Article written from Build v.0.04R5 on April 18th, 2020.
When you first take a glance at Eternal Radiance in its Early Access stage on Steam, a familiar feeling of Visual Novel-ness emanates from within. I mean, the developer and publisher’s name Visualnoveler should give that part away. But this self-published title is looking to do more than just create a cast of memorable characters to guide the player along a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure type saga; Eternal Radiance seeks to add classic JRPG and ARPG elements to the quirky VN formula to fully realize the journey of redemption, retribution, and revenge.
Celeste is one of many squires in service to the Ashen Order, a collection of knights tasked to aiding towns with threats that aim to harm and disrupt the ways of the world. Her test to be honored and valued as a Knight of the Order is to rid the town of Ancora of a persistent goblin attack and collect an ancient artifact. These artifacts, despite their true power being unknown, have caused monster sightings and increased aggression from the monsters stationed around them. As Celeste gets ever closer to the artifact she finds partners along the way who are willing to help her in her cause (while one takes a little more than empathetic feelings to pull them in). Once Celeste and her companions finally reach the artifact they see it stolen by a mysterious thief. What are the thief’s intentions with the artifact? Who is the thief? Why do the artifacts carry so much importance? The answers to these questions are hoped to be found as they press forward, only to uncover a deeper plot that could be more sinister than they ever imagined.
With Visualnoveler having previous titles such as Anime Studio Simulator and Ascendant Hearts under their belt, the Visual Novel aspect of Eternal Radiance was never the concerning question coming in. Your standard, run-of-the-mill package is here: a bright, colorful cast of characters filled to the brim with cute expressions and interestingly varied personalities. The story line is filled with optional choices in dialogue, but the direction in which you choose doesn’t look like it will vary the plot in any way. Each town is loaded with multiple side quests that help build the lore of the town around them, but aside from speaking to characters and learning more about them side quests boil down to fetch quests and what feels more like in-depth tutorials.
Where Eternal Radiance gets interesting is its inclusion of Action-RPG elements within its journey. Combat feels like the cutest Dynasty Warriors/Dark Souls combination you’ll ever see. Celeste’s fights operate with dedicated melee and ranged attacks, the basic melee attacks provide a steady source of damage while her ranged attacks pelt from afar, costing a bit of her mana bar with each shot. Celeste and her teammates, Ruby and Valana, also have four special attacks that cost mana. These range from providing heals and shields, to AOE damage and heavy combo attacks. Doing enough damage fills up a Finisher meter that allows each character to unleash a devastating move for big damage. Your standard RPG equipment is in place with different weapons, armor, and rings to acquire. These items can all be enchanted to increase multiple stats and make Celeste and her team more resilient in battle.
The combat is very Dark Souls in its flexibility. Celeste can lock-on, roll (with perfect rolls evading damage and granting a dash attack), and block (with a well-timed parry blocking all damage and granting extra critical chance for a short time) with free range movement. The feel of Dynasty Warriors kicks in where most attempts to establish a deep range of combat go by the wayside thanks to how simply the combat is handled. The difficulty of Eternal Radiance is honestly just too low: for the record, I played on the standard Normal difficulty (Hard difficulty decreases the amount of damage you inflict and increases the damage you take), and every battle can be won with two buttons, the Attack and Roll button. While you do have options in how to can approach combat the basic attack can stun-lock most enemies, allowing Celeste to wail on her enemies with no response.
Enemies are near-identical with each new area carrying the same enemy models, but a different color scheme and increased damage to match the increasing levels of the party. After an hour or two of combat you will have seen almost every enemy in the game, and their attacks do not change. Hopefully later down the road enemies are given modifications like resistances to physical or magical attacks to open up the multiple options of attacks available, and really give the combat the variety it needs to break its monotony. The three boss battles I faced were able to temporarily jostle me awake while I was asleep at the wheel for most of the combat, and brought some interesting ideas to the table, but still required minimal effort to defeat. The inclusion of Celeste’s two partners will further decrease the difficulty, since enjoyably, they are able damage dealers and don’t purposely put themselves into trouble.
A weird exclusion is the current inability to switch party members in combat. As your two partners are, in RPG terms, Rogue and Mage classes, it would’ve been real fun to play from their perspective. While I do like the Team Boost that occasionally gives the team a bonus in attack, defense, or healing, the damage attack from the boost is the only option necessary since it instantly kills almost every enemy that gets hit by it. As Celeste levels up she is awarded talent points which can upgrade certain aspects of combat, which is a nice addition and allows for some fun variety, but there are currently no skill trees for Ruby or Valana.
On paper I liked the ideas that are presented: a quirky and fun Visual Novel with a side of action to give players a little more interactivity. How these ideas are implemented, however, falls well short of what is needed. The plentiful customization in Eternal Radiance‘s combat felt dry and under-utilized. Most ideas haven’t had enough time to bake in the oven, and the difficulty doesn’t feel quite high enough to really bring out the best of what’s to offer. But with the full release slated for mid-2021 and near-daily updates coming through the pipeline, Eternal Radiance is hopefully on the right track to right these wrongs and release a solid product that bridges two genres that feel like they were destined for each other.