Tri-Ace, known for their “Star Ocean” series and the classic “Valkyrie Profile”, have brought an amusing and comedic title to the table in the form of “Radiata Stories”. As a break from their usual plate of world crushing epics, I wasn’t sure how to take their newest title. Still, I was hoping to play a humorous RPG that didn’t take itself too seriously and if the art direction was anything to go by what else they may have in store, it looked to offer a unique experience. After drawing my blade and slaying the slime that was in my way to the checkout counter, I had enough gold coins to add the game to my inventory.
“Radiata Stories” is equipped on the PS2.
A Long Time Ago in a Kingdom, Far, Far Away…No, a Bit Further…Just a Bit More…
The proud kingdom of Radiata lies at the heart of a vast land filled with wild creatures and dangers around every turn of the road. The Fairy Races, such as the dwarves, goblins, and elves, live beside the humans of Radiata in an uneasy partnership. Villages also dot the landscape, many with their own stories to tell, and it is in one of these villages that our story begins.
Radiata starts you off in the shoes of Jack, a boy without a lot of common sense but with his heart in the right place. You wouldn’t know it in meeting him as he drags himself out of bed, but Jack Russell also happens to be the son of a famous knight whose exploits are revered in the kingdom. His sister reminds him that today is the day of the trials where applicants are tested to see if they are worthy of becoming members of the famous Radiata Knights. Full of confidence and of what he thinks he can do, he heads off to prove himself and hopefully carry on the family legacy.
How to Get Ahead by Kicking Everyone in the Knees
Radiata Stories, at its heart, is an RPG title complete with character levels, an inventory to manage, and equipment to wear and wield in battle. But it also has a few surprises that make it stand out from your usual quest. As the player begins to explore the world of Radiata, they’ll quickly discover that the main quest is only one story out of many others. The game lives up to its title in a big way.
The game also introduces an interesting way of interacting with the world around you by putting your best foot forward as you kick your way to fame, fortune, but not necessarily friendship. Kicking things in the game can yield a large number of items and is the only way to open chests. In fact, you could spend time kicking every piece of furniture, wall hanging, or junk pile just to see if it has something hidden inside of it. As for people, most will be nice enough (or condescending enough) to warn you once about introducing your foot into their shins. In the beginning of the game, listening to this warning is a smart thing to do because there’s no real way to gauge how tough someone is until you suddenly find yourself being taught a lesson by someone who didn’t take kindly to your demonstration of the universal greeting.
Day and night also pass in the game and you can easily keep track of what time it is with a simple press of the L1 button. The NPCs in the game all follow their own unique schedules and there are certain events that are keyed to what time of the day it is. And if you’ve emptied an area of beasties and have no where else to go, never fear. At midnight, Radiata’s critters come back for more. Fortunately for Jack, he has the stamina of a god and requires no sleep allowing you to adventure as long as you want. The only thing to keep in mind here is that there are certain events keyed to actually sleeping a day or two away, so if you find that the story isn’t moving along you might want to hit the hay.
Saves are handled at special ‘flags’ that come in two flavors. Blue flags are semi-permanent locations that you can save at, appearing only during special events or during a mission that you are on. When you find yourself at home, wherever it may be at the time, you’ll find a red flag as a permanent spot where you can save your progress or sleep until the next day dawns. The only complaint with how the save system is handled is that while you can load from anywhere in the game, not every area will have a convenient save spot meaning that you will be doing quite a bit of running around until you learn how to use the “Journey Pig” system which is a set of fixed teleport spots.
Also, in between jobs and missions that Jack can undertake, you have the option to explore the lands of Radiata to your heart’s content. In a sense, “Radiata Stories” can feel like an open ended experience as you wander from one place to the next, fighting foes and taking on jobs for money in between the missions that move the story forward. You can spend a serious amount of time just doing what you want to do whether it is trying to pass the training tests for a weapon you have or just going into the countryside to depopulate the region. Most of my gametime was spent in just wandering around, fighting monsters, and in doing my best to build up my army of friends which I’ll get into further on.
The world of Radiata is done in lush 3D graphics with a colorful palette of colors that look great giving the impression that the title is more of an anime than as an RPG game. There’s even a soft focal blur effect for the camera work with the in-game cinemas. If you are a fan of anime style renderings and paintily colored textures in general, there’s a lot to admire here. Not only do the general graphics look fantastic, the character models and animation work is also noteworthy. Characters show facial expressions, have teeth when they talk, gesticulate wildly when annoyed, …ah…dance when they need to. And when you equip Jack with whatever he can buy or find during his adventures, the armor shows up along with whatever weapon he’s wielding. Neat.
