Radiata Stories - Staff Review  

Radiating Reality
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

25 - 45 hrs.


Rating definitions 

   One of the more recent efforts by Valkyrie Profile developer Tri-Ace, Radiata Stories is a very solid title that builds on the past successes had by the company. Mixing a deep and intriguing story with a gorgeous visual style and a combat system reminiscent of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Radiata Stories presents players with an impressive amount of things to do and people to meet. The main strength of the game, however, lies in its world design. Set in a world filled with fantasy elements such as Goblins and Elves, Radiata Stories creates an almost disturbingly realistic and living world, centered primarily around the city-kingdom of Radiata. Each and every one of the gameís NPCs, animals, enemies, and recruitable characters have their own daily routines, which include everything from waking up late for school, to running the Banditís Guild, to doing paperwork late at night. Though the gameís interface is a bit of a crapshoot, the immersive style and depth of gameplay which forms the core of Radiata Stories's appeal makes it a highly enjoyable, highly recommendable title.

   Radiata Stories follows the tale of young Jack Russel, knight-wannabe and son of a legendary dragon slayer. The legends say Jackís father was brave, noble, selfless, and an absolute terror on the battlefield. A bit of a disappointment, then, that Jack is a hyperactive, thick-headed, scrawny young man, and a bit of a klutz to boot. However, as the story develops, Jack begins to learn what makes a true knight, learning from experience in his new life in the sprawling city of Radiata. The plotís theme centers largely around peopleís perceptions of duty and honor, and how that changes when a person chooses their own path in life. The storyline does a very good job in character development, an area all too often ignored in RPG plots. Even some of the more minor characters go through radical shifts in response to plot events, and although the plot does stutter and drag a bit in places, it never feels heavy-handed or overly preachy. Radiata Stories also possesses its own unique and often sarcastic sense of humor, playing off the overeager Jackís hyperactive thirst for adventure and fame.

   The game world centers around the enormous city of Radiata, with smaller kingdoms of Elves, Goblins, and other fairy creatures in the surrounding lands. The world design is amazingly detailed and deep, with a huge number of NPCs and recruitable characters, each with their own daily routines. Walking through the city of Radiata almost feels like walking through an actual living, breathing city, replete with schools, diners, bars, churches and other accouterments of everyday life. The effect does wear off somewhat after one realizes that character routines are exactly the same from day to day, which isn't particularly realistic, but the fact that so much is going on in such a large city in which the player is given almost total freedom of movement is, if nothing else, a monumental achievement in both programming and attention to detail.

Ridley is a sarcastic, sarcastic woman. Ridley is a sarcastic, sarcastic woman.

   The combat system plays reasonably similar to entries in the Star Ocean series, being a real-time system set in a roughly circular playing field with three allies controlled by a reasonable, if not exactly genius-level AI. The Radiata Stories take on the system is a bit gentler, however, easing the player into the gameís more unusual play mechanics. The Volty Gauge is a good example of this: as the leader of the party, Jack can use the gauge to issue commands, link with other party members, or unleash powerful super moves called Volty Blasts. The Volty Gauge fills up very quickly during battle, so thereís never really a lack of options for Jack on the battlefield. However, keeping the Volty Gauge full enough to issue important commands during some of the more challenging boss fights can be almost as difficult, and as critical, as keeping the partyís HP in check. One interesting thing about Radiata Stories is that Jackís setup can be changed mid-battle, meaning that an inventive player can construct a number of situation-specific equipment and ability sets, depending on what opponents they face.

   The Link system is probably the most tactically interesting part of the combat system. By selecting from a preset group of four Links mapped to the directional pad, Jack can move in formation with the other three members of his party. Links can do everything from restoring HP or teaching Jack new skills, to sending shockwaves of energy through the battlefield at the enemies. Unfortunately, the player could totally ignore the Link system during all but the most difficult fights and still be highly successful. The game simply isnít difficult enough to require that high of a level of tactical creativity. The same is also true of the multiple weapon types available to Jack - while it might be more advantageous for the player to switch between swords, 2-handed swords, spears and axes depending on the speed and size of his opponents, simply hacking away at them with a one-handed sword will eventually result in victory 90% of the time. The fun to be had with the combat system is directly proportional to the amount of effort a player is willing to put into it, depending in large part on how willing a player is to look for opportunities to use Links and commands.

Character design is as colorful as it is unusual. Character design is as colorful as it is unusual.

   The gameís interface is actually a bit of a sticking point. In a unique take on the normal method of searching surroundings for potions and other loot, Jack can kick just about anything he sees, which sometimes results in an item popping out. However, the confirm and kick buttons are interchangeable depending on the situation, making it very possible to accidentally kick a person while trying to talk to them. Needless to say, this is practically guaranteed not to earn Jack many friends. The game also has a drought of save points, often going two or three hours of gameplay inbetween saves. Given the gameís habit of presenting the player with bosses who are capable of wiping out 85 to 90 percent of a playerís max HP with one well-placed Volty Blast, the potential for a huge loss of time is certainly frustrating.

   Radiata Storiesís music has a very strong jazz / big band influence, particularly in the city of Radiata itself. The music works well in the context of the game, but also feels like a bit of a sophistication in the style of the composer, Noriyuki Iwadare. Mr. Iwadareís work on titles such as Grandia 2 and the Lunar series had a similarly happy-go-lucky style, but the Radiata Stories soundtrack introduces a level of compositional complexity that often felt lacking in his earlier efforts. The sound effects and voice acting are both of reasonably high quality, and fit the setting and style of the game quite well.

   The visual style of Radiata Stories is a hard thing to describe. It uses fully polygonal settings, but textured in such a way that the game appears almost painterly. It uses soft earth and jewel tones to create a youthful style, with a soft camera focus that gives the game a gentle, storybook glow. Overall, itís a style reminiscent of the hand-painted backgrounds of titles like Legend of Mana and Tales of Eternia, and goes a long way towards giving the world of Radiata Stories its unique feel.

   Although the story doesnít take a great deal of time or effort to work through, Radiata Stories features over 175 characters available for recruitment, a massive post-game dungeon, a new game plus feature, and a major split about 2/3rds of the way through the game which radically alters the way in which the story unfolds. Though a player could conceivably finish the game in as little as 25 hours, the amount of replay value available combined with the challenge of recruiting all of the gameís available characters gives Radiata Stories a good deal more staying power than it would otherwise have.

   Though possessed of a few mostly minor problems, Radiata Stories succeeds where it matters. With a large and unique cast of characters coupled with a solid plot and a stunning visual style, Radiata Stories brings a youthful, creative air to the genre. In the end, what makes Radiata Stories a standout title is itís ability to draw a player into its world, to make them feel as though they are experiencing a unique other world through Jackís eyes. Although the limpness in the combat system and a poorly-implemented interface can make the game design problematic at times, the positives far outweigh its negatives, and it is a highly recommended title.

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