Radiant Historia’s story takes place in the continent of Vainqueur. Large portions of this continent are undergoing desertification. While some nations like Alistel continue to prosper despite this, thanks to their use of technology, others like Granorg are running out of arable land. In order to find more arable land, Granorg is attempting to invade Alistel. This war ultimately results in all of Vainqueur being turned into a desert.
In order to prevent this, ex-Alistel military man (now a top intelligence agent), Stocke, is blessed with the power of time travel through a book called the White Chronicle. Using it, he must travel back and forth in time to deter Granorg’s invasion and attempt to somehow prevent Vainqueur from suffering its terrible fate.
Time-travel is tricky business both in terms of understanding how it works and keeping track of its consequences. Radiant Historia acknowledges this and tries to present time-travel in as simple a way as possible for the player: through a visual time chart. Here’s a rough example of what it looks like:
You’ll be seeing a similar screen a lot during your time with Radiant Historia (minus the dinosaurs), so let’s get acquainted with it. Radiant Historia consists of two timelines, both of which have blocks scattered across them. Brown blocks on the timeline represent events during the story. Blue blocks represent points in time that you can travel back-and-forth between. Most blue blocks also represent a point where you have to make a decision by picking between one of two choices. Finally, the maroon blocks represent death.
On the example timeline above, you see four points at which you can make choices. (1) is a point at which you’re asked by a comrade whether you’d like to return to Alistel’s military (Stocke was originally a military man in the past), or whether you’d prefer to remain in “Specint” (special intelligence). Choice (1) is the point at which the game splits into its two timelines. I chose to remain with Specint because I was rather intrigued by Heiss, the mysterious Specint boss who seems to have his finger in many, many pies.
Heiss eventually sends you on a mission to meet up with an Alistel informant planted in Granorg who has valuable information to share regarding Granorg’s ongoing military tactics. Unfortunately, when you get to the rendezvous point, the informant doesn’t show. This is choice point (2). You have to decide if you’d rather wait for the informant to eventually turn up or make your way to the Alma Mines, which is where he was last.
I chose to go to the Alma Mines, which resulted in my immediate death from being ambushed by Granorg forces. To rectify this, using the White Chronicle, I travelled back in time to (2) and chose the other option: wait it out a little longer. Unfortunately, the informant still didn’t turn up. At this point, the game was kind enough to suggest — all within the context of the story — that I travel further back through the timeline to see if I couldn’t figure out what had happened to him. Taking it up on its suggestion, I travelled back to (1) and chose the option I had declined the first time: to quit Specint and rejoin the military.
What happened next was interesting. It turns out your squad’s first military operation is to go to the Alma Mines and head off a division of Granorg’s army that’s trying to sneak into Alistelian territory. At the mines, you’re supposed to rendezvous with two individuals: an informant and a merchant, who will provide you with information on the Granorg troop headed your way, and explosives to hinder them, respectively.
Once I got there, I found the informant waiting with his intel. After he’d delivered his information to my squad, he made a hasty exit to proceed to what he said was his next mission. Unfortunately, the merchant who was supposed to deliver me explosives to deal with the Granorg troops at this point was mysteriously absent. This is choice (4). You can either send troops to scout around the area and search for him, or move on ahead to try and ambush the Granorg troops without the explosives. I chose to move ahead.
This resulted in another death, which meant I had to find the merchant somehow or the other. Using the White Chronicle, I travelled back in time to (4). This time, I chose to send scouts out to look for our merchant. Sadly, doing this proved to be futile as well, as our man was nowhere to be found. However, there was another solution.
Now that you’ve relieved the informant of his duties at the mine, he’s on the way to his “next mission”…which is to meet with an agent from Specint. Since, in the other timeline, Stocke is the agent he’s meeting with, I promptly travelled to choice (2) once again, and sure enough, when I chose to wait for the informant this time, he turned up (and made a comment about how I looked vaguely familiar…). After meeting with him, a quick look around the area also netted me another missing person: the merchant. The poor chap was being harassed by bandits nearby, to whom my party gave a sound thrashing and chased off.
Now that the merchant was rescued, I had created two choices. Let’s call this point (3). I could either proceed ahead with my Specint operation (after all, in this timeline, I had declined the military’s offer), or I could travel to the other timeline to see what effect the merchant — now proceeding with his own mission to deliver explosives to Alma Mines — would have on the military operation. I chose to do the latter and jumped back in time to (4) again.
This time, sending scouts out to search for the merchant resulted in them finding him soon enough, now that he was out of danger and trying to make his way to the mine. With explosives in our possession, my squad was able to deal with the Granorg troops attempting to sneak through the mines and the immediate threat was dealt with. Once again, after this point, I was free to continue through this timeline, or jump back to any other point in time I wanted…like, say, to (3) — the point at which I rescued the merchant — to see how my Specint operation would turn out.
In summary, Radiant Historia consists of two primary timelines, and explores “options” and “what if” scenarios in both. Acts you perform in one timeline affect the other, and vice-versa. The game keeps things on track by providing you with freedom within a relatively linear structure.
This sounds confusing on paper, but Radiant Historia’s timeline keeps you updated on everything that you’ve experienced so far. Highlighting any of the blocks on the time chart gives you a short summary of that particular event, and the chart constantly updates itself to add new events and changes to past events once triggered. It’s also a convenient way to catch up with all that’s happened in the game’s story so far.
Interestingly, deaths from bad decisions count as “events,” too. The game encourages you to explore different options, so you’ll find yourself at a “death-end” all of a sudden, every now and then. Fortunately, since deaths play out very quickly, they don’t feel like a waste of time or overly penalizing.
In addition to giving the game an interesting framework, time-travel in Radiant Historia has another advantage: making it so that no one series of events feels too long or drawn out. When given the freedom to jump between timelines even without any particular reason to do so, I always made the jump, just to give myself a change of pace from the ongoing events if I was starting to get bored of them.
That doesn’t mean Radiant Historia is a boring game though. The game is smartly written; perhaps more so than any other Japanese RPG in recent memory. Aside from the odd line here and there during the first 30 minutes, the dialogue is believable, and the drama that takes place within Alistel’s ranks — especially the rivalry between Specint and the military — is convincing. The city of Alistel itself is rather interesting, seemingly constructed entirely from some kind of metal from what I can tell, and powered by an energy called “Thaumatech,” which gives it a bit of a steampunk feel sometimes.
Stocke as a protagonist is interesting, too. He’s a man of few words, but not in an angsty way. Stocke’s always willing to chat with his teammates, learn more about their pasts, and look out for them during missions. He’s just…not very excitable, which is appropriate for an experienced soldier. Similarly, party members and the supporting cast, too, are all convincing in their own ways. Heiss, being the head of intelligence, in particular is most curious.
Food for thought:
1. Yes, items do carry over along with you, when you travel back and forth in time. So do your party’s injuries.
2. Revisiting events in the past means you have to sit through the dialogue all over again. Luckily, Radiant Historia lets you fast-forward through it all by holding the X button, or skip it entirely by pressing Start (thanks to ThurstTheSky for pointing out the latter).
3. I personally love the classic PS1 look a lot of Nintendo DS games with 3D art have. Knowing that Radiant Historia is one of the last of its kind as we move on to a new age of portables systems almost makes me a little sad.
4. I usually don’t say this about games, but Radiant Historia is a game that would benefit greatly from voice-acting, just because some of its characters are interesting, and Atlus USA usually pick great voice-actors.
5. While time-travel is Radiant Historia’s primary point of interest, the battle system is rather interesting, too. Catch up with our preview to read about how it works.