"Is this the JRPG equivalent to Groundhog Day?"
Wedding crashing assassins, a mortally wounded knight, and a princess with two souls: yep, this is one of NIS America's latest Japanese RPGs, exclusive to the PS3 and coming to North America this summer. Developed by IMAGEEPOCH, Time and Eternity features a unique hook: the protagonist is mortally wounded at his wedding in the beginning of the game and must travel back in time to save his life. Fortunately, he's betrothed to a rather capable warrior who can fight in his stead.
Players assume control of the bride, who is two souls in a single body: Toki and Towa. At each experience level, Toki switches to Towa or vice versa. Since each character has her own strengths and weaknesses and some enemies are more prone to certain attacks, this ought to prove a compelling mechanic. I foresee boss battles being particularly tricky, although there are rare items that force a personality swap. Hopefully this mechanic can rise above the status of gimmick and provide a unique and rewarding spin on the JRPG.
The battles play out in real-time, although Toki doesn't have free reign over a battle arena like in a Tales title. Dodging, timing, and speed are all required for survival, but a button serves these functions. For instance, to dodge, the player merely presses the left or right directional button. This seems to be more a melding of turn-based and real-time than a full action combat system.
Toki and Towa fight with different weapons — Toki favors a musket, while Towa gets in close with fisticuffs. Experience levels unlock skills, but not much is known about how these will actually come into play. Players can customize which skills are mapped to each button, and hopefully enough skills are available to make interesting combos possible.
One of the most exciting aspects of Time and Eternity is its look: everything is drawn using cel animation. That means that even the characters are neither sprites nor 3D models, which gives the game a more organic anime look than even Ni no Kuni, even if they're not quite as detailed. Hopefully the world is large and varied enough to take the visuals to their full potential.
Another aspect of the game involves solving the riddle behind the protagonist's assassination. Whether this has any gameplay consequences or involves player choice remains to be seen. There are hints, however, that the characters will be in a loop, experiencing the wedding day over and over — with minute changes, perhaps? Until they can solve the mystery and get the day right? Is this the JRPG equivalent to Groundhog Day? Hopefully Bill Murray will be among the voice acting cast.
Look forward to seeing more about Time and Eternity as we approach its summer release in both North America and Europe.