If you see this game on the shelf, don’t touch it, don’t even look at it. You would have much more fun spending your money on a dentist appointment.
I implore you to avoid this game at all costs, and play just about anything else on the market with the joy in your heart that you aren’t playing Time and Eternity.
There’s no need to talk about why the game is bad – look at any reviews. If we idealize any popular JRPG form, TE doesn’t stand up to it. I had thought that the game may have been more popular for the original audience in Japan, but a cursory glance at the reviews shows that Japanese-speakers didn’t like it, either. One review title reads something to the extent of “it’s impossible for something to be this shitty”, its first line asking if the 5-star reviews were written by the game’s developers.
A few reviews mention the positives – which I agree with – there are some absurd story beats which end up seeming like pasted-over stories from some writer’s life, cut and past into the fantasy of TE’s world. In the game’s first main arc, you have to defeat the Assassin’s Guild, but you end up running into the Assassin’s Guild Fan Club, which has monthly magazines about the true guild. Some point later on a side quest, you have to remind a journalist walking around a field as to what his job is. As it turns out, he completely forgot his purpose for being there, the main male protagonist even questioning how he can do his job when all he does is walk in small circles.
But what’s more fun, at least for a few hours, about TE, is how the ways in which it is broken point to ideas about JRPGs/games in general.
I get a small sense of “Why on earth do I exist?” from many of the NPCs. Why does any NPC exist? It’s a well-treaded subject, and as I played TE I found myself being able to see the writers behind the game. Because the writing was so flat, the characters so predictable and shallow, it’s almost as if I could see the spreadsheet and outline of plot points and story beats to hit laid bare before me, the game’s mismanagement, tangible.
It makes me question long, 20+ hour games. The game sends you back in time – to fix something – only to have a time paradox erupt and require you to go slightly less far back in time. I quit at the beginning of the second arc. Perhaps this would work in the right hands, but there was no way the game was going to get better, and I didn’t want to play the same thing for another arc, so why bother?
Most long games suffer from repetition wearing thin over way-too-long playthroughs. In this sense, TE made a great choice to have fighting be (a flawed) 1 on 1 system, but made a poor choice to spawn battles every 20 seconds and have most battles require killing 3-4 enemies in a row.
The same wearing thin can occur by separating any of the story beats by hours of fighting, or some other repetitive task. Take Persona 5, which was harmed by dungeons that always went on for an hour or two too long – thus wearing thin its difficult balance between seeing the benefits of the dating-sim aspects of the game influencing your stats in the game’s dungeons. Unfortunately P5 worked just well enough that it didn’t bother most people enough, so I’d assume that for Persona 6, the dev team will probably try to make it even longer!
This points to the popularity of Undertale. Undertale eliminates the long-playtime inaccessibility of JRPGs, and combines and simplifies popular aspects of the genre such as character development, NPC dialogue and battle systems into a 3-5 hour package with enough variance from playthrough to playthrough. Its most interesting setpiece being that its game world, abstractly, is a character with its own development and reactions that you can influence through the battle system.
For the record, I enjoyed both P5 and Undertale but didn’t encounter much new territory from a thematic standpoint, though some of P5’s arcs (and its characters in general) were very fun. TE was terrible across the board, though playing it makes apparent that in many JRPGs I’m going through the motions of the battle so I can just see the next bit of a story. Repetitive area after repetitive area, fighting recolors of 6 enemy types, with a few sidequests and treasures to find before advancing the plot. How many JRPGs are like this, but slightly better and with these mechanical cores harder to see?
As far as shorter playtimes go, from a development standpoint there’s less to worry about in terms of player pacing, and a higher chance players will “See Everything”, or at least get into a position where they can dive deeper into repeated or alternate playthroughs. There’s a lower chance that you’ll wear your story themes or characters thin through repetition or a grating, endless battle system, a higher chance you end up presenting the more interesting ideas by trying to work within a smaller playtime. Does a game really need 40-80 hours to cook and say something interesting? I don’t think so!
Next time: A review of Deidia’s soundtrack, maybe some post-release thoughts on Even the Ocean and intuited limits on the narrative possibilities of games?