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CONSOLE: PlayStation 2 DEVELOPER: tri-Ace PUBLISHER: Square Enix
RELEASE DATE (NA): September 6, 2005 GENRE: RPG
// review by SoyBomb

The stories aren't really about Radiata.

Radiata Stories comes from one of my favourite developers, tri-Ace, who also created the Star Ocean series. Those who know me best have come to discover that the second game in that series, "Star Ocean: The Second Story", is perhaps my favourite game of all time. So when I found out that another game I owned was also made by that company, I instantly knew that I would have a wonderful time. While it certainly doesn't meet the stellar precedent set by my beloved Star Ocean games, it is certainly a playful romp into the RPG genre that shouldn't disappoint fans of the genre.

Our story begins at Radiata Castle, home to some of Radiata's stories but not as many as one might assume. You are taking on the role of goony newcomer Jack Russell, son of a famous dragon slayer, who is trying out to be a member of the Radiata Knights. Although he initially fails during the trials (in battle, to the likes of a girl, one Miss Ridley Silverlake), his namesake gets him into the knights. I suppose this is what people often refer to as "networking". The storyline eventually becomes a bit more complicated, but a quick summary would state that he is booted from the knights and must find his way through life as a member of the swordsman's guild, Theater Vancoor. Of course, his journey shall be one of history: the entire fate of the human race shall soon rest upon his pathetic shoulders. I know I sound like an awful theatrical trailer, but I wouldn't dare to give away too many details of the storyline to those who have yet to play it. Overall, the storyline is decent and somewhat philosophical at times, but it isn't too far out of the ordinary for an RPG, and it's pretty light-hearted fare overall. It's tough to find a fairly original storyline in an RPG nowadays, it seems. ("Star Ocean: Till The End Of Time" for the PlayStation 2, however, has one of the most intriguing plot twists I've ever seen though...) Yet the biggest surprise came in the fact that, at one point along the way, Jack must choose whether to side with the humans or the non-humans, resulting in two different paths for the game and two different endings. These two paths are definitely unique; although the locations you are required to visit are often the same, your reasons for going there are quite different. There are also numerous side-quests (perhaps slightly moreso on the human side) that need to be taken care of; these range from killing monsters to finding items, and they (usually) result in more money, as well as gaining valuable experience from battles in new regions. But side-quests feel tacked on, although it's a good way to make the game longer. Otherwise, the main quest would be over far too quickly.

But what is an RPG without a battle system? Well, the battle system in Radiata Stories seems to have been pulled directly from the Star Ocean games. Everything takes place in real-time in a three-dimensional environment, and unlike many traditional RPGs, this isn't a turn-based battle. As soon as you encounter an enemy while wandering around during your regular journey, you will immediately be placed in a battle against at least one enemy (but perhaps as many as ten) where you can rush up them and attack. You can switch between targets at will so you can attack any enemy you like. You have the option of just flaying your enemies with regular attacks or using special attacks (and of course, defending yourself). Regular attacks can be performed one after another to perform a combo; specific moves can be learned over time and programmed into a sequence for your character to perform every time. A special attack, on the other hand, differs from weapon to weapon (from sword to axe to...umbrella? What the?!) and deals more damage than any regular attack. Special attacks come at a cost of Volty Points, indicated by a numbered meter at the top of the screen. Each special attack requires 10 Volty Points, and they are only regained by performing successful regular attacks. Each type of attack is designated to a separate button, so don't worry about frustrating button combos. Hit detection is fairly accurate, although there are certain "invincibility periods" in which they'll take no damage. Phooey.

Of course, do not fear ten enemies -- most of the time, you will have up to three extra characters to back you up. I'll discuss this aspect a bit later. But these characters will automatically attack whichever targets they wish (preferably ones directly in front of them). In general, you can only control Jack, but with the eventual aid of Commands, you can have your characters do your bidding, so to speak. For example, Jack can order a fellow character to attack specific enemies, or perhaps to heal others (if they are able). I ask, however, whether we really need "command" functions or not. I personally opted to never use them, considering how irrelevant they were to me. However, I suppose if one of your characters are being asinine, that'll put them in their place and show them what they ought to be doing. You may also want to use commands to get characters to go do something else if you are trying to fight an enemy and a friend keeps blocking your path. Now that can be annoying... It doesn't happen too frequently, but it happens. Overall, the battle system is not too complicated, so beginners and pros alike can feel comfortable with it.