The character designs are particularly expansive for the NPCs. With 177 potential allies to add to your roster, this isn’t much of a surprise to see such varied designs. Not only does every NPC look and sound different, but many have their own unique battle skills whether it’s using a pitchfork to jab at the enemy or unleashing a hearty burp that can clear a room of foes faster than last night’s bean burrito.
Voice acting is something that I’ve always been leery about in Japanese RPGs with only a few titles out of so many others that have done a decent job at localization. Fortunately, Radiata Stories has done quite a good job in avoiding that particular stigma. The voice acting for the title is great on the ears and the only reason I’d wince at the screen when someone began talking was only if the dialogue was awful (which wasn’t often). The voice work for each of the characters matched their personalities and demeanor far better than I had expected and the lighthearted dialogue and expressions throughout kept the presentation fresh and entertaining. Cross’ ruthless arrogance, Larks’ contemplative musings, Jack’s smartass attitude and black hole level intelligence…they fit the characters and the situations that they were in.
The music is a mixed bag. While the pieces fit many of the scenes and areas of the game that you will find Jack in, many of them weren’t particularly memorable. It was also as if there was no middle ground. Either a piece was interesting or simply mediocre. They do the job, but you might not be humming many of them a week or so after you’re finished with it. One interesting option that Tri-Ace had put into the game was the ability to purchase the different tracks from vendors in the game allowing you to listen to the music on phonographs or in having musicians (which in the dialogue are identified as ‘phonograph’ for some reason) play them for you.
Let Me Tell You ‘Bout My Best Friend
Radiata Stories is chock full of the kind of talespinning that we’ve come to expect supported by Square-Enix and developed by Tri-Ace. Although there is a central campaign to follow, the friendship system in the game offers its own set of challenges and bite sized stories. Granted, most of these side stories consist of tasks that you may be asked to do to win someone’s trust before they can be your buddy in battle, but it does add a lot of flavor to the NPCs that go about their daily business instead of feeling like FedEx Boy. To help keep track of the friends that you make, the game keeps a journal that you can access at any time. Not only does this journal list all of the friends you’ve made, but it also provides a sketch and a description of who they are.
Friends not only give you different characters that you can use to build your party from, but many of them have their own skills that you can eventually learn through combat links. In fact, having a large number of friends is key to learning as many skills as possible, skills that can give you and your party a much needed edge in battle. Getting people to trust you enough to be available, though, is easier said than done.
Knowing how to help someone out or get them to trust you depends a lot on their personal schedule. Most of the time, they’ll be too busy to talk to you or give you a clue as to what you can do to help them so you’ll be investing some time in following many of these characters around. Fortunately for Jack, Radiata has no stalking laws in place, so following people while they do their daily thing here won’t get you in trouble with the guards. Unless, of course, you start kicking people. Speaking of putting your boot in someone’s knees, even if you kick someone that might become a friend later, you’ll find that a lot of people in Radiata tend to be very forgiving the next day giving you another shot at playing nice.
A lot of the help that Jack will be performing range from delivering something to someone, answering a set of questions, following someone and discovering a secret about them, beating someone who challenges you in the street, or giving dagols (cash in the game) to help ‘grease’ their motivation to help you. Most of the game can actually be spent doing nothing but performing a lot of these smaller jobs and in building up your list of friends. In my playthrough, that’s what I did and it is something that I was thankful for later in the game.
The reason being and as a word of warning, as the main story progresses, you will eventually be forced to make a major decision as to what path you will want to take. This will also dramatically alienate many of your friends depending on what side you are on and make it impossible to add them into your party. If the player is not expecting this and failed to prepare beforehand, you could screw yourself out of skills that might be useful to you for a great deal of the game depending on what you decide for Jack to do.
The friend system has also created one or two odd situations. At one point, bandits had managed to make trouble for Jack and Theater Vancoor. The funny part was that I had made friends with some of them and they merrily beat on me and my party without much thought. Even afterwards after going to them to talk, they offered to ‘help me out’ whenever I asked without so much as saying ‘hey, that was business’. There aren’t too many of these, though, and the rest of the story flows well enough to keep it interesting and make up for these gaffes.
The combat system in Radiata Stories brings the player closer to the action by putting a lot of it into their hands. Every encounter in the game can be seen onscreen, allowing you to sprint around or behind monsters you don’t want to deal with or kick them while they are sleeping if you are feeling cheeky. When combat is met, it drops the player into a self enclosed 3D area where they and their party face off against a variety of enemies. The battle system is in real time meaning that the enemies move about the screen while you try and maneuver for position reminding me a lot of Grandia’s own combat system. Attacks are executed with relative ease requiring you to only close distance and begin bashing or slashing away. AI controls the other members of your party, if they’re participating, leaving you focused on what you can do with Jack.
