Radiata Stories

A storybook tale of heroism, Tri-Ace style.


The Lowdown

Pros: Tri-Ace manages to create a living breathing world to explore.

Cons: Watered down battle mechanics from other Tri-Ace games.

Purchase at Play-Asia

Purchase at Lik-Sang

In between the millions of copies of Dragon Quest VIII sold in Japan, the hype of Final Fantasy XII and a world wide release of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories Square-Enix quietly publishes Radiata Stories. The game is made by Tri-Ace best known for making the Star Ocean series and Valkyrie Profile. If you've played any Tri-Ace title you'll know that Tri-Ace's greatest strength is creating good gameplay. Radiata Stories is a shift in gameplay from their other titles. The emphasis here is on open ended gameplay and not hardcore dungeon crawling. If you're a fan of Tri-Ace titles you may be in for a surprise.

Radiata Stories doesn't start out like a typical RPG where you have a hero destined to save the world. Instead it opens up with a storybook telling the legend of a great warrior. Then you're quickly introduced to the game's hero, Jack Russell, who's sleeping peacefully in bed. Jack's mom yells at him to wake up for some half asleep training. Afterwards he enters Castle Radiata and competes for a place in the military. In the preliminary match, a stern girl named Ridley beats Jack senseless. It seems like Jack is going to be sent home, but instead he's chosen second to be accepted. It was only because he of his father, Keian's legacy that the nobles decide to select him. Of course Jack and Ridley are paired together as a team and their journey begins.

The journey for Jack and Ridley isn't a straight forward one. Players are encouraged to explore the world at their leisure. What you will find is a whole living world inside and outside of Castle Radiata. You will find NPCs doing different things like farming, walking around and even sleeping. What they're doing is dependant on the time of day it is. The time system is a definite plus, it breathes life into the world. Although at times it can be troublesome when you're waiting around to talk to a character. You can reset the time to the next morning by staying at an inn, but it would have been a good idea to include a way to reset game time on the fly. Learning when to visit who is a key part of Radiata Stories. Meeting villagers at the right time will start up quests.

What you do in quests vary in the game. Sometimes it will be to fetch a certain item or to eradicate a certain monster. One interesting early quest you'll be doing is escorting an ox cart. To complete the quest you have to fight all of the on screen monsters that prevent the cart from moving, but you can't stray too far from the cart. This forces Jack to walk slowly in front of the cart to defend it. The first quest Jack and Ridley will do is head to a dwarf village. When they're about to head out Jack and Ridley's personalities clash and you can see the love hate relationship between them. Tri-Ace adds a fair amount of humor in Radiata Stories making it more of a tale of youth than a serious epic. In another scene Jack is eager to start battle with a pair of goblins while the stern Ridley makes fun of Jack's gusto. The story progresses as players complete more and more quests. Although, you're not forced into a specific path. If you want to spend your time on side quests like helping an occasional NPC you can. Or if you want to spend time searching for 177 party members you can do that too. There isn't a real sense of urgency in Radiata Stories as there is in other save the world RPGs.

Having a 177 possible party members sounds like a huge plus in gameplay, but there is a huge catch. You can't actually play as 176 of the party members. Players only get to control Jack, in battle, in the world, in anything. On one hand Jack Russell is the main character and a fair part of the game is watching him growing up. Naturally, you would expect to be playing as Jack most of the time. However, in battle always playing Jack isn't such a good idea. Other party members attack, heal or cower in a corner on their own accord. Not being able to directly control them makes battle frustrating. You can't really plan out team combo and you can't rely on being healed. If you want to heal yourself you're better off purchasing lots of heal potions. On the plus side party members rarely die and will block enemy attacks. Although, no party member is intelligent enough to use one of Jack's restoration potions if Jack is knocked out. Instead they just leave Jack to die and it's game over for the player.

With the exception of not being able to control other players combat is similar to Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. Fighting takes place on a 3D battle field that you can run around in. Pressing X has Jack raise his weapon in defense to lower damage from an incoming attack. Tapping X twice makes Jack jump backwards to avoid a blow. Jack can deliver damage by pressing circle. Repeatedly hitting circle makes Jack do a combination attack. The combination that you do depends on how you set up your command points before battle. On the status screen Jack can select different moves he knows, each one with a different command point value. When in battle pressing circle goes through the attacks that you selected until you run out of command points. Jack starts out with a few basic diagonal slashes, but he will quickly learn more moves if he continues to use the same weapon. One attack has Jack jump up in the air and dive down with his sword. The moves you can learn are nicely varied. Doing simple attacks fills up the volty meter below Jack's hit point counter. Pressing square does a more powerful volty attack. These attacks take ten points away from the volty meter, but generally do more damage than a basic attack. Volty attacks can also knock an enemy back or break a blocking enemy's guard for a few seconds. Continuing to master a weapon will unlock a volty break, which is a super powerful special attack. The type of volty break you do depends on what weapon you have equipped. A good move on Tri-Ace's part was adding in an intelligent lock on command. Pressing R1 locks on to an enemy so Jack can focus his attack. To keep battles more interesting, the game will periodically zoom in on characters. You'll see what they're doing and their comments about the battle on the bottom part of the screen. While gameplay wise it's unessential it gives the battles more flavor. Most encounters are pretty quick. A minute or two is a long fight in this game. Between the flailing attacks of your partners and Jack's player controlled blows fighting is simple.

Tri-Ace gives players a choice if they want to fight or not. All of the enemies are shown in the 3D world that you explore. However, the world is designed with narrow paths, which make many enemy encounters entirely unavoidable. Taking a cue from many RPGs, Radiata Stories throws out a conventional over world. Instead you walk around and explore the 3D world in segments. Eventually you'll be able to use Journey Pig statues to warp from one point of the world to another. The major benefit of not having an over world is that Tri-Ace gets to show off it's sublime scenery. The world of Radiata Stories is cel-shaded, but has an artistic hand drawn style to it. The scenery in the game is vibrant with plenty of objects in the background. The dynamic environments gives Radiata Stories a style all of its own. Just look at the screen shots and you'll be convinced. On the field Jack can interact with objects by kicking them. Pressing X does this action and it lets gamers check objects like you would in any other RPG.

Radiata Stories is different from other RPG games out there. It's free form system has places more of an emphasis on exploring the world than on enemy encounters. Fortunately the world in Radiata Stories is vast, with lots of quests and people to find. It's also gorgeous in it's own artistic way and complex with a fully integrated time system. While the best part of the game may be exploration, a fair amount of time is spent in enemy encounters. The combat system in Radiata Stories is a bit disappointing. Most battles can be won by mashing circle and ignoring the volty system. Even the switching making custom combos with Jack's command points seem futile because having a long combo is sufficient. The worst part of the whole system is that you're stuck controlling Jack. What's the point of having an extra 100+ characters when you can't control any of them? As a complete package Radiata Stories still makes an entertaining play through. With two storylines to complete and a huge heaping of side quests, you'll get your money worth in gameplay. Just don't go in expecting this to be RPG of the year.

Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 5

A full out Japanese voice cast and all Japanese text doesn't make this easy for importers. At least the main status menu has some English...

US Bound?

While Square-Enix hasn't officially announced Radiata Stories yet our money is on that it will be brought to America late.

Overall

Radiata Stories has some good ideas like free form questing and solid art design. Although, the gameplay is more like Tri-Ace for kids, which will turn off a lot of gamers.