Game Review

by Todd Ciolek,

Time and Eternity

PlayStation 3

Time and Eternity
Assassins strike on the day of Toki and Zack's wedding, leaving Zack dead and Toki in the grip of a second personality named Towa. The two heroines swap control of their shared body as they head back in time to unravel the murderous plot and save Zack, who tags along in the form of a small dragon.
Time and Eternity clearly, desperately wants to be anime. It shows in the game's very first scene, where a naive princess named Toki and her fiancé discuss their impending nuptials. They and their meddlesome circle of friends seemingly stepped off an animation cel, with the two-dimensional look and low frame rate typical of televised anime. It's all part of an experiment to create an animated RPG like none before, and like too many ill-prepared experiments, it sets loose a monster.

Marital bliss eludes Toki and her groom, named Zack by default, when a passel of ninja raid the church and stab Zack at the altar. Toki then reveals a secret weapon: Towa, a blonder, angrier persona heretofore hidden from Zack. She disposes of the assassins, but not before Zack bleeds out. Toki, however, has an abrupt solution: she heads back in time to stop the wedding crash. Zack joins the two-in-one heroines in the form of Toki's pet dragon, Drake, which immediately prompts him to scheme his way into the bath with his soon-to-be wife and her girlfriends. Charming.

When not indulging such puerility, Time and Eternity finds Toki and/or Towa wandering city streets and fields with Drake-Zack flapping close by. Battles drop the heroine into one-on-one duels with enemies, and she pelts them with rifle fire from a distance or dashes in close for knife strikes and flip kicks. With careful timing she can dodge attacks, fill a meter that enables special moves, and warp time itself to turn the tide. Zack even offers help at times, healing his companion or biting at the enemy.

It's all tremendously boring. Toki and Towa flail away at one foe at a time until it collapses, and the dodging and striking grow wearisome. Despite the different attacks available, they're all carried out with the same stiff controls, and combat serves up palette-swapped enemies and repetitive voice clips. This monotony plays out several times during each encounter. The game also insists on dolling out those encounters at random, an idea that most sensible RPGs abandoned years ago. Some complexity hides in the elemental damage system and a skill tree of attack upgrades, but the battles do nothing interesting with any of it. Even Toki and Towa's personality shifts are underused; the two only switch out upon gaining levels or using an uncommon item. Faced with modern trends, Time and Eternity stubbornly digs in somewhere between a traditional menu-driven RPG and a genuine action game; too simple for the former, too stiff for the latter.

Why not make Time and Eternity a full-fledged action-RPG like Threads of Fate or Chantelise instead of this rigid, lonesome puppet show? Well, ImageEpoch and Namco Bandai wanted an anime simulacrum first and foremost, so they started with the animation and jury-rigged play mechanics to fill it. The result is a surface first and a game second.

This brings up the real tragedy of Time and Eternity. For all of its attempts at a uniquely animated allure, it looks terrible much of the time. The two-dimensional characters seem cheap and flat against the largely empty 3-D backgrounds, and the animation is far more limited than 3-D characters of comparable RPGs. It resembles an artifact from the era of the 3DO and PC-FX, when developers stitched together 2-D animation and 3-D backgrounds in many awkward ways. To play Time and Eternity is to gaze into an alternate dimension where the game industry never forsook the design standards of 1995.

It's far easier to sympathize with the game's unfortunate developers than any of its characters. For one thing, the two heroines rarely get past stereotypes. Red-haired Toki is a pleasant, reasonable royal, blonde Towa is a temperamental brawler who occasionally drops her guard, and it's no surprise when the game ties them both to insipid fantasy-wife fulfillment. Meanwhile, Zack plays the part of the pervy dullard in one of those anime comedies seemingly written by and for 12-year-old boys who want to see naked women without entirely understanding why. It's a strange mixture of the risqué and the chaste, right down to our hero hatching wet T-shirt fantasies about the woman he's going to marry. Moreover, his trapped-in-animal-form predicament is nothing that anime and manga haven't tackled before and with better results. Tuxedo Gin this is not.

Time and Eternity leads nowhere interesting, as time-travel clichés are exhumed and dull supporting characters flit in and out. There is a germ of novelty in the idea of two minds struggling to control one form, but it's never explored beyond a sexist fantasy of getting two wives for the price of one. The pair actually seems to be a single multifaceted character split into simpler halves, each with one defining personality trait. Were it not for the change in hair color and voice actresses, Towa could be Toki in a bad mood.

Much of NIS America's localization is earnest enough toward Time and Eternity. The English voices feature the usual suspects doing a tolerable job, and there's nothing wrong with the Japanese cast. The soundtrack, from Takeshi Yanagawa and the esteemed Yuzo Koshiro, presents a bigger problem: the open-field music and battle fanfare is pleasant enough, but the characters' teatime discussions are backed by one of the most irritating themes in recent memory.

Time and Eternity's attempt at playing anime falls to ruin at every possible juncture. Hoping to fuse games and animation into a revolutionary RPG, it instead picks terrible ingredients from both worlds. It adopts the random-battle drudgery and routine questing of a mediocre RPG, plus the juvenile storyline from a low-budget TV series that only the most ardent fans would watch beyond the first commercial jump. It's anime, sure enough, but in the worst way.

Overall : D-
Graphics : D+
Sound/Music : C
Gameplay : D
Presentation : D+

+ Some decent voice actors got paychecks for this
Boring battles, unlikeable characters, and an awkward look to everything

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