The DS had so many good JRPG releases, I’m still going back and finding gems years after its retail life ended. Atlus decided to save me the trouble for one of them by re-releasing Radiant Historia on the 3DS, subtitled as “Perfect Chronology”.
[Spoilers for the endings of Radiant Historia and Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology follow.]
Radiant Historia’s plot and gameplay is like if you took Life is Strange and put it in the setting of Chrono Trigger. Not long into the game, the protagonist, Stocke, discovers the ability to revisit pivotal points in his personal timeline and make different decisions. The purpose? Saving the world, which is eroding into sand due to unknown causes. Progressing through the game involves hopping between two diverging timelines, picking the right answers to support your friends and cut off your enemies (and of course, some good old-fashioned turn-based action.) Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology updates the game with new graphics and character art, and an additional plotline which adds a third “true” ending.
Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is a humorous example of life imitating art, as a game about going back and doing it all over again was re-imagined, “corrected,” and re-released a scant seven years after the original. The new storyline covers what may be considered oversights or flaws in the original story, most notably addressing the source of the desertification.
In the DS version, the game ends without ever revealing the cause or having the protagonist directly address it: both the bad ending and the good ending culminate with the “ritual,” which has been used for generations to temporarily stop the desert’s spread. The only relevant detail of what this ritual entails that we get is that it involves a certain someone (literally called a Sacrifice) sacrificing themselves. In the bad ending, Stocke accepts his role as Sacrifice and dies to save the world. If you save enough people, you get the good ending, which has Heiss, the antagonist (who has been trying to save Stocke from this fate) sacrificing himself in Stocke’s place.
Both DS endings go forward with the ritual and that’s that. It annoyed me, given that Stocke DOES address the need for finding the source and the ritual to save the world IS mentioned as a stopgap measure. Perfect Chronology goes back and does it all over again, threading a new plotline with a new character, a new Chronicle, and a new final boss (because it’s an RPG; of course the source of the desertification is going to be a final boss.)
Fans of the original Radiant Historia have had mixed reactions. Some don’t like the updated character art (I will concede that the DS art for Eruca is super cute), some don’t like the explanation for the desertification Atlus came up with, and some don’t like the fact that the additional storyline redeems some (okay, all) of the villains who met bad deaths in the original. The DS version was content to let the villains be; the 3DS digs into their motivations, makes them sympathetic, and either lets them live or gives them honorable rather than dishonorable deaths. And if you complete the true ending, the element of sacrifice is gone. The men of the alternate history’s brigade don’t die, Stocke doesn’t die, Heiss doesn’t die, even the final big bad doesn’t die if you’ve cleared all the subplots, which is a little odd for a game involving war and the end of the world. I don’t disagree with the detractors that say letting everyone live takes away the narrational tone of sacrifice. Finding a way to let the characters live, while not removing the narrative impact of the sacrifice, does lessen it.
But removing the sacrifice is the point.
Radiant Historia is entirely a game about going back and improving things to achieve a “true” (perfect) history. Even in the bad ending when Stocke dies, he pulls strings from beyond the grave to save as many as possible. So it’s a little silly to complain about the game ramping that factor up to twelve when it was already at eleven to begin with. Is it wish-fulfillment? Yes. Is that bad? No.
Perfect Chronology’s sacrifice is its narrative sacrifices, undone and averted in order to stick closer to Radiant Historia’s theme of sifting through all possibilities to find the best one. In the story, the White Chronicle Stocke holds is supposed to represent hope for the future. It makes sense that Perfect Chronology should choose hope as its narrative theme, and fully commit to the idea that there is a history that doesn’t involve settling for less and accepting sacrifice.
For all their similarities, the DS and 3DS versions end up telling two different stories. The original Radiant Historia lionizes the idea of personal sacrifice and accepts the limitations of humans. Perfect Chronology, epitomized in its new Red Chronicle, the book of possibilities, refuses to give up and keeps opening doors. It refuses to settle for anything less than actually saving the world, and also saving everyone involved in it. Which story you prefer, the realist approach or the optimistic one, is largely a matter of taste, but I find that Perfect Chronology’s take to be closer to the stated goals both have of saving the world and finding the true history.
You might even say it’s perfect.
Longtime writer, temporary office minion, and nerd of all trades, tiakall is a fan of lengthy subordinate clauses and the Oxford comma. She enjoys plants, cats, puns of varying quality, and making cannibal jokes before it was cool.