Jack’s attacks aren’t limited to only a few simple moves, either, and these are centered around what weapons he is using at the time. There are four main weapon types in the game: the sword, two-handed sword, axe, and spear. There are no shields to use and dual wielding seems to be something only certain members of your party are capable of. That doesn’t mean that Jack doesn’t have anything to really make him stand out and most if not all of the character development in Radiata is centered on him. One thing that will help him stand far and above his team mates is his ability to learn two types of skills, something that the others are not able to do.
The first set of skills are passive skills that enhance your character in some way. You can only equip one of these skills at a time and the bonuses that they give you depend on how well developed they are. When Jack first starts out, he’ll only have “Luck Plus” as his passive skill…enhancing his luck which he seems to have quite a bit of as the story continues. The more fights you get into, the more your equipped passive skill will improve. There are five levels to each skill and leveling them up is not as time consuming as you would think. To further sweeten Jack’s abilities, he can learn the other skills that his team mates have, but more on that later.
The second set of skills that you can learn are those that apply to your weapons. At first, Jack only knows a few basic moves that he can use but as he gets into more fights, he will eventually learn several more. Additional moves include sweeping attacks, the ability to break an enemy’s attempt to parry and block you, or attacks that can launch a foe into the air and then come down on him like a guillotine. As you continue to use a certain weapon, you will continue to learn the skills associated with it.
There is also something else about the weapons that you will be using that will determine what kind of strategies you will use when you attack as Jack. The skills that you use have points associated with them and the weapons that you use have a point capacity. Not all are equal. Some weapons will have a high point capacity, for example, allowing you to set up a large series of moves as part of a combination that you would like to use. Other weapons, while powerful, may have a very low point capacity forcing you to focus on one or two powerful moves that you might want to chain together. Not every foe will fight in the same way, either. Many enemies later in the game will know how to block your attacks and time theirs to counterstrike just when you think they’re open.
In addition to these skills, Jack’s also has the ability to block and counter. As soon as you parry an attack, you can immediately reply with a countermove. However, some enemies can break your parry and put you in a pretty bad position, especially when they tend to team up on you. You can only parry for so long, but it can be a valuable strategy against an enemy with a strong defense.
You also have the ‘Volty’ system. The Volty system is a point based system where you can earn a maximum of one hundred points and carry those points with you into battle. Volty points are earned in combat whenever you hit or defeat a foe. With Volty points, you or your team mates can perform a variety of special moves and attacks, Jack in particular. In Jack’s case, he can use Volty points to launch a strong attack using his weapon or if you have one hundred points to spend, unleash a devastating uber attack that uses it all to blast your foe.
As the game continues, Jack will eventually be able to give orders to his party and be able to pick and choose who he wants to be in it based on who he’s made friends with. At first, Jack doesn’t have a lot of orders to give his party members but he can purchase additional ones to bolster his leadership skills. The Volty system comes into play with some of the orders that he can give which include being able to heal everyone in the party to bolstering their strength or speed. In a way, orders allow Jack to be a sort of battle mage with Volty points acting as his spell points.
But wait, Jack isn’t finished yet. In addition to all of the above, Jack will eventually learn how to use the “Link” system of formation attacks. Links ‘link’ all of your characters together in a sort of battle formation where all of their skills are shared and can allow you to stomp foes into the ground in an organized mob action. For example, the “Box Link” draws a box between you and your team members and they’ll run about trying to maintain this ‘box’. When an enemy finds itself within this box, they become the center of attention for everyone’s attack. Links also deflect damage into your Volty meter so there is a cost associated with it, and particularly brutal attacks on any of your party members can break the link. As you continue to fight you will eventually learn more links that you can use.
And there is one other key benefit to Links in general. Not only does everyone share each other’s skills, but Jack can eventually learn these skills and add them to a growing list the more fights he uses links in. For a boy that started out with only Luck Plus, he can eventually earn a laundry list of skills ranging from 100t Body which makes him nearly impossible to knock down or bounce around like a ping pong ball from enemy attacks to Nine Lives which may keep death itself at bay…at least for awhile.
