Radiata Stories - Staff Retroview  

Watch Out for Orcs
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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20-40 Hours
+ Well-developed world and cast
+ Kicking people is fun
- Sparse save points
- Some characters are really hard to recruit
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   tri-Ace has a decidedly mixed reputation, with few of its titles inspiring universal acclaim. One of the select group that did manage to attract plaudits from every quarter is Radiata Stories, a fascinating game that succeeds in giving its supporting cast's members superb senses of being fleshed-out. The rest of Radiata Stories delivers a well-rounded package of content too, making the praise that it attracted in 2005 understandable.

   Radiata Stories begins with a young man named Jack Russell undertaking the trial to be accepted as a Radiata knight. His prompt defeat in the trials by a young noblewoman named Ridley Silverlake initially seems to spell disaster for the family name, but luck is on his side, and a post in the knighthood is granted anyway. Jack and Ridley end up in the same brigade, and their initial missions are filled with sitcom-derived shenanigans because of an over-inflated opinion Mr. Russell possesses regarding his abilities compared to the woman who beat him. Things get serious when a blood orc almost kills Ridley and causes her father to throw blame upon her fellow soldiers, casting Jack back into civilian life.

   The central plot of Radiata Stories deals with the interaction of humans with the other species that inhabit the planet. Jack Russell assumes great importance in this struggle, and midway through the game a pivotal moment allows him the opportunity to choose a side — although he does not see it that way at the time. This overarching narrative is quite effective, and the smaller-scale story of Jack and Ridley growing closer is even better. A few story elements don't get as much screen time as they would ideally warrant, but this is a relatively minor complaint when the storytelling manages to be successful almost all the time.

   The overall narrative is augmented by the spectacular NPCs this game features, who are fascinatingly varied with interesting life stories. Unlike most games, the NPCs of Radiata Stories usually do not sit still to be approached by the player, but run around the game world in accordance with the passage of time. Roughly one minute of time in the real world equals one hour of time in Radiata Stories, and its characters can be seen following their daily routines constantly. The effect is not perfect, since the characters follow exactly the same procedure every day and don't have as many talking points as would be ideal, but the personality they display is always fascinating to behold.

Alicia Alicia's fashion sense is unusual, but her combat prowess is undeniable.

   They may be NPCs to start, but over the course of the game almost all of the characters Jack meets can be enticed to join his list of friends, after which they can be recruited to fill out his party for combat. The conditions for getting these people to befriend Jack are incredibly varied, and far more time can be spent filling out the friend list than pushing through the core story. The friends Jack has in battle will greatly alter how difficult progressing through the game becomes. Jack also possesses the ability to kick many things in the game, and kicking other characters twice will instigate duels with them, in the event that extra fighting is desired. Those characters that soundly defeat Jack in a duel are very likely worth having in combat.

   Radiata Stories' combat is real-time, initiated by Jack colliding with enemies on the field. In battle only Jack can be directly controlled by the player, though he can give orders to his compatriots if necessary. Otherwise they'll do their own thing while Jack is guided to do whatever the player desires. Usually this boils down to smacking enemies and occasionally using items, but there is a fair amount of additional detail to the proceedings that keeps this from being a simple button-masher, in particular the ability to guard and subsequently counter enemy attacks.

   The engine tri-Ace developed has good and bad points. A definite negative is using the left analog stick both to move Jack and to target his enemies, as this makes it all too easy to inadvertently have him run around pursuing foes while being clobbered by something right in his face. On the positive side, events proceed very efficiently, and battles tend to end with pleasant promptness. Being able to open and use the features of the out-of-battle menu while locked in combat is often quite helpful, though it slows the pace of the altercation down considerably.

   Shopping in Radiata Stories is simple enough, with stores clearly labeling their products and affording the opportunity to equip new goods fresh off the sales rack if desired. The standard menu is somewhat time-consuming to navigate due to its inclusion of every variety of item in a single list instead of breaking them into categories, but dealing with it is not particularly difficult, partially because only Jack can change equipment. The single most bothersome aspect of the game's interaction is tri-Ace's amazingly stingy use of save points, which tend to appear only for specific parts of the game, promptly vanishing afterward. For large stretches of the game saving is only possible at Jack's residence, which becomes quite bothersome.

Nothing goblins do in this game will render Ridley Nothing goblins do in this game will render Ridley's statement invalid.

   Most of Radiata Stories will not pose a serious challenge to veterans of RPGs, but the fact that Jack falling in battle equates to an instant game over can be dangerous, especially when a few enemies have extremely powerful attacks that cannot be blocked. Postgame dungeons offer a fair amount of challenge, and recruiting all of the possible friends Jack can have demands an enormous level of dedication. Doing so will easily drag the time necessary for completion past sixty hours, more time than is necessary to finish both sides of the central plot.

   A considerable amount of voice acting will be heard in Radiata Stories, almost all of it good quality. Noriyuke Iwadare's score is not at the same level, however, most of it sounding akin to background music in a lounge bar. It's far from bad, but the compositions tend not to stand out, and the few that do are seldom heard. As for the graphics, tri-Ace did a fine job crafting good-looking environments throughout the game. The characters initially give off a Precious Moments vibe, but escape that potential straitjacket by being well-animated and emotive.

   Radiata Stories is a welcome instance of just about every element clicking into place well. It's hardly flawless, but even its faults are easy to gloss over considering how well the overall package works. tri-Ace's output has a mixed reputation, but this game deserves its near-unanimous praise by showing what the developer is capable of when firing on all cylinders. Despite its protagonist being named Jack Russell, this game is no dog.

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