Does something really constitute a “retro” game if it was released in 2010? Probably not, but for the purposes of this site, I feel like Atlus’ Radiant Historia comes close enough in spirit to the classics that we probably could have talked about it back when it was a fresh, new release. Certainly the game felt dated when it rolled off the assembly line, with its humble sprite-based graphics and dishwater-dull color palette. And its overall concept and combat system felt like some bastard child of the Chrono/Xeno family, what with its time-traveling shenanigans and quirky battle mechanics that revolved around positional manipulation of enemies. It was, in short, old before its time.
Perhaps because of its decidedly uninspiring visual style, or perhaps because its host platform (Nintendo DS) had been rendered effectively moribund in the U.S. at that point by the one-two punch of piracy and smartphone gaming, Radiant Historia went largely overlooked. And it definitely didn’t help that just a few months later Square Enix released the Tactics Ogre remake for PSP, which featured a similar timeline-rewinding element to the one in Radiant Historia but put it to far better use (and, alas, was simply a better game than Radiant Historia all around). Nevertheless, despite slotting comfortably into B-tier status and not quite qualifying as an overlooked masterpiece, Radiant Historia was an interesting game that definitely deserved more love than it received from a cold and uncaring world… and now that opportunity has emerged with news of a remake called Radiant Historia Chronicles for 3DS.
According to Weekly Famitsu magazine, Chronicles will be a comprehensive overhaul of the game, adding in a new scenario, voice acting, and potentially some 3D graphics (it’s kinda hard to tell from the smudgy Famitsu scan that I’ve seen circulating social media). It sounds an awful lot like Atlus’ other DS-to-3DS conversion, Devil Survivor: Overclocked, though I’m holding out hope they’ll make more comprehensive improvements and do some rejiggering with the game’s time-shifting mechanic. I liked the concept behind Radiant Historia‘s core premise — the protagonist had to prevent a wartime disaster, and his own death, by leaping backward in time and exploring alternate outcomes — but the execution left something to be desired. There was a lot of time-leaping, mostly affecting incremental changes to the timeline. That meant that the overall flow of the game amounted to making minor tweaks to the story, replaying a section to look for minor changes to dialogue and outcomes, then repeating. And for a game about time travel and outcomes, its narrative had a weirdly linear structure. After a while, it got to a point where even the scenario writer was like, “Yeah, whatever,” and would just cut to the chase with an overlay of narrative text that functioned as an ellipsis.
In short, if any game deserved a do-over, it would be the one that centered around do-overs but didn’t quite turn out the way it was meant to. So this remake’s existence seems wholly appropriate… though I do worry that we’re going to see a “But history refused to change,” ending screen for this one, too. It’s repeating a fundamental mistake that Atlus made the first time around: Launching on a Nintendo handheld in its sunset days. Despite Nintendo’s marketing messages*, I’m pretty sure the core audience for games like this has largely begun to migrate from 3DS to Switch. As much as I’d like to keep seeing games like this and Fire Emblem make their way to the U.S., I worry they’ll completely flop if they do. It could be that I’m just projecting, though. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger 3DS supporter than I’ve been, but I haven’t touched the thing in a month. It would take something truly spectacular to drag me back at this point, like Etrian Odyssey V or Dragon Quest XI. I don’t know if a Radiant Historia remake has the gravity to pull me back into the past.
Though I guess that’s kind of the game’s entire point, so who knows?
*”No, guys, Switch is a console, not a handheld! Honest! Please keep buying 3DS!”