The real meat of most RPGs is the story itself and here, Tri-Ace has attempted to create a semi-serious story with the main character acting as most of the comic relief. Despite this lighthearted take on the ‘serious’ business of saving the world, the basic story does not deviate much from what you would expect from other RPGs aside from much of the dialogue and humorous in-game scenes. Some players may not appreciate the humorous and sometimes sugary tone of the game and the deeply anime styled scenes and storyline of the title. The idea of playing a character that might feel better served as a sidekick versus that of a major hero might not be all that enticing for others, although you do get a sense of Jack growing up in the latter stages of the title. For the most part, however, the story and the characterizations that are there hold up well enough to keep the game moving forward especially when it is coupled with great voice acting from most of the cast in the in-game cinema scenes. It might not be anything special, but the presentation certainly makes it look good.
As mentioned before, the player will eventually be confronted with a key decision that will decide the course of the game from then on. Both campaigns felt equally weighed and had as much to offer as the other, although I will have to mention that I thought one side did a far better job of explaining some of the finer points of the background towards the end than the other one did. You really do have to play them out in order to get most of the picture of what was going on.
As fun as Radiata Stories was to play, there are a few issues that made me want to split my television in two with a broadsword.
Combat, while fun and action packed, was not as polished as I had hoped it would be. The targeting system does not hold up well in crowded situations. Your hands are literally tied by the targeting cursor as you are unable to execute attacks on anyone without a targeting cursor glowing around their feet. So, instead of cleaving the giant ant that is right next to you in half after dispatching its friend, you’ll sometimes see Jack run off and try to pathfind his way through a crowd to get to another one. Why? Because the targeting cursor switched over to the other critter and the engine is forcing him to chase after it with your attack order. Breaking free from his pre-programmed stride takes a little jiggling with the left analog stick to get him to pay attention to you again as well instead of a simple lean on the control to say ‘hey, get your ass back to where I wanted you’. Why not automatically switch to the monster right next to you? Why can’t you just turn and swing at it without having to rely on a targeting cursor? As action oriented as the combat is, this limitation tended to draw me out of the excitement as I fought to regain control of Jack’s wayward wanderings. Given the fact that there’s a lot of potential combat in the game against groups, this can get very annoying.
There are also scripted events in the game that force an outcome to certain situations such as fights that you get thrown into. Late in my playthrough of the game, Jack had enough levels to survive most anything that came for him. This is a guy that could have had a castle dropped on his head (although as dense as he is for most of the game, you have to wonder if this wasn’t already done), drop the drawbridge, and come out to gut the person that dropped it on him. And then he gets defeated by someone with a third of the hitpoints he has because they were able to launch their ‘special attack’. Nevermind the fact that Jack can basically shrug it off and keep on coming. If that was going to happen, why not cover it as a cinema event instead of making the player think they have a chance? Fortunately, there aren’t too many of these but they can still feel like a cheap shot.
There were also a surprising number of technical glitches in the game. At one point, Jack would follow a mercenary into a shop and then I’d try and get him to talk to me…only to hear a girl’s voice. Some of the enemy in combat could get caught up in the same kind of pathfinding issues that Jack would get stuck in if he tried to get around the monsters that were in his way as he tried to chase another one down. Even if it wasn’t in combat, I’d still see the occasional monster get stuck on a corner out in the wilderness and try to spin about trying to pathfind their way around it to jump me.
And while the schedules for NPCs is a nice touch lending life to the world of Radiata around the player, it can get aggravating whenever you find yourself waiting for a particular character to show up or do their thing. The worst part is that when you sleep, you sleep the full term until the next morning. There’s no way to really break this up by telling the game when to wake you up or by sleeping for a certain number of hours. Many times, you’ll be standing around doing nothing as you wait for certain things to happen.
One other thing that would have been nice to have within the interface would be pre-set combos. While a combination you may create for a particular weapon may work in a lot of situations, there are times when you will have to reconfigure what you need on the fly to deal with a particularly tenacious enemy. Having the ability to ‘pre-set’ one or two of your favorite combinations for weapons would have helped out.
It is Destiny…Or Fate…Or Bad Karma
In my playthrough of the title including both campaigns and in trying to find as many friends and skills as possible, dungeon crawlers can probably expect fifty or so hours of friendly diplomacy and boot kicking action. Your mileage may vary, of course, in depending on how far you really want to go in your own search for allies. At the end, you can save your data and begin the game with the skills, friends, and inventory you’ve managed to build up…sans weapons, armor, and levels…for those that want to stomp through the title again although there’s not a whole lot of incentive to really do this other than in collecting friends that you may have missed.
“Radiata Stories” is a fun, anime inspired RPG on the PS2 with a lot to do especially for players that love to explore and experiment with a reasonably open world like this one. While the new RPG on the block might not have the epic feel or polish of some of its well established peers, it has enough charm to make it something that adventurers may want to spend time with, providing lighthearted tales that will keep you up at night and well into the next morning.