Now let's talk about your fellow party members. Thankfully, you'll be able to select from a fairly large selection of characters that you can strengthen, although it is really more like a "what you see is what you get" deal. You can't change their equipment, so you can only improve their stats through intense battling! You can customize whatever party members you'd prefer to take along either at Theater Vancoor or, if you later decide to follow the non-human side, at your new headquarters. But alas, the game won't just simply hand over a slew of newcomers for you to pick and choose from. No, you have to recruit people yourself, and that often requires performing some errand for them, such as retrieving/delivering an item. This isn't always the case, but you generally have to find them yourself. As the game progresses, more characters will be available for you. At the point where the story forks (human vs. non-human), you may have to create another roster from scratch because all the humans you have recruited can no longer aid you. That's not great, but non-humans can fight just as hard! Recruiting is fun but it can be also a chore sometimes. Plus I don't believe that you can recruit EVERYBODY... but you certainly can fight anyone in a one-on-one battle, just by kicking them a couple of times. There's satisfaction to be had in trying to beat up a kid on the street! Ah, I should also mention that most of the characters are strange yet mildly believable, except for Jack (surprisingly enough) who seems more daft than I would expect from a main character.

We cannot forget to make purchases with all the sweet golden dagols that we earn on our travels. There are shops all over the place where you can buy weapons, armor, accessories, and the most delicious variations of items on the known market. I would actually suggest refraining from buying weapons and armor, mainly because you can pick up some pretty nice equipment on your journey without needing to take a single step into an armory. Additionally, items aren't cheap but over time, they can become relatively affordable. Health items are a must for this game. But to say that you have to buy every single item you require would be a lie. Many items can be found sitting around in the various environs Jack can explore. You can use Jack's unique kicking ability to boot all sorts of things -- chairs, desks, debris, armoires, you name it -- and find hidden tokens within. Kicking everything? Well, isn't that a novel way to get through life. *boot* Make me a sandwich!

So that's pretty much the game in a nutshell. However, a game nowadays isn't all that great without proper graphics and sound to accompany it. The graphics in this game are cartoony but still lush and not tough on the eyes at all. Environments and characters are well-detailed with an almost paintbrushed style to them. Considering the more upbeat tone of Radiata Stories, the slightly goofier look of the game suits its content well. Animations are fluid and character facial expressions are especially amusing; Jack looks sad and confused rather frequently. Thankfully, eyebrow animations were implemented to maximize facial emotion. With all these graphics, you would also hope for a solid 60 frames per second framerate, and for the most part, that is true. Only once do I recall severe slowdown, so the game engine is quite capable of handling what Radiata Stories has to offer. Meanwhile, the game's soundtrack is quite peppy; the theme of the area outside Lupus Gate is my favourite tune. Granted, it's not exactly always exciting or memorable but it serves its purpose and I rarely crank up my own tunes instead -- plus the voices keep me entertained (except in battle when they start to become annoying). The character voices are well-varied, some more amusing and inane than others. The voice work is fairly stable, if not occasionally overdramatic.

If you're looking for an RPG that won't make you bury your face in your hands and cry, Radiata Stories just might be the right ticket. It's not a particularly difficult game, unless you failed to level up your party. Plus, leveling up takes time, but not quite as much time as in other games. Thus, this game is shorter than most RPGs -- it can be completed in under thirty hours -- so you won't have to invest too much time, unless you go play through as both sides. But perhaps the least desirable reason to complete Radiata Stories is its ending. After you win, you get a cheap and short ending plus a bonus dungeon which requires a whole TON of leveling-up in. Forget that; I want something conclusive! Nonetheless, I will recommend this to casual RPG fans, especially those who fell in love with any Star Ocean game. It's a solid entry into the genre, but it won't please hardcore fans looking for a rough challenge.

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