It's undeniable that many games from Japan that make it to our shores--particularly in the role-playing genre--have strong influences from anime. Great role-playing game series like Disgaea, Persona, and Tales feature visual and storytelling elements heavily influenced by the art form. Developer Imageepoch aspired to go one step higher with Time and Eternity, billing the game as "playable anime." Unfortunately, the end product is not only a showcase for nearly every negative stereotype ascribed to anime, but a bad RPG to boot.
Time and Eternity tells the story of Zack and Princess Toki, a couple of lovebirds who live in a secluded fantasy island kingdom. On the day Toki and Zack are set to tie the knot, a group of assassins disrupt the proceedings, and Zack is killed protecting Toki. The incident brings out some of Toki's innermost secrets: not only does she share a body with the soul of another woman, Towa, but her family possesses magical time-manipulating powers. Toki and Towa decide to travel back in time to piece together the how and why and stop the disaster before it happens--though they are unaware that Zack's soul has come along with them, trapped in the body of Toki's pet miniature dragon, Drake.
Even as the plot setup and central cast are being introduced, Time and Eternity seems determined to make you dislike it. Zack, the male hero--and the character whose perspective you follow--seems more interested in off-color thoughts and remarks and being "manly" than he is in Toki and Towa's genuine affection and well-being. Toki and Towa are affectionate toward Zack in a way that feels very uncomfortable at times, given Zack's questionable behavior. Toki's friends are one-note anime archetypes (ditzy wedding planner, shrill rich girl who flaunts her status, and boy-crazy teenager) who offer no real character development and simply exist to set up bad jokes. Non-player characters you meet over the course of the story are similarly irritating, typically featuring a single humorous (read: obnoxious) trait that defines their entire personality. It's hard to be invested in anyone's plight when almost every player in the story is unlikable. Though that's not to imply that the story is good; Time and Eternity features some of the most insipid plot twists you could possibly conceive for the time-travel concept.
But the character development isn't the only thing that falls flat. Time and Eternity's biggest hook is its unique visual style. Rather than being polygon-rendered models or sprites, every action of every character in the game is drawn in high-definition, traditional animation sequences. This approach sounds interesting on paper, but the problems with its execution begin to materialize almost right away. For starters, you immediately notice that most of the animated characters bear only a passing resemblance to the game's illustrations and concept art.
Just a few minutes later, you start to become keenly aware of constant animation sequence recycling. Reused and repeating animation is certainly nothing new in games, but the jerky, awkward motions of the characters and inconsistent frame rates make the rampant reuse both more noticeable and more unappealing. (As an example, you can play an impromptu metagame just counting how many times Toki and Towa do their weird leg-crossing/uncrossing animation during the teatime sequences.)
The cheap feel of the animation becomes even more pronounced when you see just how much palette-swapping goes on throughout the game. Toki and Towa share the bulk of their animations, but are simply colored differently, leading to motions that don't match the personality of the character in play. In addition, there are only a handful of enemy designs, but plenty of palette swaps for each one. But perhaps the worst visual effect comes from the juxtaposition of 2D animated models against the game's 3D backgrounds, leading to awkward camera angles, weird scene transitions, and disjointed character movements. (The backgrounds, lacking in detail as they may be, at least offer some pleasant use of color, which is probably the nicest thing you can say about the visuals.)
With its unappealing story and disconcerting visual style, the only thing that could save Time and Eternity would be fantastic gameplay. Alas, that savior is nowhere to be found; the game is riddled with utterly confusing and often aggravating design choices that make it a tedious slog. The adventuring portion of Time and Eternity follows the typical RPG questing formula: get objective, complete objective, learn story bits, get next objective. You frequently have to return home after quests, however, and endure the grating personalities of Toki's buddies over tea as they drop new leads for your next objective, which makes that traditional RPG questing formula especially irritating here. Side quests are plentiful, but they rarely break the mold of "kill X, investigate Y, or find Z," and since they generally involve exploring the same landscapes and fighting more palette-swapped foes, there's little incentive to do them.
Combat is a bit more interesting…at first. You control a single character--either Toki or Towa--in real time, fighting one-on-one against foes. There are two positions in combat, long range and close range, and the techniques available at each range are different. Ranges offer distinct advantages: it's easier to dodge attacks at long range, while close range allows you to shatter the enemy's defense. You can swap between ranges at will (unless the enemy has you cornered at close range), as well as guard to reduce damage from enemy attacks or sidestep to try to avoid them entirely.
By attacking, you also build SP, which can be used to unleash special attacks you've assigned to the face buttons or use time magic, which is accessed with L2. Since enemies take more damage at particular ranges and have certain weaknesses to elemental affiliations, you can use skill combinations to try to get the upper hand. Later on in the game, you can perform chemistry attacks that use both Toki/Towa and Drake's abilities in tandem.
This sounds like it could work well, but it falls apart in practice. The one-on-one format strips party-synergy strategy from combat, leaving it feeling very shallow. (Drake sometimes performs attacks and recovery skills, though these are out of your control.) The animation of Toki makes the controls feel awkward and disjointed, as though her movements suffer from constant input lag. Trying to attack and dodge with Toki and Towa is something like playing an old LaserDisc game, just with fewer onscreen button prompts. What initially seems like novel combat degenerates into a repetitive series of simple pattern memorization.
Encountering strings of enemies one after the other makes battles even more aggravating--it's frustrating to smack down one palette-swapped bird only to fight another one (and another one) immediately afterward. To top it off, you can't manually change control between Toki and Towa at will. The two characters have somewhat different skill sets, making one more advantageous in certain battles, but they trade off only when a certain item is used or when you level up. This has the effect of suddenly leaving you with a character who doesn't fight as well against the enemies in an area because you made the mistake of gaining a level.
It's hard to find much positive to say about Time and Eternity. Its sole points of excellence are some nice illustrations and its superb soundtrack, featuring songs from Yuzo Koshiro (ActRaiser, Streets of Rage, and Etrian Odyssey), but everything else is an ill-conceived mess executed poorly. If you want to experience a beautiful anime-style role-playing game, you have many other choices, like the recent Ni no Kuni. It's best to leave Time and Eternity on the store shelves forevermore.