Destiny Connect – Tick-Tock Travelers – is a JRPG that you might get if Back to the Future was made by Pixar – an emotionally gratifying and child-friendly story that accrues a lot of frequent flyer miles. Developed by Nippon Ichi Software (the Guinness World Record holder for the most RPGs made by one developer), Tick-Tock Travelers takes a colorful and minimalistic approach to the genre for its younger audience.
An intriguing story has time stand still when the clock strikes midnight on January 1st 2000 for everyone apart from a young girl named Sherry, her friend Pegreo and a talking robot named Isaac who pledges to protect her as machines rampage across the London-inspired town. A fortuitous encounter with an eccentric scientist who conveniently knows how to make a time machine starts the characters on their journey to save the town. Traveling back and forth in time, Sherry amasses a brave and fearless cast of time travelers and come up against plenty of well-worn time traversing issues along the way. What if they negatively affect the past? Will saving someone’s life make irrevocable changes to the future?
With charmingly beautiful graphics and animation, the world is infused with a colorful warmth similar to that of the Toy Story movies, while a superb and emotionally evocative soundtrack compliments it perfectly, bringing life to the text-heavy script sans voice-acting.
The game’s tremendous aesthetic extends to the enemy robots that you are constantly in battle with, whose every aspect teems with humor, and the little dialogue they have, as well as their animation delights as much as it amuses. It’s this personality, this potential, that remains under the surface throughout, but is never quite given the opportunity to let loose.
Unfortunately, there’s also a significant lack of content and variety in the world with empty streets and duplicated sections, making you rely on the quick travel feature and the map far more than usual. The two shops and Sherry’s house are the only unique buildings you regularly visit, for example, despite a playthrough potentially taking up to 20 hours.
Thankfully the game’s RPG elements make the duration and repetition bearable, with the upgrading and improving your characters possible through a relatively large list of unlockable moves and equipable items providing a feeling of progression and excitement. The most enjoyable of which is upgrading your robot, Isaac, who has 6 different forms all with a variety of moves that allow different approaches and different strategies during your fights. Each form exudes charm and switching between them during boss battles and deliberating which approach should be taken next is the best part of the game.
Standard battles, with enemies that frequent the town, can be defeated easily with your most powerful moves and little forethought. Main bosses, on the other hand, require a strategy decided ahead of time, as you’re unable to switch members during battle and buff and debuff skills are necessary to have any chance of success. All of the above is more in-depth in standard JRPGs, but with the younger target audience in mind, everything has been watered down to provide an introductory experience to the genre.
While initially gaining your praise, the minute details start to become a negative the longer the game stretches on, making it feel rough around the edges. Whether it’s poor reflection quality in mirrors, the same main bosses over and over, or inaccurate attack descriptions – to name just a few – these otherwise dismissable issues pile up to threaten your enjoyment of the experience.
Unsurprisingly, the story requires an open mind to enjoy with its emotional plot points guiding the game’s events rather than logic, similar perhaps to Pokemon protagonist Ash’s tears reviving his nearly-dead Pokemon – it’s a means to an end rather than the basis for a scientific investigation. Character building and consistency is optional at times with Pegreo’s father’s change from human to robot and the team’s desire to turn him back to his original state lasting a hot second for example.
The first moments of the game tease Open-World functionality and interactive NPCs, but shortly after the time freeze, the game’s limited gameplay loop becomes highly predictable with the same events occuring over and over. Running across the robot-filled map, defeating the same boss characters followed by a scheduled emotional cutscene gets especially tiresome if you find the plothole-ridden and fanciful story too much to handle. As someone who loves a great story, but secretly wishes every game had Shenmue-level interaction and variety, the game’s linear offering disappoints, especially given the potential afforded by its movie-like presentation.
With no New Game + mode, the game’s replay value consists of collecting missed items from scratch, which won’t likely inspire a second playthrough amongst adult JRPG fans. Despite all this, Destiny Connect – Tick-Tock Travelers – is a success. It’s an intentionally limited game aimed at a young audience who will no doubt enjoy it. For everyone else, however, it feels like a poor video game conversion of a cute Pixar movie and one that should cause pause before purchase.