A beautiful body inhabited by some not-so-attractive souls
As the first volume of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill opens, the entirety of what is to follow is kicked off by the murder of a main character during her wedding ceremony. Well, OK—attempted murder, if you want to be picky.
The same is true for ImageEpoch’s Time and Eternity. As Princess Toki and her fiancé, Zack, stand at the altar trading their vows, a band of assassins suddenly appears in the chapel. Moments later, the princess is on the floor, her beautiful gown stained with blood, her dying lover in her arms. Toki vows to seek revenge on those who have done this to her man; Zack smiles as he quips about how cool he must look in his final moments.
If the folks at ImageEpoch had the same talent for storytelling that Tarantino does, we’d be in for one heck of a ride in the game. Unfortunately, they don’t—and Time and Eternity is certainly no Kill Bill.
What it is, really, is the making of a stereotypical JRPG. As it turns out, Toki has another soul inside her body—the blonde-haired Towa—and one can take over for the other at any moment. Toki is, of course, the quiet, demure type, while Towa’s the brash, reckless one. Sharing a body isn’t the only power that the two have, however, as they also possess some level of control over time.
So, Toki and Towa hatch a plan: travel six months into the past in order to try and stop the murder of their fiancé. The jump in time works, but a curious side effect results that neither of the girls are aware of. Zack’s soul also goes along for the ride, and he ends up in the body of Toki’s pet baby dragon, Drake, where he’s unable to communicate beyond growls and grunts that are unintelligible to humans.
It’s an interesting setup, but one that gets stuck in the rut of stereotypical anime and JRPG trappings. Toki, Towa, and the girls’ gaggle of friends are all your typical female tropes, yet we’re asked to care enough to build relationships with them. Meanwhile, Zack is the trademark creepy horny male character, yet we’re expected to care about him enough to want to prevent his death.
Time and Eternity walks an awkward line between trying to be serious and trying to be funny, and it could have been a much better game had it gone for one instead of both. The premise is legitimately interesting, and I wish ImageEpoch had cared less about pandering and more about exploring that potential. Or—conversely—go totally overboard with the characters and situations, taking them into the realm of ridiculous comedy and self-parody.
Combat and gameplay are also a mixed bag. At their core, battles are actually pretty fun. Depending on which character you’re currently playing as—you switch between Toki and Towa every time you level up—you’ll have a mixture of long-range, close melee, and spell-based attacks available. Which of those attacks you’ll use when is determined, in part, by battles taking place on two planes. Sometimes, getting off shots from afar is the best choice; other times, you’ll want to jump in for some up-close-and-personal beatings.
Even after unlocking skills and spells, combat is never nearly as complex as I’d like it to be. What causes that simplicity to become an actual problem is the fact that all random battles end up becoming long, drawn-out affairs. Due to the core nature of how Time and Eternity was crafted, you’ll only ever fight one enemy at a time—and with how slow the back-and-forth of killing of each foe one by one can take, a pack of four enemies that appear suddenly can become a major ordeal.
Adding to the sense of sluggishness that can plague Time and Eternity’s combat is that—due to the game’s graphical style, which I’ll get to in a moment—there’s a slight delay to every action. Button presses aren’t instantaneous, and they often won’t register if your character’s still in the middle of animation frames from a previous action. So, whether you’re mashing a button to unleash a melee combo with Towa’s pocket knife or you’re trying to dodge an enemy fireball, you have to constantly think a few seconds ahead in order to plan for taking those actions.
A good way to describe how Time and Eternity feels—and this might be lost on some of our younger readers—is like a more advanced version of Dragon’s Lair. Instead of the more standard fast action of real-time RPG combat, your main focus is on waiting for the right moment to act or react. It’s a question of timing—and I felt, at times, as if I was more inputting commands to guide what appeared onscreen than directly controlling those characters and situations.
Of course, there’s another major reason my brain wants to compare Time and Eternity to that LaserDisc classic: the game’s visuals. Here’s where the game impressed me the most—and where its concepts are at their strongest.
Without trying to rely on the crutch of overindulged hyperbole, what ImageEpoch has crafted in Time and Eternity genuinely feels different than anything else I’ve played in recent memory. At this point in the world of game development, when a Japanese developer wants to make their new game project “look like anime,” they create polygonal models that feature specific coloring techniques and cel-shading and other tricks to look like a drawing brought to life. In Time and Eternity, ImageEpoch has instead taken hand-drawn animation frames and used them as 2D spites overlaid on a 3D world.
The effect isn’t perfect—and, in fact, it can sometimes create awkward moments in gameplay (such as the previously mentioned combat issues, or when you’re moving your 2D character around in fully 3D spaces). And yet, no matter how much they may have stumbled in other areas, I give credit to the Time and Eternity team for what they’ve accomplished here. I was continually stunned by how unique my experience with the game felt; from being in the heat of battle to progressing through cutscenes as the story unfolded, I felt closer to being in a living, breathing anime-inspired world than I think I’ve ever been before. (If my younger, hardcore-anime-otaku self had been able to see this game, I’m sure he would’ve been awestruck.)
As much as I love games that get everything right and give me a fantastic experience, in my heart, I’d rather see a developer try something new and utterly fail than do nothing but play it safe. And, for that reason, I can’t hate Time and Eternity. There’s no question that it does fail in some regards, or that it’s mediocre to average in others. Not only could have this been a better game, but it should have been a better game, and the folks at ImageEpoch should feel ashamed of the overall quality level of this project. At the same time, I also thank them for trying.
Time and Eternity will be a game I remember for a long time, because it gave me the chance to witness a slice of gaming that few are even attempting to serve up. I’m sure it’ll take me a long time to forget about all of its negative elements—but some day, down the road, maybe I’ll be able to look back at my time with Toki and Towa and have a fondness for what it got right.
|Developer: ImageEpoch • Publisher: NIS America • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 07.16.2013|
ImageEpoch attempts to try something quite different with the Japanese RPG genre, and while a lot of the game suffers from missteps, poor gameplay decisions, and terrible writing, Time and Eternity’s anime-come-to-life visual style makes it an experience that feels unlike anything that’s been released in recent memory.
|The Good||An attempt to do something different in terms of style and visuals that results in an a game that truly feels distinctive.|
|The Bad||Characters range from bland to obnoxious. Combat can be slow and cumbersome, and the narrative potential is often squandered.|
|The Ugly||The anime tradition of a sex-crazed male character paired up with a harem of fetish-satisfying women.|
|Time and Eternity is available exclusively on the PS3.|