Time and Eternity has always been a pretty important game in terms of the impact it had on me. I will admit that I have this strange tendency to tell when a game is overhated before playing it and such a thing will irk me despite not even having played it yet. So I admit my opinion of Time and Eternity could have been stronger than if I just played it going into it without any clue what to expect.
This usually results in one of two possible outcomes. Either you end up with a game that, while it has a lot of detrimental flaws, it can still be enjoyed by plenty of people. Usually I tend to acknowledge these games as ones where, while they aren’t as bad as people make them out to be, I can still understand why people dislike them. Games like Lunar: Dragon Song on the DS for instance, had a lot of questionable design decisions and interface issues that caused it to be despised when it was in the same series as two of the greatest JRPGs ever made. I went into that game with negative hype, however, and found that it can be fun if one can get past certain issues. The same can also be said for more popular titles like Final Fantasy XIII.
The other outcome is when the criticism levied towards a game is just outright absurd or petty, and you wonder what kind of drugs its detractors must have been on. This is something that is frequently applied to games such as the Hyperdimension Neptunia series, but even more so to Time and Eternity. Now people who disliked this game are entitled to their own opinion, but I will fully admit that playing a game I enjoyed as much as Time and Eternity and having several people make it out to be complete crap has been incredibly frustrating; especially since a majority of its criticism comes across as very shallow and petty.
For those who have frequented GameFAQs, one may have noticed that this is not the first time I reviewed this game. I previously had a review for this game up that I have since had taken down so I can instead put this one up. The reason for this is that I found myself not touching on nearly as much as I needed to, in terms of both criticism and positives, and some aspects of my own review have come across as rather cringe worthy and that praised the game in a shallow manner. I also avoided responding to common criticisms the game received seeing as how I was under the impression that it would come across as petty or fangirlish. However, this review is going to take a more opinionated approach seeing as how the odds are naturally stacked against me and I plan to illustrate why I enjoy this game as much as I do in greater detail.
The narrative of Time and Eternity is an admittedly cheesy yet at time very strong and emotional love story about a rather unusual couple, and has become one of my favorite love stories in gaming. It starts out at the wedding between our main protagonist Zack, a knight, and Toki, the princess of Kamza. Unfortunately, an assassination attempt is placed on Toki and Zack almost dies protecting her. In order to prevent this, Toki turns back time to six months before the wedding, but this also takes Zack back in time andt traps his soul in the body of Toki’s pet mini dragon Drake. To top it all off, Zack discovers that his new form prevents him from being able to speak and that Toki also shares her body with another girl named Towa.
From this point on, the story follows Toki, Towa, and Zack’s attempts to alter the timeline so they prevent the assassination attempt. The main plot line takes a unique approach to the standard JRPG plot line in that the reasons for going through this huge mess are entirely personal as opposed to a “save the world” plot line. Time and Eternity is a very romance centered game that is based around the relationship between Zack and Toki/Towa.
Throughout the game, you get to see a lot of development between Zack as well as Toki and Towa, and it is a very well fleshed out relationship. On its surface, all the characters may seem like a typical anime stereotype, but each character represented in this game possesses hidden depths and you see their personalities unravel more the further you go into the game.
Unfortunately, the ideas of development and subtlety seem to have been completely lost on half the people who trashed this game since most of them just criticized it for using cliche character archetypes while failing to acknowledge the fact that the game develops past the first few hours. Yes Zack’s perverted antics are cringeworthy and he says some stupid stuff sometimes, but a lot of subtext shows that he is far more competent than he comes across as and that he was a royal knight for a reason.
Toki shows herself to be both soft and laid back when need be, but also headstrong and serious, and Towa has a soft feminine side underneath her tough warrior exterior. Reijo seems like the typical snobby rich girl, until you figure out that she used to be dirt poor and only became rich to be friends with Toki. Wedi turns out to save Toki and Zack’s life despite being a klutz. Enda is… well Enda is kind of weird and does not have much development, but she is a very lively and pleasant character regardless. Lastly in terms of major characters, there is Ricardo and his two minions who seem like a Team Rocket esque quirky miniboss squad, until Ricardo shows that he has some really strong principals and is determined to improve himself in any way.
