Tokitowa is an ambitious game. It mixes sprite-based anime graphics with a 3D world, has dating sim elements, and debuts a unique battle system — all in the same package. Moreover, all these elements are tied together with a complex, time travel narrative. But is Tokitowa able to pull all these different elements into a complete, polished, and enjoyable package, or is this just one game that tries to do too much?
Good — An Over-The-Top Story
Judging by the trailers, I assumed that Tokitowa would be a serious time travel story about a girl going back in time to prevent the murder of her fiancé at their wedding. However, I was completely wrong about the "serious" part. Despite the deadly consequences should the assassins not be stopped, Tokitowa is actually quite light-hearted — and more than a little over-the-top.
To start, the time travelling girl actually has two personalities: the "ladylike" Toki and the tomboyish Towa. The fiancé's soul, caught in Toki/Towa's time travel spell, is put into the body of her pet dragon — which cannot speak the human language. Moreover, far from being the loving gentleman Toki/Towa has always believed him to be, the fiancé (Zack) takes every opportunity to abuse his status as her pet — like his constant (and often futile) attempts to join her in the bath. And when he finally gains the ability to speak, you are basically treated to a love story between a beautiful woman and her pet dragon.
Beyond that, the game includes; assassin fan-boys who own a cake shop, a love-starved girl who is way too picky in her choice of men, a lazy fortune teller who seems to lack any magical powers, a village of dead people with surprisingly mundane problems, and an evil dragon whose greatest fear seems to be human bureaucracy. It's all crazy and silly, and it is treated just like the absurdity it is — and the game is better for it.
Good — Crossing Genres
In dungeon and in battle Tokitowa is clearly an RPG. But out of battle, the game often seems more like a visual novel, with long cutscenes, choices that affect romance, and a perverted male lead (Zack). With the game's light-hearted feel, none of this seems in any way out of place, and it serves to draw in fans of both types of games.
Good — A Complex And Customisable Battle System
I've already talked some about the real-time battle system in Tokitowa and how it's nothing like your standard turn-based RPG. Instead, battles are based around memorizing enemies' attack patterns, dodging, and then counter-attacking when the time is right.
To keep the system from getting stale, you are constantly switching between Toki (a ranged attacker) and Towa (a melee fighter) each time you level up. Moreover, Toki and Towa have completely different learnable magic and can be customised in radically different ways.
Good — Intuitive, Easy-To-Understand Interface
Tokitowa is a game designed to be as easy to navigate as possible. It is always simple to know where you are and what there is for you to do. Whenever you enter an area, a brief check of the map shows you all you need to know: the locations of story quests, side quests, collectible items, treasure chests, optional bosses, and of course, save points. This goes for picking up new quests in town as well. It is all very helpful in keeping the game moving, though admittedly, it does take away the need to explore every nook and cranny of the world looking for secrets and loot.
Mixed — Great Presentation But Room For Improvement
In Japan, Tokitowa is advertised as an "HD Animation RPG" due to its visual style. Using 2D sprites and superimposing them into a 3D animated world, Tokitowa feels closer to playing an anime than any game this side of School Days. It's very beautiful just to watch.
That said, there is still plenty of room for improvement in the overall presentation. Many of the enemy sprites are simply colour swapped and used countless times (though their attack patterns do change with each iteration). Even Toki and Towa, the game's player characters, are nearly pallet swaps of each other and share the majority of their animations. Given Towa's stronger personality, it's odd to see her perform the same gestures as the more timid Toki. Toki and Towa are very different people; having them perform different gestures and movement would be a great way of showing this visually.
Another place with room for improvement is the vocal track. The voices themselves are great but nearly every one of the numerous side quests is unvoiced. And in this day and age, that is a shame.
Bad — Lacks Polish
The biggest actual problems in Tokitowa stem directly from the game's lack of polish. Flashy attacks in certain graphically detailed areas can cause instances of graphics lag. A brief moment of slowdown in many games wouldn't matter, but in a game where dodging and timing are paramount, graphics lag can be a death sentence.
Another unpolished bit is the meshing of the 2D and 3D outside of battle. When moving through the world, Toki and Towa both seem to slide over the ground rather than run over it — which is especially jarring since the same problem is not present in battle.
Lastly, there are occasional frames of missing animation — like whenever someone turns around — where there are clearly several frames of animation missing. It stands out as an ugly blemish on an otherwise beautiful game.
I love RPGs, both JRPG and Western. I love them for their great characters and epic stories. But as much as I love them, rarely are the actual battles fun to play. Sure the bosses are great but random encounters seem more like a chore than fun. But this is not the case in Tokitowa. Every battle requires 100% of your attention and the first time encountering a new enemy is always a tense experience-and even grinding is fun.
So despite its lack of polish, Tokitowa is one of the most enjoyable RPGs I have ever played. It's an easy-to-navigate, highly customisable, witty game tied together with a great art style, over-the-top time travel narrative, and addictive battle system. In other words, if you like JRPGs, this one is a must-play.
Tokitowa was released in Japan on October 11, 2012, for the PlayStation 3. There are rumours of a Western release but no official date has been announced.