The whole reason why I noticed Time and Eternity (or Toki Towa as I knew it before it was announced for a Western release) was because of the vivid and interesting art style. It’s different from the norm, even when RPGs go with the cel-shaded style to give it an anime vibe; it’s never been as anime as Time and Eternitydemonstrates, with its gorgeous hand-drawn characters. But what lies beneath this beauty is a game that, sadly, doesn’t match its wonderful visuals.
Toki, the innocent, red-haired young woman, is the star of the game along with her fiancée, who are shown in an opening scene getting along happily before the day of their wedding. Their special day arrives and all seems normal, until they are about to seal their vows with a kiss and the door is knocked down by a group of assassins who attack Zack and kill him. Just as he’s fading away in the void of white light, he sees Toki transform into a blonde-haired alternate personality and watches as she gives the assassins a beat-down. It seems Toki has two souls in her body, with the other one belonging to Towa. Using her special powers, Toki travels back in time to figure out why her wedding was attacked, and at the same time save her husband-to-be. All isn’t what it seems in the past, and players are taken on a comical ride to stop everything interrupting her special day.
As stories goes, Time and Eternity isn’t all that interesting. It’s a light-hearted romp that never takes itself too serious, but that’s kind of the game’s problem. It’s so full of jokes and other nonsense that the core story never feels like it was written to be the main focus. The two personalities of Toki and Towa are the most fascinating part of the plot, but after a while, even the idea of two different people with different traits begins to blend together, ending up with a girl who changes her hair colour as often as a female pop star. Zack is the game’s pervert, and depending if you’re into those kind of jokes will determine if you can stand him or not. I personally have nothing against jokes of the perverted kind, but it probably happens a little too much in the game. He’s able to get away with these jokes because after his death, he is transported into Toki’s pet drake, and since no one really knows it’s him until a few hours into the game…well, you can guess what happens with his new “cover.” Zack has wild dreams of seeing Toki in the shower, along with all these other hyper-hormonal ideas. I guess that is what happens to a person in love when they have yet to kiss their girlfriend, even after dating for a few months.
Toki is often surrounded by her friends, which all fall into generic anime cliché. There’s Enda, a young girl who was school friends with Toki and has strange taste in men; next is Reijo, a posh 16-year-old who isn’t afraid to boast about her money and is ready to jump on anyone who hurts Toki; and lastly, Wedi is the smart one of the bunch – the wedding planner – who will make sure everything is perfect for her good friend. The same can be said for the people you run into, especially this one guy who won’t leave Toki alone. He just wants to be her loved one, and he just doesn’t give up – that’s the problem. Every one of these characters are about as thick as a sheet of paper, meaning that once you’ve seen them once, you have an idea of what to expect from them for the rest of the game. It’s enjoyable for the first few times, but after that it becomes tiresome.
The storyline progresses through quests, which are highlighted on the static world map with little exclamation marks. The world map is similar to titles like Final Fantasy X or Suikoden III, in which you point to places you want to travel to and then are warped into that area to proceed. If you get to the other side of that zone, then you’ll open up the next zone on the map that will allow you to continue to your desired destination. Locations aren’t particularly exciting – often just open areas without much life to them.
Battles are a key mechanic for the genre, and Time and Eternity is full of them. The game’s battle system pits Toki (or Towa) against one enemy at a time. A battle can consist of more than one foe, but you will never face them together. When you beat one of them, the next one comes into focus and you start the fight again. The battle mechanics are very action-oriented, since battles are in real-time and aren’t dependent on a character’s speed stat to see who goes first. Toki’s basic attacks are her rifle (at long-range) and her knife (up-close). The player is given the option to pick how to fight. If the player stands back at a distance, they can hammer the attack button to pump the enemy full of lead – but be careful: the enemy could block or do an attack that isn’t susceptible to stun. Pressing Up will force Toki to move in towards the enemy (if possible) to deal close-range attacks. Again, hammering the attack button will cause her to do a combo, but the enemy can do a “kick back” move to send you to your starting position. These rules also apply in reverse, so they can also come in at you and you can also knock them back.
My initial hour or so with the battle system was met with a positive attitude. Fights are fast-paced and engaging for the player, but the reality soon rears its ugly head when you find out that an enemy always does the same attack pattern. It forces the battle to become stale, because as soon as you see what you’re fighting, you know exactly what is coming and you can counter against it. Fights only get exciting when you meet a new enemy, but again, after a few fights, you know how that enemy is going to fight and you’re back into a state of repetition again. I ended up doing rifle shots into magic attack – which does a ridiculous amount of damage early in the game – for about 75% of the game’s combat. The developers even included a time mechanic that allows you to rewind time, but this only works well on bosses, since you already know enemy attack patterns. It’s a real shame, because when the battles are fresh, they are a lot of fun.
It upsets me even more that the combat isn’t better, because there is a dynamic between Toki and Towa that could have gone somewhere. Every time a level-up occurs, she transforms into the other personality that isn’t active. Each of the two characters have specific skills for battles. Toki (red hair) specialises in long-range, while Towa (blonde hair) is the master of close combat. When you win a fight, you gain skill points that can be put into learning new skills for whoever is “out” at the current time. The skill tree between the two is different, as their skills, both active and passive, are based around their strong points. To be honest, even though one had a better advantage over the other in specific areas, I was never put into a situation when I felt I would do better or worse if I was fighting with the other persona, due to the bad enemy AI.
On the presentation side, the game looks lovely with its 2D, drawn characters, but that isn’t without its problems. It can be a little jarring to see these aesthetics mixed in with the 3D world, which is rather plain for the most part. The game doesn’t offer itself up for exploration, as everything is marked on the map – even “hidden” chests are shown, which kind of defeats the purpose. Character animations are jumpy, due to their hand-drawn nature and shortcuts taken to reduce the animation required. Views of the characters are also limited. For example, when you are on the world map, you can only see from behind Toki/Towa when exploring. The camera can be twisted, but since her front doesn’t exist (this is a drawing, not a model), the character will turn with it, which comes off weird. The look is spot-on for the anime aesthetics, but the animation feels like it’s from a low-budget anime show – and just like those shows, it tries its best to save its budget by pulling the trick of recycled characters and palette swaps, and that spoils the main attraction of the game’s visuals.
Voice work covers a range from decent to laughable. It’s the typical high-school impersonation you are probably expecting from a game featuring young females. Fans of Nippon Ichi Software will probably recognise a voice or two, since a lot of these voices have been in past NIS America titles. For people wanting the original voice track, it’s there in Japanese. The music is solid but is forgettable once you’ve finished playing through the 25-hour story. To my surprise, it’s actually composed by Yuzo Koshiro, the amazing talent behind such classics as Streets of Rage. But Time and Eternity’s tracks don’t reach the memorable status as those classics do.
I’ve come away disappointed with Time and Eternity. I’m happy the game was released in English and that I got to play it, but I’m sad it wasn’t as good as I was hoping. It had potential to be a great game with an outstanding visual style that hit the anime vibe spot-on. Sadly, while the game does have its fun moments here and there, the game breaks apart with monotonous and predicable combat, boring side quests and poor pacing. It’s one for the hardcore fans, but even then, I’m not sure how well they can admire this.