This is something that one will notice quickly while playing Time and Eternity; it is not your average JRPG, and I seriously question whether people who said that it was one have played more than six of them. Being able to recite entries from the Grand List of Console Role-playing Game Cliches is not a substitute for actual critique; all it shows is that whoever uses such a crutch cannot think for him or herself and operates on the logic of “cliches are bad, mkay.” As I’ve stated before, there is a difference between a commonly used trope and a cliche. A trope is just a plot device that is used a lot. A cliche is something that is impossible to write well due to overuse; something like the villain being the main character’s father or the butler being the killer.
The reason I make note of this is because Time and Eternity is not the type of game that just outright avoids anything that is considered a cliche. It instead builds upon the player’s expectations that occur from overuse by playing them straight and then flipping them when the time is right. One specific plot event is not telegraphed at all the first two times it happens, but by the third time it does, they make it plainly obvious what will happen next, only to change things up at the last second. Time and Eternity does not just use its own writing as a basis to trick the player, it uses their experience with other Jrpgs and anime as well. There are a lot of things one can say about Time and Eternity, but one cannot say that it is predictable.
This is why I’d say Time and Eternity did not catch on with its story; it is very abnormal and goes against every convention that typical gaming storylines go with. Time and Eternity is very theatrical in its approach, which is quite a far cry from the cinematic style of games that most gamers are used to. Just look at the most popular game released in 2013 was; The Last of Us. This game took root with people by trying its hardest to present itself as something the gaming industry has ever seen when it is really just a culmination of stuff that has been used constantly. The Last of Us has been praised as the Citizen Kane of gaming, despite the fact that Citizen Kane was not recognized as true genius until many years after its release while The Last of Us was shilled by every media outlet before it even hit shelves.
It should also be noted that Time and Eternity does NOT take itself seriously, yet at the same time it isn’t something I can describe as lighthearted, nor does it ever dip into Disgaea or Neptunia levels of absurdity. Instead, Time and Eternity has this strange balance between the two that it is never afraid to jump between. In the opening scene for instance, you will have a scene where Zack appears to be dying from the assassination attempt in a pool of his own blood, and his dying soliloquy is him satisfied with the fact that in death, he looks like a total chick magnet. Others also include how Ricardo’s cakes taste so horrible that they cause people to have a near death experience and hear the voices of their dead relatives, and how it is initially treated as a joke but later used as an actual plot point.
Furthermore, even the NPCs in Time and Eternity undergo character development. Normally, sidequests in JRPGs are just throw away fetch quests where you need to collect some items or kill some enemies. In Time and Eternity, they are… throw away fetch quests where you need to collect some items or kill some enemies; but they each develop these NPCs further and you see them grow as you progress with the game. Hell a lot of them even provide info on the main storyline and even foreshadow future events.
Straight Outta Kamza
Time and Eternity’s most notable innovation is its approach to its animation. Its plans were to have it be a playable anime of sorts. Both cutscenes and gameplay use the same animation engine and the entire game is made to be animated as if it were an anime. Considering that Imageepoch was a relatively small company and thus didn’t have a AAA budget, they naturally couldn’t animate the whole thing as fluidly as they hoped. As a result, the game does indeed look like a playable anime, but it looks like a low budget one.
During battle, the animation is simply amazing and fluid. It also implements itself into the game’s battle system very well where you need to time your movements with the game’s detailed animation in mind. You will not have split second response time given the amount of detail put into the frames of movement, but considering the game is built around that principle, that is hardly a bad thing (yet it didn’t stop people from harping about it though). Unfortunately enemy sprites a reused a lot and it breaks immersion to see you fighting enemies that look the same as who you already fought.
On the overworld, animation is beautiful as well where you have Toki/Towa animated in the usual style while the scenery is animated with a cel shaded aurora borealis like tint to it, and the two just go together perfectly. Of course there is also the problem in that dungeons are simplistically designed and that backdrops are reused, but it still gets the job done more than well enough.
Most of the presentational issues come from the cutscenes. While the art style is still beautiful, the animations used during cutscenes are recycled constantly and can look very jarring. Furthermore, when characters mouths are not conveniently hid behind something, the lips are still synched up to the Japanese dub, which gets very distracting. There are also several moments where every character is either standing still, or where animation quality dips to points where it looks like it was something from the 80s.
