It has been nearly twenty-five years since I played my first JRPG, Final Fantasy, and as time has gone by I’ve played fewer games from the genre every year.  Although I like the formula that these role playing games bring to the table, there is no denying that innovation within the genre is all but dead.  I probably would have given Radiant Historia a pass if not for Jeremy Parish‘s enthusiastic review on the now defunct Active Time Babble podcast.  I’m glad that I picked up a copy – this is a Nintendo DS game that JRPG fans cannot allow themselves to miss.

Radiant Historia is a fantasy-based time travel RPG that harkens back to Chrono Trigger but is so much better than the old classic. In the game’s opening minutes the main character receives a magic book, the White Chronicle, that allows him to travel forwards and backwards through two divergent time streams and tasks him with a quest to stop the creeping desertification that is slowly leeching life from the world.

In a refreshing break from the typical JRPG story tropes, the characters are nearly all mature adults and thus the teenage angst that infects many titles in the genre is all but eliminated.  In fact, Radiant Historia tells a mature and deep tale of political intrigue, treachery, and teamwork that appealed far more than most game plots.

Graphically the game looks fine, and the music is top notch.  I usually play handheld games with the sound completely off, but I found myself compelled to keep the volume cranked while spending time with this one.  To be honest, I wouldn’t have ever noticed the soundtrack if not for the music CD that comes bundled with the game; it certainly piqued my interest.


The crown jewel of Radiant Historia is the battle system.  As you wander around the game environments you will come across enemies that will try to bump into you to initiate a battle.  You can choose to engage them, avoid them entirely, or else swing your sword to stun them.  Stunning an enemy allows your party extra attacks when the fight breaks out, however if the enemy catches you while you are in the process of trying to stun it then the enemy group will begin the battle with bonus attacks.  It’s a risk/reward gamble with your reflexes.

Once a battle begins your party of three adventurers lines up on one side of the screen, and the enemy party deploys on a three-by-three grid across the field.  Enemies can occupy between one and nine tiles, although a typical random monster will not exceed two tiles in size.  The size and position of the enemy party is of crucial importance to how the battle will play out.

When it is one of your characters’ turns to attack you can choose one of the following options: a normal attack, a damaging special attack, a special attack that moves an enemy around on the grid, an item use, or swapping turns with another friend or foe.  If you have multiple characters ready to act in a row, then all of their actions are queued up and executed at once.

Intelligently using all of these abilities is key; Radiant Historia is not a JRPG that allows you to mash the “attack” button and cruise through battles.  The two main techniques that are important are stacking enemies and creating large combos.

Enemies can be stacked up by utilizing special attacks that move them around the battlefield – they can be pushed back, pulled up, shifted left or right, or thrown into the air.  Moving an enemy onto another enemy allows subsequent attacks on either of the targets to damage both.  The catch is that enemies do not remain stacked once all friendly characters have acted and it is their turn to move, so building a long combo becomes important to dealing with large groups.

Since your characters act with roughly the same frequency as your enemies, combos must be constructed by swapping around the turn order.  If you want more attacks in a row then it is necessary to swap turns with the enemies, allowing them to have a chance to deal damage first.  The catch is that a character who has swapped turns with another has its defense lowered until it takes its next action, so there is some risk involved.

Swapping turn order is not only beneficial for moving groups of enemies around, it allows you to build up combo points, which act as a damage multiplier.  As your characters repeatedly attack the same foe, combo points are accrued.  One combo point is awarded for each attack after the first, and an additional combo point is rewarded if the attack differs in nature (magic versus physical) from the attack before it.  Furthermore, some skills deal low damage, but hit many times and increase the combo meter by one per hit.  Thus, it is advantageous to arrange your attacks in a manner that combo points are maximized through diverse skill use, which allows your damage output to skyrocket.


Radiant Historia sucked me in with an engaging premise, and then hooked me with a unique and deep battle system.  This is a game that isn’t afraid to take chances and make the player think, and it never got old at any point in the 40+ hour story.  Definitely check it out if you have a soft spot for JRPGs.

