Eternal Radiance Review (Switch)
It may come as a surprise to some that an RPG enthusiast has little faith in the storytelling quality of video games. Just like any medium, there’s bound to be a slim percentage of truly masterful work out there, with the larger portion being trope-laden, predictable, and rarely utilizing the medium in question for any particular benefit to the narrative. That’s a dour perspective to hold, but it also comes with the acceptance that many of us take comfort in the predictable. Therefore, an RPG that leans heavy into medieval or anime-styled stereotypes can be equal parts frustrating and familiar.
It is at this point in a review (usually the second paragraph, you see) that I try to link the rambling that takes place in the first paragraph with the content that I’ll be covering in the review itself. I might mention how a character who we are primed to connect with due to their plucky nature faces adversity and must redeem themselves on an exciting journey, during which they will strike out into the unknown parts of a magical world. Who knows, maybe with the right combination of quirky side-characters sporting some questionably provocative character designs and a world-threatening conflict, they might just learn a bit about themselves along the way. If you’re curious as to whether I’m going to mention gameplay at all in this introduction, the following statement might prove to be the most daunting of all: the game I have taken so long to introduce is a visual novel role-playing game hybrid.
And now the pieces of this lengthy, over-worded introduction finally fall into place. So, does Eternal Radiance manage to offer a painfully generic experience, or does it merge its two genres into something greater than the sum of its parts? Let’s spend approximately fifteen hours reading text boxes in order to find out.
Eternal Radiance combines all the thrill of reading with the rudimentary mechanics of most action RPGs. The opening hour of the game will be spent getting an exposition dump via the typical visual novel mechanics: you can visit certain locations to talk to specific characters, but because the game is also an action RPG, you don’t encounter very many branching opportunities in the way one might expect from a traditional visual novel. This isn’t to say they don’t exist, but some will be opened- or closed off- by completing specific segments of the RPG portion of the game. In any case, many narrative-focused quests simply resolve themselves by talking to the right people in the right place, though they might be hidden behind normal text box indicators. See, there are quest text box indicators- your standard exclamation point- as well as flavor text box indicators, appearing as ellipses. Some flavor text strangely takes priority over quest lines, so you should try to talk to people as much as possible if you’re looking to be a completionist.
On the flip side, the action RPG portion of the game takes place in segmented world portions that might possess some dungeon like elements, but are more often areas peppered with enemy encounters, material spawn points, and a smattering of treasure chests. You can cut these foes down by using light and heavy melee attacks mapped to the Y and A buttons respectively- if you think that button-mapping is weird, just wait until you hear the rest of the control scheme. Block is mapped to the X button, while the R bumper activates the dodge roll. The L bumper can be held to pull up a wheel of skills mapped to the face buttons, and upon maxing out a power gauge when dealing enough damage, one can activate a special attack by pressing the L and R bumpers together. Upon gaining access to party members, their particular special attacks are mapped to a combination of the L bumper and the ZL and ZR triggers.
The combat is simple and straightforward, balancing mana management via the use of basic attacks and expert dodges and blocks, which will power up skills for greater damage. The player can lock on to an enemy by clicking the right control stick, which will automatically position the player avatar in the direction of a foe, allowing their melee attacks and skills to hit with greater ease. The initial timing of perfect dodges and blocks can be a bit daunting, but also is easily circumvented via the skill point system. In any case, that’s just about all there is to the gameplay of Eternal Radiance.
If a portion of any game is to be heavily text-based, it should embrace some of the strong qualities of storytelling. Similarly, if any portion of a game is to take inspiration from specific medium genres, it too should embrace their strong qualities. One of the generic elements of visual novels is its focus on character and relationship writing and the ability to influence the outcome of a narrative through specific text selections at impactful narrative moments. In this regard, I believe that Eternal Radiance fails to embrace the potential benefits that the visual novel format would offer to the role-playing genre, as its story is very linear and decision-making rarely makes any impact on the overarching plot. Instead, the visual novel aesthetic is applied to the game, which is the idea that character portraits and text boxes are used to progress the narrative.
There is nothing wrong with this, but it is important to acknowledge that this genre crossover is aesthetic in nature and not mechanical. It isn’t entirely accurate to say that dialogue options don’t matter, but the result of many of the binary choices is merely flavor text, rather than narrative alteration. Some of the genre’s storytelling trappings are present, though I believe it would be a disservice to reduce the medium with derogatory comments- simplistic character relations, stereotypical plot points and character arcs, fanservice-heavy character portraits and scenarios. But I wouldn’t be giving Eternal Radiance a fair shake if I didn’t draw attention to these.