However, as stated, it is a bit much to expect everything to be done flawlessly from a low budget niche game. The production values, while not perfect, have been heavily exaggerated. I’ve even heard some reviewers compare this game to an Idea Factory title, which is an absurd comparison. As much as I like Idea Factory’s games, their production values are abysmal in their games and comparing a game with above average production values relative to its budget to them is a flat out lie.
In other areas of presentation, the sound effects are all very effective and spot on, as well as playing an additional role in making sure that downing every enemy feels satisfying. The music is simply brilliant and breathtakingly beautiful, and is one of the best JRPG soundtracks I have heard. Unfortunately, it there are some boss battles in the game where the music fails to loop, which is downright unacceptable in any instance, and I legitimately wish this game would get a Vita or PC Port just so they can fix that bug.
Toki and Towa: Partners in Time
The battle system in Time and Eternity can best be compared to both Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, and the Mario and Luigi series; the former in how it plays and the latter in the fact that rpg elements are implemented. Battles will take place where Toki/Towa will stand in one spot in a traditional turn based style, but will dodge to the left or right on command. One also has the ability to guard against some attacks and cut down on damage, while also preventing knockback that interrupts movement and potentially knocks you over.
One will quickly find, however, that using only physical attacks will take way too long and that they will need to use magic attacks to kill enemies quickly enough. It is because of this that magic attacks are very powerful and can often one shot or two shot enemies. This is offset by the fact that there is added charge time in order to get a spell off, and that if you are hit during this charge period, the spell is interrupted AND you lose the SP required to cast it. This creates a very involved risk and reward system that goes into play during battles.
It helps that SP is not like the usual MP in Jrpgs. It is instead built up more with every attack you land on an enemy and with every one of their attacks you dodge. Casting a spell takes up about half your SP so it would behoove you to not cast it all willy-nilly. It also requires close observation of the enemy’s attack pattern and knowledge of the timing of these spells. There are special physical attacks that don’t have charge times and can also interrupt enemy attacks, but still have animations that can leave you open to attack. Additionally, they deal less damage but can also refill the SP gauge more thus letting you get more SP back.
Additional elements that come into play when Drake in battle, which is very useful in late game battles due to providing access to buffs, debuffs, and the game’s chemistry system with less charge time required. There is also time magic that allows you to rewind time, speed up your attacks, or freeze time in order to help you during tricky boss fights. Lastly, there is a very involved skill tree system which I still have not completely experienced despite having played through the game twice. It is because of all of these elements of battle that I never found myself getting tired of the game’s battle system despite the repetitive nature of the enemy placement and the amount of fetch quests. Time and Eternity has one of the best battles systems I have ever experienced in a JRPG.
That being said, the game’s balancing could have done with a few tweaks. The key problem is that you will go into several areas where you have both enemies that go down with little effort and some that are practically as hard as earlier bosses in the game. Yes this does add to the overall challenge of the game and provides more to experience to the game’s amazing combat system, but it would have been preferable if the game introduced a more gradual difficulty curve as opposed to spiking towards the end of the game.
The amount of reused enemy patterns is also a problem. While I can tolerate reused enemy sprites, there are problems when a game based around pattern memorization has 6 different rehashes of the same enemy that follow the same attack patterns. If it were just a few then there wouldn’t have been a problem, but there were way too many and it would have been nicer to see more enemy patterns to adjust to.
As for the game design, dungeons are very straightforward where you just walk through them to collect treasures then walk to the end. Things are made very convenient by adding warp points so that you do not need to walk through the game’s large, sprawling overworlds just to find another quest or to get an item. It was also a nice touch that the game allowed you to find literal hidden depths to the dungeons by having you explore hidden areas of them for later quests. Lastly, the game provides a map of the area that shows where treasures, quests, warp points, and save points are so that the player is not wandering around looking for things while dealing with random encounters. Speaking of which, there are items the both lower and outright stop enemy encounters for a while so complaining about the encounter rate is not a valid criticism, although they still should have allowed the ability to run from random battles.
