Pros: Tri-Ace manages to create a living breathing world to explore.
Cons: Watered down battle mechanics from other Tri-Ace games.
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
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.
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
While Square-Enix hasn't officially announced Radiata Stories yet our
money is on that it will be brought to America late.
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.