A heartfelt story about identity and belonging with an immediately lovable found family cast.

Time loops aren't exactly a novel theme for games anymore, but ISAT still surprised me several times with its take on it and how it integrates the whole thing in its gameplay. The permutations that the time loop introduces to the classic command based RPG formula are genuinely impressive, especially considering this is an RPG maker game, and add variety and depth to what looks like a fairly straightforward adventure at first. You'll have to juggle elements such as being able to travel backwards /and forward/ and time, specific save points recording the current state of your party (including every member's level as well as your inventory at the time), a time travel currency that allows you to travel back or forward to specific floors of the main dungeon, with the option of selecting the version of it that has all normally locked doors opened, etc. And that's without mentioning the clever and sometimes harrowing ways time traveling is addressed in the story proper. It's brilliant stuff all around.

The premise itself is quite novel too. You're Siffrin, a mysterious, wandering rogue traveling with a party of heroes accompanying a chosen heroine tasked with defeating a villain that's been freezing the population in time. You're at the end of their journey, starting the day before the final confrontation, and the party has been traveling and getting closer to one another for some time now, so the group dynamic is already established, but all of them have their own struggles and secrets, which makes it so you'll continue unraveling new things about them as well as helping Siffrin break out of their own shell.

The cast is also racially diverse and predominantly (completely?) queer, which makes the found family aspect of the group hit all the harder. My favorite character was Odile, a japanese old lady (this is a fantasy world, but the story clearly takes place in fantasy France and a couple other real world countries are referenced as well) that's the defacto mom of the group. Always sarcastic and a bit jaded, but she'll never hesitate to put her life before the rest's at a moment's notice.

The combat uses ATB and a rock, paper, scissors system that's deceptively versatile and fun, and the dynamic character portraits you see at all times during battle help add further characterization to an already fairly charming cast.

The game does get a bit tedious and repetitive after a certain point, but never by accident, if that makes sense (your mileage may vary on how good of a justification the game's themes will be for that). It worked for me, personally, and honestly, my one gripe with the game would be that it allows you to ignore the critical path at almost all times, but exploring can often be a waste of time because some elements that will become important in further loops have no use before their respective story triggers come into play.

All in all, though, I thought the game was wonderful. It's clearly very inspired by Undertale, but it tackles very different topics, and those it shares with it are handled surprisingly differently. It has one of the most lovable casts I've seen in game in years too. Can't recommend it enough.

Reviewed on Nov 28, 2023