The initial premise of the game is as such: Celeste is a knight-in-training, a part of an elite force dedicated to protecting the people of her realm via the acquisition of mystic artifacts, tools used by an ancient race that is now long-extinct. These artifacts seem to sow chaos wherever they are unearthed, increasing the aggression of monsters and generally threatening the populace. But when Celeste fails to retrieve an artifact due to a mysterious thief, she decides that she must reclaim her honor and prove herself worthy of knighthood by going rogue herself. Fortunately, she’s still plucky and open-minded enough to accept the help of strangers, even if her naivety is grating on others.
There are no twists to be found here, no redemptions that feel unexplored, or inessential text to be missed- at least, in the visual novel segments that the game thrusts upon the player. Anything that is not on the main narrative path is trivial in nature. But to say that Eternal Radiance is bloated would damn it for sins readily committed by many others: Xenoblade, Atelier, and many of Bandai Namco’s published titles are guilty of the same. But the shorter overall length of Eternal Radiance doesn’t give these characters time to evolve beyond their archetypal characteristics. While the game is determined to sit with its characters rather than push the plot forward, it doesn’t present compelling scenarios in terms of growth, using text to flesh out the world and its denizens. While this can be considered welcome, it detracts from the core character drama.
When looking at the overall quality of writing and narrative through-line, Eternal Radiance plays it safe and comfortable with its premise. It doesn’t offer world-building beyond its rote fantasy premise, nor does it offer substantial character drama that more mature visual novels may attempt to explore. If you’re looking for narrative junk food, this might prove palatable, but it is hardly worth engaging with beyond a superficial level.
The aesthetics of the visual novel- its detailed character portraits and backgrounds, ornate text boxes, and often flavorful amount of character dialogue- are on display here in full-force, even if the quality of the narrative lacks weight. At least the music seems to fall in line with the genre, presenting atmospheric, scenario-based tracks that communicate the mood and are rarely memorable. But there is a whole other medium element at play here, which are the action role-playing portions of the game. It feels as if this part of the experience is unfortunately paid less attention, as the areas and enemy designs feel generic in their own ways. Biomes are represented on a lavish illustrated world map, but the actual maps themselves never explore this theming beyond their most basic elements. While there are a number of enemy types, they suffer from the typical JRPG curse of numerous recolors.
While an attempt to create 3D character models and environments is a commendable one that Eternal Radiance does with modest success, the polish lacking here is in the animations, which are twitchy in execution. They lack weight or startup frames, meaning they are quick to execute and create a frenetic atmosphere, but also contribute to an uncertainty and frustration, especially when attacks seem to sneak up on the player due to them being unable to read enemy behavior that is off screen. There is little refinement here, with some animations having substantial length, but not necessarily depicting combat techniques or skills we haven’t seen before. It’s all slightly bland in comparison with the loving 2D art, but even this is inconsistent, with some characters looking as if they came from completely different games, with vastly contrasting art styles. It results in a muddled visual depiction that does the game no favors.
Impressions and Conclusion
There isn’t much more to say about Eternal Radiance– it plays fine and looks fine, but it does have more than a few oddities. The previously mentioned hidden side quest text boxes prove frustrating, though they can be mitigated through fast forwarding if you really don’t care much about the story. It’s the odd controls that are more baffling- progression and selection is done with the B Button, and exiting out of menus and scenarios is done with… the plus button? Yeah, it’s hard to get behind, as is mapping the two basic melee attack options across from one another.
The last part that frustrates is how liberal the party AI tends to be with skill spamming, while Celeste the main playable avatar is the only character who can recharge her mana meter with basic melee attacks. This renders party members near worthless in skirmishes, though the game’s generous difficulty options make this more or less a non-issue. Similarly, there are consumable items one can purchase to recharge mana meter, but these should be saved for when skill attacks matter- just like how the party AI should also be a bit wiser about their expenditure. Some party management options would be nice, but that’s wishful thinking.
If you’re looking for cute girls fighting monsters, you could probably do worse. Everything that Eternal Radiance manages to do is accomplished with competence, but lacks finesse. The most novel aspect of this genre crossover maintains only the aesthetic portions of a visual novel and none of the impactful, choice-based narrative arcs. If you’re craving a twitchy action RPG, the game serves as a fine budget option, but clearly lacks the polish seen in higher profile offerings… maybe even struggling to keep pace with more focused indie products. It is difficult to recommend from a number of perspectives, but that doesn’t mean it lacks value overall. If you know what you want from either of these genres, you can find a better version of them elsewhere separately, but even as a genre mixup, I’m not sure Eternal Radiance earns its keep.