An interesting niche JRPG let down by a lack of polish.
Picture this: you’re the ultimate sleazebag who is somehow getting married to your dream girl — a beautiful princess who is wealthy and puts up with your shit, and lord knows you’re not exactly a catch — after only knowing each other for less than a few months.
You’re a frisky bugger who puts up with the restraint, the overly annoying and prying bridesmaids, and the pesky pet dragon who is currently getting more action than you have. You place all your chips on the wedding night, and your patience and luck is about to pay off as you hold off from blurting out one last smart-ass remark before your, “I do”.
But all of that is for nought when you’re stabbed through the heart at your own wedding by, yep, you guessed it. Ninja assassins.
And all you thought you knew is wrong when your bride turns out to possess dual souls and can switch into a hot ninja assassin-killing femme fatale.
Also, she apparently can travel back in time.
WTF is going on you guys.
That is a nutshell of the opening minutes of Time and Eternity, a one-of-a kind JRPG from Japan developer Imageepoch, who have employed a fairly interesting approach on the ideal wedding scenario and “playable anime” niche genre.
Time and Eternity really is a crazily different game that I tried to be excited about past its opening minutes. It’s got a unique art-style with 2D hand-drawn anime characters in a 3D world, an out-there opening premise that shakes up the typical ‘guy saves girl’ situation, and a different enough take on the typical JRPG combat system with an emphasis on the power of time.
But while its opening moments are intriguing, once the gameplay and story open up, almost nothing can save the title from its own lack of graphical and technical polish, terrible dialogue, and limited, if spirited combat system.
Time and Eternity puts players in the unique position of Toki and Towa, two very different souls sharing the same body of the princess bride. However, you view the narrative as your own named character, who, after his mysterious assassination, is trapped inside Toki and Towa’s pet dragon, Drake.
The lovely but naive Towa and her more aggressive counterpart Toki have the power to utilise time magic, and use it by going back six months before the wedding to stop the assassination from happening, starting with the fortune teller who prophesied the event. From there, the Toki/Towa and her friends travel across the land and fight even more eccentric characters in their quest for the perfect wedding day.
The story is one that gamers who aren’t avid fans of anime or JRPGs will definitely find confusing or cringe-worthy. However, if you’re reading this review, you probably aren’t a newcomer to the genre. In this reviewer’s humble opinion, the narrative is actually quite charming and quirky. For a game that begins with an assassination, Time and Eternity is very light-hearted, and that works in its favour.
Toki/Towa and much of the main cast are likable characters who experience some proper character development that makes the consistently bad dialogue and terrible Japanese humour bearable, as these letdowns are mostly limited to your main character.
Thankfully, no-one can hear your guy speak, so only you get to put up with his lame jokes and constant sexual innuendo. Once in awhile, your guy actually vocalises some genuine care for Toki/Towa which makes the love-story angle more interesting... only to hate him again in a few minutes when his next cliché horny joke pops up.
This stuff can be largely ignored, but it does detract from the overall experience when the deuteragonist, who is supposed to be you, is an absolute a-hole. It's also a bit weird for Imageepoch to place emphasis on how strong a female Toki/Towa is when they're, for some reason, getting married to the ultimate sleazebag.
For a game that begins with an assassination, Time and Eternity is very light-hearted, and that works in its favour.
Outside of the quirky and admittedly intriguing story, what players need to realise from the beginning is that patience and lenience is required to enjoy the bulk of Time and Eternity, because the technical aspects of the game and its lack of polish really show from the beginning.
For instance, the hand-drawn 2D characters sprites are colourful and lively, but the 3D backgrounds are bland and the animations themselves are poor, jerky and constantly mis-timed to the dialogue of the featured cast. Many characters constantly wave their hands or move around for no reason, and a certain character trips so often and rises so supernaturally quickly that it’s hard not to laugh at how badly animated it is.
The slightly corny voice-acting — the naive, sweet Toki and straight-up bad-ass Towa — matches the eccentric story and does do wonders to ease you back into the ridiculousness of it all. However, the voice-acting is also limited to main quests only and many of the supporting characters are so bad that the main cast can't carry the slack.
Depending on the time of gamer you are, these animation and audio segments can ruin the entire experience, or just make the whole game even more charming than before.
Thankfully, the combat system is solid, if a little repetitive after a while. As Toki or Towa, you’ll wander around areas randomly encountering enemies in between major boss fights, with Drake/your trapped soul providing A.I. support.
The traditional turn-based RPG system is discarded for real-time control over Toki/Towa, and the focus is on memorising an enemy’s attack patterns by dodging, guarding and counter-attacking when the opportunity arises. You can attack from a distance with Toki/Towa’s rifle, or head in close for some CQC and knife action.
Both Toki and Towa have preferences and unique magical and time-centric abilities they can learn, with some customisation available through an extensive skill tree with heaps of passive and activated combat skills to gain. However, many of the skills are fairly useless in the long run and it isn't long before you’ll find yourself just spamming the attack button, following the same patterns and using the abundant amount of healing items you gain to get the fight over and done with.
During combat, many of the bosses and generic enemies have around two to four unique animations and many of them are palette swaps rather than unique sprites. This not only makes your precise timing and attacks in battle a little less epic due to their patterns becoming easily predictable, but it makes it that much more bland as you’re essentially facing the same enemy in a different colour, which is a shame because the abnormally epic, energetic battle music and the real-time battle system is actually engaging enough.
The combat also suffers from some abnormal difficulty spikes — one moment you can thrash the competition and in the next area, you're one-shotted despite grinding for two hours — and some minor graphical lag which, in a battle system centered around timing, is unacceptable.
Outside of the combat, exploration is limited as there's little incentive to traverse the bland, out-of-place 3D environments. There is a bit of dating simulation elements in the form of building a relationship with either the sweet Toki or deadly Towa. Whenever you level one girl up, the next one takes point and unique conversations can be had with each, triggered at your home. There are multiple endings in Time and Eternity depending on this, but you'll have to have a strong willpower to go through the grind more than once, if at all.
The Final Verdict
At first glance, Time and Eternity looks and sounds like an interesting niche title for avid JRPG fans to sink their teeth into, but upon closer inspection, it’s a disappointingly unpolished game that many gamers won’t bother to play beyond its opening hour.
But that's a shame, because you should. I tried really hard to like Time and Eternity and, to its credit, it did have a quirky charm and some gameplay elements that are engaging. However, a lack of technical refinement in the animations and the repetitiveness of combat make this a title you should only play if you’re a fellow hardcore JRPG fan, and even then only if you have exhausted better niche titles out there.