Radiant Historia Review
Radiant Historia Box Art
System: DS
Dev: Atlus
Pub: Atlus
Release: February 22, 2011
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: N/A
Disparate Histories
by Steve Haske

Time travel in video games rarely has one distinct set of rules. Radiant Historia is no exception, although it may be the first game I've come across to incorporate an alternate history aspect to time travel. I'm hardly the type to nitpick about the particular method a game uses for navigation of a time stream—it's not an uncommon occurrence and usually time travel is just a plot device used to string together a certain concept or gameplay element within a loosely threaded narrative. Leave it to Atlus—a company that's been known to put their weight behind unusual game concepts to start a different kind of conversation with such an overused game element, and one that lets you follow some of history's loose strings to witness their varying conclusions.

Radiant Historia Screenshot

This is accomplished by using a magical book called the White Chronicle, which Stocke, the game's somewhat laconic protagonist, receives from his superior at the beginning of the game. When Radiant Historia opens, the world is caught in the turmoil of an uneasy conflict between two nations who are fighting over the dwindling existence of green land. The land is slowly undergoing desertification, creating a vast, arid wasteland in its path. However, this is the least of Stocke's problems. Part of a royal intelligence service, Stocke gets a vision of his two new subordinates being killed in the first mission of the game—a fate he soon learns he can change by using the White Chronicle to revisit various key moments in his personal history.

Without getting into much detail, the decision to either continue as an intelligence agent or rejoin the ranks of the military opens two distinct timelines, and jumping back and forth between them creates a complex web of outcomes. Refreshingly, Radiant Historia doesn't have that needless sense of urgency that's often forced upon the characters going back in time to change history. Interestingly, as the holder of the White Chronicle, Stocke moves independently from everyone else throughout time. There is only one Stocke for both timelines, whereas other characters you interact with often appear in either history, though you may not be as actively involved with them depending on the flow of events.

Radiant Historia Screenshot

As you might expect, this leads to some interesting gameplay, but in order to keep it from spiraling off into infinite outcomes, the game is limited to standard and alternate histories. The mechanic also settles into a routine that only allows you to progress to a certain point in either timeline (I suspect a conscious choice that limits replaying hours' worth of concurrent events just to maintain a "current" standpoint in the game's narrative). It's a little contrived, but every so often you will be told that outside influences are tampering with the flow of time in whatever history you happen to be part of and the solution lies within some skill or piece of information accessible from the opposite timeline. For example, if you're trapped in a burning fortress, you'll get notified that a particular ability allows you to see objects that aren't there and can be learned in the other timeline.

This seems to be an understandable tweak to keep the game from becoming too esoteric in its direction, though it can be tedious to jump between times as often as you do, particularly since storylines in each history unfold very differently. With its confluence of politics and religion, Radiant Historia's universe and narrative is vaguely reminiscent of Xenogears (albeit with less notions of Nietzschean philosophy), with some of the socio-political strife inherent in Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics thrown in for good measure. While this makes for an engaging story, the separate histories create some narrative imbalance—just when you get into the events of one time line, inevitably, it's time to switch to the other, making it hard to feel like there is a "true" history to follow.

Radiant Historia Screenshot

Screenshots / Images
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