Destiny Connect: Tick-Tock Travelers is an RPG aimed primarily at younger players and those who perhaps haven’t dabbled in the genre before. Telling the story of Sherry, a young girl who’s whisked away on a time-travelling adventure after time itself is frozen during a New Year’s countdown in her hometown of Clocknee, it’s a game that suffers somewhat from a bland setting and a narrative that's a little too light-hearted. Even for a title aimed at kids, it never injects enough peril or urgency into its biggest moments of drama and winds up lacking excitement as a result – a situation that’s made up for to some extent by a decent cast of characters, smart and intuitive skill systems and some pretty satisfying combat.
From the outset, Destiny Connect: Tick-Tock Travelers is a game intent on thoroughly informing its young audience of the ins and outs of playing a JRPG, resulting in a glacially-paced opening few hours which sees just about every facet of combat and expected systems – such as fast travel, upgrades, skills, shops and item and party management – explained slowly and in great detail. Once the combat proper starts, however, it’s pretty neat and engaging stuff that smooths over the lack of drive provided by the overly schmaltzy storyline and more or less achieves the desired effect of streamlining the most important elements of traditional JRPG gameplay into something that’s easily manageable for younger kids.
Sherry, a likeably feisty protagonist whose distrust of adults and their ways sets the tone of the entire adventure, is joined on her time-travelling battle against invading machines by her nervous but capable friend Pegreo, the inventor whiz-kid of the group and Isaac, a mysterious robot designed and built by Sherry’s now absent father in order to protect her from the very forces that have now emerged. The party, with the help of kooky scientist Doctor Cheatstein, must travel back and forth between 1970 and 1999-era Clocknee, piecing together the mystery at the heart of the story whilst battling everything from jukeboxes to blenders, toasters, TVs and every other household electrical appliance you can think of, all of which have mysteriously sprung to life and are under the control of evil forces determined to destroy Clocknee.
Everything about Destiny Connect: Tick-Tock Travelers is designed to make it easy for a young audience to get to grips with, all the most fundamental aspects of a standard JRPG shrunk down into bite-sized pieces, removing any chance of confusion from its gameplay. The world map is tiny in comparison to what you’ll be used to in a game of this type and it’s virtually impossible to find yourself lost; areas are locked down as required in order to funnel you towards your next objective. Traversal is simple and quick; Sherry can sprint to her heart’s content and fast travel is available to all areas required by the storyline by a simple click on the large and colourful map. NPC chatter is also kept to a minimum – even during quests – ensuring that things zip along without any long periods of exposition and the whole thing can be done-and-dusted in well under twenty hours.
It’s a shame, however, that in making the game world so tightly-contained and easy to navigate that it’s also been rendered quite banal and empty to explore and investigate around. Clocknee comes across like an empty theme park; its identikit streets bizarrely empty and woodlands and parks devoid of wildlife, it’s a sterile and neutered sort of environment, especially when all of its inhabitants are frozen in place, and it’s a pity that the art style wasn’t a little stronger so that the world in which Sherry’s adventure unfolds felt a little more lived in and interesting. Adding to this is the fact there is no voice acting at any point during the game; it's all very oddly quiet when you're not in combat, compounding the artificiality of Clocknee and its surrounding areas.
On a more positive note, the gameplay itself, the cast of characters you control and the battles they engage in are much more exciting and well-designed than the world which they inhabit, or indeed the story in which they are participants. Everything about the gameplay is zeroed in at kids. The UI is big, chunky and user-friendly, items and upgrades are clearly explained and easy to use and the party’s combat skills – which unlock as you level up – are fun to use and easy to combo together in order to get one over on your enemies. New skills are also unlocked at a clever pace which keeps things interesting while not overwhelming for players, and it won’t be long before you’re firing off well-judged elemental attacks, using Isaac to set up defensive plays in advance of big enemy attacks and benefiting from Pageo’s backpack of nifty gadgets to pull your team out of tight spots.
Speaking of Isaac, he really is the star of the show here, especially in terms of the combat. Over the course of the game he can assume a total of six different roles, each of which comes with its very own custom – and very cute – look. His vanilla style is a solid and dependable tank that deals out a good amount of damage and will keep your party moving in early battles, but over the course of Destiny Connect: Tick-Tock Travelers he’ll unlock the ability to transform into the likes of a rescue robot, outlaw, samurai and champion, all of which have their own unique styles and abilities and keep the combat feeling fresh and fun all the way along. Isaac is also pivotal to battles in that once he falls, the fight's over; both Sherry and Pegreo can be downed and then revived, but if Isaac comes a cropper it’s curtains – not that this is something that should happen too often given the child-friendly nature of proceedings, but it’s something which ties into the narrative and makes for a smart little strategic wrinkle in how battles play out.
Isaac also has the most interesting upgrade system which involves using various levels of gears, which you must craft by yourself with materials earned during combat and from chests scattered hither and thither throughout the game world. These can then be installed in his innards to power up his attacks and defence and give him access to new skills to aid the party against trickier foes. Again it’s all commendably clear-cut and intuitive stuff that avoids getting itself bogged down in heavy-handed systems.
HP and SP items and elixirs in Destiny Connect: Tick-Tock Travelers come in the form of all sorts of cute food and easy to understand drinks and tonics. You can restore your health by tucking into a biscuit or piece of pie and quench your thirst with a nice attack juice or some bullseye water. There are also trinkets and items of clothing to collect and earn during combat that give your party all manner of buffs and beneficial effects.
In terms of this Switch port, Destiny Connect: Tick-Tock Travelers performs perfectly smoothly in both docked and handheld mode – although it is definitely a tad blurred in portable – and we didn’t encounter any bugs or framerate drops whatsoever over the course of our adventure.
Given all that this game does right with regards to providing accessibility for a younger audience whilst still remaining engaging and fun with regards to its combat, it really is a shame that the world is so drab and the story plays it so overly safe. We're almost certain even very young kids could handle quite a bit more drama than is doled out over the course of proceedings here. The combat keeps things ticking along quite nicely and escalates quite pleasantly in the handful of dungeons that come your way later on down the line, but there's no doubt that this is a JRPG that pales in comparison to a lot of what's on offer on Nintendo's console that could be safely played by a younger audience.
Destiny Connect: Tick-Tock Travelers is very much a "My First JRPG" type-affair. Its story is overly-schmaltzy and safe, the game world is small and disappointingly sterile and its cast of bad guys won’t give you too much trouble over the course of its short running time. However, the combat here is entertaining stuff, intuitively laid out and clearly explained, it’s filled with fun skills and makes light and breezy work out of systems that more grown-up JRPGS tend to get bogged down in. It has a likeable central cast of characters and, although there are many more exciting games of its ilk available on Switch, it does do a commendable job in providing a safe starting point for younger players looking to sink their teeth into the genre for the first time.