Radiant Historia is a JRPG developed and published by Atlus. It was originally released on the DS in 2011. The remaster, Perfect Chronology, was released for the 3DS in February of 2018. I played the 3DS version. Screenshots are courtesy of Atlus.com.
Atlus is to RPGs what Platinum is to Action games. Both studios have outstanding quality in their works, and yet they’ve only recently begun having somewhat “mainstream” success like Capcom, Square Enix, and other 3rd-Party studios. Many of their games are put on hidden gem lists, and Radiant Historia was no different when it released on the DS. But luckily for me, Atlus gave it a second chance on the 3DS where… it once again became a hidden gem. But it has a cult following, and I now consider myself a part of it.
Radiant Historia begins with a world slowly turning into sand. The amount of farmable land is shrinking every year, and people have begun fighting over what little resources are left. In these dire circumstances, we meet our protagonist Stocke, a secret agent in the steampunk nation of Alistel. During a mission he comes across the ability to travel through time, and begins to use this power to shape events and investigate the cause of the desertification.
The story immediately pulled me in, and it had me invested all the way to its conclusion. The plot particularly excels in the interpersonal drama, as Stocke opens up to his comrades, makes unlikely allies, and unravels the intrigue in his own country. For a JRPG involving time travel, the story treads some familiar ground, but the emotional tale is still executed well and avoided the convoluted trappings that such stories tend to have. Think of a good Doctor Who episode — it delivers familiar SciFi themes, but it still pulls you in and has relatable characters.
The story unravels like a visual novel — you make choices that may give you “bad endings,” and it’s your job to figure out what choice will let you progress. You freely travel between two main timelines, and if you find yourself stuck in one timeline, you can hop to the other to find a trinket or learn a skill that you need. The game will often give you a hint or riddle about what you’re missing. I liked these – at their best they tested my knowledge of the world and its characters, though at their worst it left me simply guessing. Thankfully backtracking is streamlined by letting you skip events and cutscenes, so the timeline exploration never felt tedious.
Even better than the story, however, was the game’s unique combat system. Enemies are arranged on a 3×3 grid, and you learn skills that push and pull enemies around said grid. If you stack enemies onto the same space, you can damage all of them at once and rack up combos. In addition to that, you’re allowed to manipulate the turn order on the bottom screen. The system will even let you even swap turns with an enemy so that you can make longer combos. It’s a risk-reward system where every battle feels like a small puzzle. Once you learn the ropes, you start feeling like you’re outsmarting the system. And the boss fights are good tests of your knowledge.
Presentation-wise, Atlus gave Radiant Historia a simple resolution upscale with new character portraits. The game uses gorgeous pixel sprites on basic 3D backgrounds, a visual hallmark of the DS. The voice acting is executed well — there are even some voice actors I recognized from Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which coming from me, is a high compliment. The soundtrack’s composer is Yoko Shimomura, who did the soundtracks for Kingdom Hearts and Xenoblade Chronicles. The soundtrack definitely reminds me of Xenoblade, which if you know me, is another compliment.
Atlus also added in a 3rd timeline with the 3DS re-release, which can either be unlocked after beating the game or be done alongside the main story. This new timeline embellishes on the world and gives you a “true ending” epilogue. With an RPG this well made, it was a welcome addition.
I can unequivocally say that Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is one of the best JRPGs on the 3DS. I don’t know if Atlus will ever come back to this game again, so I highly recommend you pick it up if you got a 3DS lying around.