It is seriously unfortunate that a game like Time and Eternity got dog piled as much as it did. Such a thing is even worse when one considers that the poor reception of this game may have ultimately been what caused Imageepoch to go Bankrupt last year. It is because of that that we are unable to see a game that could improve upon these flaws and create what people may have desired from it in the first place. It will also mean that larger companies will not want to try and take the same approach that this game did with their own games.
It is because of this that I have a lot of bitterness towards the people who unfairly panned this game with their bullcrap “criticisms” and nitpicks. It is what demonstrates almost perfectly why I do not trust professional game reviewers who only play games because they have to and likely did not even give this one a chance because it came out the same year as other Jrpgs like Fire Emblem Awakening, Ni No Kuni, Shin Megami Tensei 4, Pokemon X and Y, Tales of Xillia, Mario and Luigi: Dream Team, and Disgaea D2.
This is not an unprecedented occurrence either. Remember IGN’s moronic review of God Hand; the one that likely contributed to Clover Studios going under because the reviewer darksydephill-ed their way through the game? It is because reviewers continue to unfairly bash non AAA titles for possessing cosmetic flaws that are only there as a result of it not possessing the budget of AAA releases or that are flat out shit at critique and only put in remote effort when the publisher pays them. Such a thing is made even worse when one considers that the niche releases of today are supposed to be the AAA releases of the future, and can only get to the point to improve if they are given the chance to. If this kind of crap happens to all of them, then we only have indie games and AAA releases until the industry ends up suffering from another crash.
As for Time and Eternity itself; play it. Yes it has some flaws but what game doesn’t? Okay maybe one should avoid it if they don’t like this specific style of game, but such a thing should be common sense. The game was about $20 on Amazon the last I checked and that price is easily worth it. Hell it was worth it when I paid $50 when it first came out. As such, the only thing left is for me to check out Imageepoch’s swan song Stella Glow, as I have heard some great things about that one, and if it is anywhere near as good as this one, then it should be eternally brilliant.
If one did not notice, (and they likely did not), this is the fiftieth review to be put up on Guardian Acorn. I figured it is only natural that I put up a review of something that is notably significant to me, and this is a game I have been notably passionate about. I ADORE this game, and I think it may be one of the most underrated and unfairly maligned JRPGs ever released.
I do think it is somewhat telling that most of the people I know who really liked this game are women or are open minded guys who tend to not mind or prefer cuter or more feminine games, and are not the type of gamer bros that bash on anything anime or “girly” as a result of their own insecurity regarding their machismo. There’s nothing wrong with if you don’t like these types of games, but I can’t help but notice a pattern among those that dislike it.
Yeah yeah, i know this game was not that well received in Japan either, but nonetheless, western gaming media and gamer culture as a whole displays clear prejudice towards anything anime, as I have addressed before, and it is flat out disgusting! Such a thing has backfired on them with games such as Hyperdimension Neptunia and Senran Kagura still going on to be popular and with western developers creating titles like Huniepop that catch on purely out of spite towards these attitudes. I have heard someone claim once that Time and Eternity “does not know who it is trying to appeal to” because it is girly and romance centered, but also has fanservice. Oh gee, it is almost as if they made the type of game they WANTED to make instead of trying to appeal to a focus group or “demographic.” Oh, also lesbians exist.
I would have never guessed back then that becoming a feminist and embracing their ideology would give me an even stronger appreciation for the games I love than I had back then. I was initially lead to believe I was just a creepy male otaku and that only other creepy male otakus agree with me. Realizing that there actually was a basis for my being drawn to more feminine and girly media and coming out as trans has helped me gain the confidence to believe in myself and my own opinions that I was highly insecure about back then, and I know there are still plenty like myself. Plus this is one of the only games I know that is not afraid to portray a polyamorous relationship in a positive light, which alone wins some points on the progressiveness scale.
I know that I am far from the only one that saw what made this game truly amazing, and I am sure there are a lot of people out there who have yet to play this game that may also have similar reactions to it. As unfortunate as it is that this game bombed, hopefully history itself will vindicate this game. It has vindicated many other famous works that were hated or ignored at the time of their release, but went on to become some of the most influential pieces of art that we know. Hopefully, Time and Eternity can at least achieve cult status and we see something that attempts what it did on a grander scale.
This review was originally posted on GameFAQs on March 14th of 2016 and has been re edited with enhanced presentation.
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