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14 Responses to “Post mortem: Radiant Historia”

  1. One of these days, I’m going to have to pik up a DS.

    I love jrpg’s, have since losing an absurd amount of time in Dragon Warrior. Like you, though, I don’t play them as often anymore, as the teenage angst/children characters/ridiculous stories really turn me off now. I can’t remember if they were always like that and I didn’t notice as I was young and angsty, or if they’ve just become ever more silly… But one with a more mature, well thought story would be very welcome.

    • Not that I endorse it, but apparently if you get a DS and then drop $25 on an R4 or Acekard the whole DS experience becomes rather…. painless.

      I think you’d love Radiant Historia – it’s definitely among my favorites now.

      • Hmmm, there’s an iOS DS emulator in development now, that would be fantastic. iControlPad for physical controls, touchscreen for touch controls – should work out well. There’s an android one already apparently (nds4droid) but that obviously doesn’t do me any good.

        It’s probably a better experience on a tablet, with more screen real estate to play with rather than splitting the smaller phone screen in half; a tablet could emulate both screens larger than the stock DS screens.

        Gah. I know it’d be easier to just pick up a DS – they’re dirt cheap now, and can be had used for pocket change. I always resist the idea of more pocket stuff to carry, though. Only so much space to go around!

      • I’d worry about screen real estate on a smartphone DS emulator…. it seems like you’d have two very tiny displays, which is less than ideal.

        I almost never take my DS/3DS out with me…. the vast majority of my handheld gaming is done lying in bed.

  2. WHY!!! are there so many good games coming out … I have no money left to spend or time to fit all this in …

    maybe if I finish dark souls before skyrim comes out Ill pick this up.

    • heh that’s got me too. So many great games this fall/winter, and I’m probably going to be entirely lost in Skyrim for at least a couple hundred hours >.<

      • I am *so* happy that games like Skyrim aren’t my cup of tea. They’re so huge!

      • It’s the best part, though! I always love to play them, but never actually finish the main plots. You *can* just play through the main story line reasonably quickly, but if you’ve finished the game, it’s somehow less fun to replay.

        Instead, I spend vast amounts of time exploring and following all the other plots, eventually stopping when a new game catches my eye. A few months later, back to start a new game with new higher-res graphics packs and other various new mods, and it’s a whole new game, lots more untouched content to play!

        Hell, I’ve got 30 hours into my current Oblivion game, started not too long ago… I’ve sworn to actually finish it this time, before Skyrim comes out.

        Unfortunately, Warhammer: Space Marine snuck in, and a few glorious orc-smashing days later (it’s really a ton of fun to play – really captures the “feel” of the whole Space Marine thing) now I’m all twitchy and wanting to play 40k again. Wrong mindset for an open fantasy RPG >.<

      • Heh… but you see, I’m a stickler for completing games. I write a post mortem for ever game that I start and put more than an hour or two into and I finish 95% of them! Oblivion-style games would be the end of me, because I’d probably fall into the explorer mode you refer to, and never escape.

        More than that though, it’s hard to have a strong storyline in an open world game. Most that I’ve dabbled with are far less satisfying (to me) than a straight-forward linear game.

        Regarding Space Marine…. just the thought of that game has me wanting to buy a 40k army again – and I sold all three of mine off years ago. There’s something about gothic sci fi that grabs me.

    • Ah yes, Dark Souls. I need to wrap up the second ending in Nier, but then I’ll dive into that one!

  3. Sorry for delayed replies – I was on a cruise this past week. This post was actually scheduled ahead of time so that the week wasn’t completely devoid of articles.

  4. With regards to Space Marine, tabletop cravings aside, it deserves a playthrough if for no other reason than how brilliantly the developers captured the visceral feel of power armor – you’re always aware of the ridiculous mass of the armor without ever feeling cumbersome. so few games even manage to make you feel aware of the player character as an entity at all, let alone convey such all that.

    Also, from a storyline view, it’s a very interesting and fluffy (as in background-correct) sort of story.

    And it’s not short, but not terribly long either.

    • I’ll be sure to pick it up. but Dark Souls is first. =) (And beating Nier for a second time, which is apparently extremely worthwhile.)

  5. Thanks for the review. This has been on my short list for a while, just waiting for a sale. I just bumped it up a notch. :)

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