On the eve of a royal wedding, Time and Eternity opens with the bride, Toki, and her groom, Zack, quickly joined by three of Toki’s girlfriends to sit around a table and greet players with their first epic quest, “pre-wedding meet and greet”.
I found myself tasked with clicking on icons to engage the company in high-pitched anime conversations, the typical static portrait images of characters herein replaced with something stretching the term “animation” to its limits. Characters alternate poses while speaking, often crossing and uncrossing their legs frantically as if in desperate need of the nearest bathroom.
Somewhere during these introductions I considered climbing to the highest storey of a very tall building and jumping from a window, but then the wedding animation commenced, and the ceremony was interrupted by ninjas, and I thought maybe, just maybe, Time and Eternity had simply gotten off to a rough start and was about to improve.
I was very, very wrong.
Back to the story. The narrative suddenly erupts with ideas as Zack becomes fatally wounded defending Toki at the altar, who for her part, suddenly reveals an ability to travel back in time. Stick with me here a moment.
Toki travels back six months before the wedding in order to discover the reason behind the attack and prevent Zack’s death, and Zack finds himself transported with her but trapped in the body of her small floating dinosaur pet, Drake. Toki also reveals Towa, or moreover, reveals that her body possesses dual souls, with the unfolding events suddenly causing Toki and Towa to shift possession of that single body. Up until this point the two had kept this from happening, with Towa opting to allow Toki to have constant control.
All of these details and more become conversation fodder for the endless roundtable from the beginning of the game, with Toki/Towa continually sitting down to discuss events with her three friends while Zack initially suffers in Drake’s body without anyone around him knowing. Eventually, the chitchat reaches a conclusion, designating a quest that will actually allow players to move a character around the screen and beat down some monsters—after which you’ll often return to have another conversation about said adventure before gaining yet another destination via a world map that adds selectable icons to move Toki/Towa along a plodding course to new locations.
Once you reach a playable area, you’ll find the camera positioned behind Toki/Towa and Drake, appearing rather lovely and shiny overtop of bland grassy environments, the sharp character art colliding with the familiar mucky landscapes that step right out of any RPG you’ve entirely forgotten about over the years. But it’s a bewitching sight for the eyes given how damn strange it appears, as if you’re suddenly playing some lost Sega CD title Imageepoch happened to dust off and port to the PlayStation 3.
If I were more cynical, maybe I’d compare it to taking any modern rendered character and dropping them back onto environments from the previous generation. Normally, if a game can muster something interesting I don’t often concern myself with visual fidelity; however, the character animation is entirely subpar here. Admittedly, when I was looking at screenshots of the title (prior to having played it) throughout the year my own interest was piqued. When random battles are triggered while running around these rather unimaginative areas, that character animation continues to fascinate the hell out of me—it’s like some terrible accident I just can’t take my eyes off of.
And the battles are somewhat interesting, at least in theory.
An enemy will appear in the distance, and Toki/Towa can immediately begin issuing a ranged attack in real time, or press forward on the analog stick to jump closer, hitting the circle button to issue close attacks and pressing up on the analog stick to deal a jump kick—all while Drake attempts to aid her with attacks of his own. Enemies will visibly gear up to deal their own attacks, at which point the player can press to the side to dodge, or choose to block.
SP points build up as Toki/Towa deals damage to enemies, which allows for more powerful attacks assigned to the remaining face buttons of the PS3 controller. These special attacks are gained as players earn gift points from battles and spend them on separate gift skills for Toki and Towa—with active skills for battle and passive skills for benefits outside of fights.
Toki and Towa will initially swap control as players level up, so you may find yourself halfway through an area and level up with Toki to suddenly find yourself switching to playing as Towa—at which point you’ll also be introduced to the affection gauge which sways between the two identities as conversations with other characters continue to unfold.
But I really want to get back to these battles for a minute.
The ability to instantly smack down enemies and dodge their attacks with smooth shiny character art was a pretty big lure for me that fell apart rather quickly. Even as it collapsed I persisted in looking for some redeeming grace, and admittedly there are small charms that shine at times, particularly with some of the enemy attacks, such as a tantrum strike that has a golem swinging its fists like an angry child in the toy aisle.
Toki/Towa will also encounter one enemy, and after defeating it pull back to give way to a second enemy, and then often a third, which seemed a bit slick even as the routine grew quickly familiar and tedious. It might be the want for strategy, though, and the sense that the game attempts to encourage familiar swipes at that with elemental advantages—but I often found this to be a game of continually dodging until the opportunity to button mash between the central attack button and a special ability opened up.
I feel like I get the idea at the heart of this, though, of a game where the action flows fluidly with splendid animation that encourages players to forgive how everything else looks. But the animations are often glitchy, or splotchy, or whatever word you favor to describe an effect where it doesn’t really feel like your actions are matching up with what you’re seeing on screen. Sometimes an enemy will be striking as I dodge, and continuing to strike as Toki/Towa is finished dodging but somehow avoiding damage while at other times not—all against a very limited amount of enemies that quickly resorts to palette swaps, and by quickly I mean by the second small area of the game within the first hour of play. The flow of action is strange and fascinating, and then quickly drained of life through continual battles against a slim lineup of enemies with limited patterns of attack.
Exploration and secondary quests in areas do little to save face here—these areas involve little more than trotting across the same landscapes to activate warp crystals that in turn save you trotting back over said landscapes after fighting an area boss that serves as the point of each quest. There’s just nothing interesting going on outside of battles, or within them for that matter—and I say that as someone who even found a few things to like in NIS America’s 2010 release of Last Rebellion.
There’s a level of humor the NISA faithful might appreciate—when Toki and Zack are thinking of names for one another once they are married, the option to say “Call me daddy” becomes available as Zack sharpens a rather strange and creepy identity in a game filled with characters that are odd for the sake of being odd.
These rare moments aside, there’s just nothing redeeming going on here. I think this might actually be one of the worst games NISA has ever attempted to bring to the West, which I suppose is impressive so long as you haven’t invested any of your own dollars into that endeavor. This is one of the most bizarre, jarring, and irritating games I have ever attempted to play.
If you’re thinking it has any of the odd charms of other titles NISA has gifted us with, it just doesn’t. I’ve had plenty of love for some of those efforts over the years, but I couldn’t live with myself if I said anything other than run, don’t walk, away from Time and Eternity.