Review: Time & Eternity, like its protagonist, suffers a case of split personality
"Innovation" is a term tossed around lightly these days, but some studios actually do go that extra mile to really showcase innovation in the games they make. Time & Eternity, at first, seems like that type of game, the type that will turn the genre on top of its head. However, extended playtime reveals that its shiny paint could have benefited from a few extra coats.
The game starts off with a fairly good premise. A marriage goes awry and Toki's (the redhead) husband gets slain right after saying "I do." This causes Towa (the blonde), Toki's alternate soul to take over and dispatch any of the leftover enemies. It's then up to Toki and Towa to utilize time magic and travel back to prevent this catastrophe from happening again.
The time traveling concepts are rather unique here, as Toki and Towa's souls enter their own bodies in the past, where two of the same person can't inhabit the same world (as opposed to, say, Back to the Future). To make matters even more interesting, the soul of their husband gets transferred into their pet Drake, a flying blue dragon that is always at their side.
The main problem is that aside from Toki, the characters are rather unlikable or just plain unrelatable. Towa is borderline psychotic, promising to slit other characters' throats if they don't comply to her way. Zack, the husband-to-be, is an absolute pervert, who doesn't deserve to get married at all, let alone to a nice girl like Toki. Her friends also make up the standard anime tropes of "rich and snobby aristocrat," "the overly hyper flat-chested young friend," and "the nerdy girl with glasses who makes up for her nerdy look by having the largest breasts of anyone in the group." Oh, did I mention the large amount of cleavage fan service going on in this game?
Worst wedding day, ever
The funny thing about Time & Eternity is that for all the elements you want to like about it, there is almost an equal amount of things you'll dislike.
The graphics are one of the most obvious standouts for Time & Eternity. The characters are all hand-drawn, thus they animate as such. That means movement isn't going to be smooth; it's rather disconnected and janky. This certainly doesn't ruin the experience, but it will make for some awkward animations that seem to only exist so players don't have to stare at a static portrait. During conversations, characters will flail their arms left and right, gesturing in so many unnatural ways that it's borderline ridiculous. I totally understand what the developer was going for, but it just looks odd and out of place.
But for all the fairly pretty character art, the environments got the short end of the stick. It wasn't until the 7th map I visited that I actually saw some variation. They're flat, uninspired, and look as if they were pulled directly from the PSOne era. It's a shame, considering a rather large chunk of gameplay consists of walking around these environments.
Then you got the incredible amount of palette swaps. The game only has a certain number of monsters and NPCs, but will reuse them ad nauseam by simply switching their color scheme. One of the early monster types, the golem, will be particularly prominent in grey, brown, pink, etc. They do increase in difficulty by having more health and packing more potent punches, but not even their attacks change up. The grey golem you'll be fighting at level 2 will pull off the same moves as the pink one at level 7.
Something I actually enjoyed for a good half of the game, though, was the battle system. It felt new and refreshing. Battles are always one-on-one, meaning there are no parties and there's never more than a single enemy in front of you at a time. Though multiple enemies could essentially attack you, you always dispatch of them one at a time. It's largely real-time, as each button press will immediately make Toki or Towa pull off any number of their signature moves, and there's certainly some strategy in fighting battles up close or keeping at range.
One of the earliest bosses you'll encounter, who also happens to be one of the more annoying characters
What's more, Toki and Towa each have different specialties. Toki is much better at ranged combat with her rifle, while Towa is a much better melee fighter. Keeping this in mind will allow you to maximize your damage depending on who you're currently playing as. However, aside from an item that makes it possible, you can't freely switch between Toki and Towa. Every time you gain a level, the heroine will change. While they both play identically, the fact that one will have certain spells while the other won't can truly mess up any strategy you might have, especially when nearing a boss fight. The girls' two separate skillsets beg for the ability to switch between them on the fly.
Eventually, you'll also get the ability to command Drake, letting you set up various chains of attacks called Chemistry. These successive attacks will deal increased damage if done correctly. Also, enemies are also affiliated with various elements, all who have weaknesses to others. Being smart on the battlefield and knowing which offensive attacks provide this boost in power is yet another key to success.
Toki and Towa will also get access to Time Magic. This 'clutch' skill allows you to turn back time in a pinch, and revert a possible mistake you might have made in battle. This can't be used infinitely though, as you only have three times to use it before returning home to recharge. The number does go up depending on whether you decide to increase its potency through leveling.
There is also a rather unhealthy amount of fetch quests. Aside from the main storyline, expect to pick up and deliver a number of items to various palette-swapped characters. When you're not fetching, you're killing for the sake of racking up a kill count, or killing just to collect enough of a given item. What's worse, sometimes these items have terrible drop rates, so expect to spend some quality time killing the same things over and over again.
One of the more overly ambitious things about Time & Eternity is its randomness in events. This isn't to say that the game is linear by any means, however, given the game's mechanic on switching you from Toki to Towa whenever you level, adds somewhat of a variable to any potential conversations you can have with characters. Finishing quest lines as Toki or Towa always yields a new conversation, one based on their respective personality. What's more, playing and completing quests more as one, or finding special romancing locations, will change each girl's affection, thus affecting the end result of the game.
I do have to give kudos to the game's leveling mechanics. The girls don't simply learn new skills by leveling up; rather, their skills are unlocked through a fairly extensive tree. Many of the branches are similar for both girls, but each of them has certain unique branches that will separate their aforementioned skillsets. Toki will always have some boons to firepower and long-range skills, while Towa will be a master of dealing deadly damage up close. Unlocking the skills on the tree won't grant them right away. Instead, this just grants access to these skills when the appropriate level is met.
The soundtrack is fantastic. You'd think it'd be full of J-Pop or overly girly tunes, when it's actually quite the opposite. The various themes are catchy and sometimes grandiose. The battle theme is one of the best tunes in the game, which is great since you'll be hearing it a lot. Towa's variation specifically. You can listen to both bellow.
I was really conflicted. My initial thoughts about the game were rather positive. It felt innovative, and the art style, while not as smooth as I would have preferred, was anime-like, true to its promise. However, progressing through the latter half of the game started to reveal its faults. The overwhelming amount of palette swapping was a letdown, and the battle system got old rather quickly. I might be tempted to say that JRPG fans will eat it up, but with Time & Eternity, I'm just not sure. It's not a terrible game, as some might have you think, just one with flaws that are often hard to overlook. It certainly won't appeal to everyone. Tread carefully.