Princess Toki is having the worst day ever. A group of unknown assassins crash her wedding, mortally wounding her husband-to-be. And to top it all off, she finds out that she actually has two souls trapped in her body: her own and another named Towa. Toki’s husband’s soul ends up in her pet dragon Drake. To prevent the assassination from happening, Toki and Towa use their abilities to travel back in time. I assume Toki probably also wants to figure out why she can travel through time and has another soul trapped in her body. Drake (and Toki’s husband’s soul) is actually the main character, but you never play as it (him). It’s naturally unclear as to who ordered the assassination, as well, so whoever you meet in the game could potentially be the culprit.
The game has multiple endings based on a variety of factors. The level of affection between Toki and Towa comes into play, but I’m not sure how deep this mechanic goes. There’s a meter with Toki on one end and Towa on the other, with a little mark on the bar to indicate the affection level. The main character can apparently choose whom to marry, but if the meter is centered…perhaps it’s possible to marry both.
The first thought to strike me about Time and Eternity is its incredible presentation. To me, it’s almost like playing an anime. Characters are hand-drawn with an incredible amount of detail, and while the environments don’t quite live up to the lofty bar set by their character counterparts (I found the textures to be a tad on the blurry side), there surprisingly isn’t a strong disconnect between the characters and environments. They fit together quite well despite the graphical differences between the two.
I think part of the reason this works so well is Time and Eternity’s bright color palette. Even in dark areas, the tones of such dark environments and objects are still quite high, so there isn’t a severe disconnect between Toki and the environment as she moves. The animation of the characters is equally impressive, probably due to their hand-drawn nature, too. I didn’t have a chance to see any, but the game also includes anime cutscenes.
Random battles occur as you wander the lands. However, a meter in the upper-left area of the screen slowly fills as you move, so there’s never any doubt as to when you’ll be attacked. Battles load quickly, are active, not turn-based, and proceed as quickly as you yourself are able to move and attack. The O button fires Toki’s gun, and the Square, Triangle, and X buttons activate special abilities that you assign outside of battle. Each skill takes a certain amount of SP, indicated in a meter that slowly refills as you fight.
Toki’s movement in battle is essentially on rails, but in the shape of a letter “I.” You can push left or right on the left analog stick to make Toki jump out of harm’s way, but she immediately jumps back after the initial jump. With accurate timing, you can avoid the enemy’s attacks, but it requires incredibly accurate timing to do so. There’s a meter to help with that, which I’ll get to shortly. You can also push forward on the left analog stick to make Toki charge toward the enemy. Quickly tapping the O button performs melee attacks, during which you can still dodge left and right. If you get tired of being so close, simply moving the left analog stick down makes Toki somersault backwards to her original position.
There’s also a special attack that appears on screen and is activated with a specific button prompt, but I’m not sure what triggered it. It makes slash marks all across the screen and inflicts an incredible amount of damage. It did seem to appear more frequently as I grew better at dodging attacks, though. You can also chain physical and magical attacks together for bonus damage. You only fight one enemy at a time, but the camera rotates to a new enemy automatically after you vanquish the first, assuming there are more. At most, I fought three enemies in one battle, but I’m not sure what the maximum is.
Time and Eternity uses a “gift” tree (a skill tree) to teach new skills. You earn GP in battle, which you can then spend on these gifts. Each gift lets you learn a new skill when you reach the indicated level. I only had a few passive and active skills during my time with the game. There were skills to increase stats, increase your rifling abilities, and launch elemental magic attacks. The level at which you learn these skills is also clearly indicated in the skill menu. There were also a few knock-back prevention skills, which I should have equipped, since I had a tendency to get knocked on my butt. Unfortunately, I did not have access to any of Toki and Towa’s time-based skills.
While navigating a dungeon (or, in my case, an open field with canyons), you can use the right analog stick to look around. Toki even looks over her shoulder if you back up, which I thought was a nice touch. The controls do have a slight learning curve, though, because for whatever reason, she controls like Jill Valentine from the older Resident Evil titles. She’s still animated well, she just doesn’t control that well. I eventually adjusted to it, but it definitely doesn’t feel natural. You also can’t jump down from ledges, which means you’ll have to walk around even the smallest of hills, which is an annoying design choice. I found a few chests while wandering, one of which had a hamster inside. Not sure why it was there or what it does, but…I had a hamster, so hurray.
There’s no navigation on the world map, either. You select the destination and instantly arrive. You also don’t navigate villages. You pick the destination, store, or person, and interactions begin accordingly. When you select a person to talk with, though, it does load up the environment, and you can see Toki standing there talking with the person.
Time and Eternity also has sub-quests to undertake. Most don’t seem related to the main story, but a NIS America PR rep said some of them will be. The few already completed sub-quests I could see in the menu consisted of delivering packages, killing specific enemies, and visiting certain areas. Each completed quest naturally nets you money, GP, and items, too.
Time and Eternity, however, wouldn’t be an Imageepoch game (or a NIS America game, for that matter) without a few additional twists. Every time you gain a level, Toki and Towa switch. While Toki wields a rifle, Towa prefers a more direct approach and wields knives. Towa has her own skills, as well, but unfortunately, I didn’t get to play as Towa. You can also use a specific item to force them to change as needed, but it’s apparently rare.
Another interesting twist is the clock in the upper-right corner of the screen. As you attack and suffer attacks from enemies, dots and lines begin to fill the clock in a circular fashion. You can use it to help understand the attack patterns of the enemies, but I still don’t entirely understand how it functions.
I enjoyed my time with Time and Eternity. The combat is fast, fluid, and satisfying, and while dodging an enemy’s attack definitely requires attention, that clock might help with that when I finally understand it. There’s a slight delay in battle when an attack or block connects, but I feel like it adds to the presentation, adds some “oomph” to the attacks. All the attacks, skills, and spells are also hand-drawn, and they’re amazing to watch. It really is like playing an anime. The demo didn’t give me too much space to explore, so I have no idea if there are any puzzles or anything like that. But thus far, I’m impressed with the experience.
Time and Eternity is slated for a late July release this year, so we won’t have to wait forever and an eternity (see what I did there?) to begin what could be an epic journey through time to save the life of a loved one. Make no mistake, Time and Eternity is a different beast of a JRPG from the norm, and there’s a learning curve to conquer, too, but its animation and battle system alone are worth at least a look.