Review: Radiata Stories (PS2)



Title: Radiata Stories
Genre: Real-time RPG
Platform: Playstation 2
ESRB Rating: Teen (Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Drugs and Alcohol)
Developer: tri-Ace
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 9/6/05
Official Website: Radiata Stories

Tri-Ace has really made a name for themselves. While their first game was Star Ocean for the Super Famicom (which wasn’t released in America, unfortunately), they really showed their talents on the Playstation, developing Star Ocean 2 and Valkyrie Profile for Enix. These games are 2 of my favorite RPGs available for the system, and if memory serves me correctly, Lucard picked Valkyrie Profile as his #1 RPG. Both games are very unique and are just damn fun.

Things were somewhat quiet from Tri-Ace for a few years after Valkyrie Profile, but they had already announced work on Star Ocean 3. They pushed the date back a few times, until it was finally released in early 2003. They pushed the North American release date back a lot as well, until it was released in late 2004. And while I’m sure it sold well, I wasn’t impressed with it at all. It didn’t have the personality that SO2 did, and I didn’t like the direction they took the item creation system.

And at some point prior to the American release of SO3, they announced that they were working on a whole new game, part of no pre-existing series, called Radiata Stories. Their big hook of the game was it had over 100 members you could recruit to your party. A little bit more information was released about the game, but I can’t remember anything about it, so either I intentionally blocked that information or it was just utterly forgettable.

So I went, on faith in Tri-Ace alone, and purchased Radiata Stories. And so I put the DVD into my PS2 and fired it up, ready to take a plunge into the unknown. Would the game be another Tri-Ace masterpiece like SO2 and Valkyrie Profile? Or would it be another step in the wrong direction like SO3? Let’s take a look and figure that question out.


Story

Our protagonist in this story is Jack Russell, the son of a famous Radiata Knight named Cairn. On his 16th birthday, he heads to Radiata Castle to participate in the trials to become a knight, and follow in his father’s footsteps. The only problem is that he sucks at fighting. No, really. He’s just not good. The trials are basically a tournament bracket, with the winner becoming a knight, and Jack gets his ass handed to him in the first round by a girl named Ridley Silverlake.

So now very depressed, Jack attends the ceremony that will announce the induction of the new knight. Of course, it turns out to be Ridley, but there’s a twist! It turns out that the Lord of the castle has decided to induct another knight based on his heritage. This of course, turns out to be Jack. So now both Jack and Ridley are knights, and of course this begins a rivalry between the two (which means, you know at some point they’re going to get all lovey dovey, which is verified by the back of the manual, which shows the two holding hands).

Overall, the story is very cliche, but that’s what makes it endearing, because it takes many of those cliches and turns them all on their head. The main character is the standard young kid who is excited about going out and seeing the world (a la Justin from Grandia), but is TOO excited at times, and usually makes a total ass of himself. In addition, he it totally incompetent when it comes to formality and politeness, and is generally very disrespectful of everyone he meets, which makes him even funnier.

One of the game’s draws, the ability to recruit “over 175 people” as the back of the case says (you can recruit exactly 176 people, so yea, it’s “over 175 people”) means that there are plenty of people to give stories to. And while not everybody has a full-blown story to the extent of Ridley or Jack, they do each have their stories and quirks that make them stand out from one another, which is an admirable feat.

The story starts out interesting, but as it moved on, it seemed to lose the humor and charm that it started out with. The story’s tone becomes more serious, and it becomes just another RPG, and doesn’t really set itself apart from any other game.
Rating: 6.0

Graphics
Radiata Stories employs a relatively unique graphical style to it. The characters are your typical (though high quality) anime-styled polygon models, while at the same time, much of the environment is very reminiscent of the style of cel shading that can be found in Wind Waker. It’s an odd mix, but it works relatively well.


The character designs are very good. Each of the many different characters has a totally unique look, making it easy to tell them apart. The environments all are have a lot of detail to them, making them almost look pre-rendered, though it’s really just a very detailed texture on a model. Many different colors were used overall, and nothing is really boring with the way the game looks. In addition, the designers occasionally used an effect to make parts of the screen appear out of focus to direct your attention to whatever part of the screen you’re SUPPOSED to be looking at, much like a movie.

None of the graphics really blew me away though. Nothing is certainly bad though. The biggest gripe I have is that there is some very bad clipping at times, and whenever models get close to one another, they either don’t get close to touching at all, or they clip. But it’s a small gripe. My personal favorite part about the graphics in the game is actually the menus, which have a very unique style to them, one I’ve never seen in a game before. It has a “book” quality to them, which goes perfectly with the whole theme of the game.
Rating: 8.0

Sound
The music for the game was composed by Noriyuki Iwadare, who is best known for his work on the Grandia and Lunar series. I haven’t been a big fan of his work, but I think the music he composed for this game works well. It’s very light-hearted stuff, which certainly goes with the tone of the game. None of the songs are that memorable, but they’re not generic either. It’s all definitely appropriate.

Unfortunately, the game fails when it comes to the voice acting. While some of the incidental voices sound somewhat familiar, I can’t place any of the voices for any of the main characters. And unfortunately, neither Jack nor Ridley’s voice is all that good. They’re well suited for the role, but neither seems to convey any real emotion, and both seem like they are just being read from a script. Many of the voices are acceptable, but not necessarily good. The only voice that I think was really played well is the voice of Ganz, the captain of brigade (of 3 members) that Ridley and Jack are a part of. This character is a very proper and respectful person who is almost snooty in the way he talks, and his voice actor conveys that well. But as for the rest, none of them give off enough personality to set them apart from any other character.
Rating: 6.0

Gameplay and Control
I’m going to start this section off by saying that I’m HATING the direction that so many RPGs are taking with regards to their battle system. One thing that I want when I’m playing a game is CONTROL over my characters. And yet, more and more games are taking the route of having you control one member and the other party members being controlled by AI. With some games, such as .hack, this is fine because there is other things you can do than attack, but the same can’t be said about Radiata Stories.

Your battles are fought with a party of up to 4. You control Jack, and only Jack. You have a standard attack (the O button) and a Volty Blow (the Square button). You gain Volty points by every regular attack you (and other members of your party) do. For 10 Volty points, you can do a Volty Blow, which is stronger than a regular attack, and if you have a full 100 Volty points, you can unleash a powerful Volty Blast. You can also Parry attacks (with the X button), and if you attack right after a parry, it’s a counter attack. So the way battles play out is either a) you go and mash the O button and keep attacking, or hold X until the enemy attacks, and then hit the O button a few times, and repeat ad museum.

To give the illusion of control, you can give your party members commands. Which is pretty much necessary because they are retarded. Battles where you aren’t the leader are dreadful because the AI will attack random targets with no strategy whatsoever. And God forbid you get hurt, because you’re going to be lucky to get healed by the healer. If the AI were a little smarter and you didn’t have to rely on commanding your party members, it wouldn’t be so bad, but the fact that you HAVE to take the time out from your frenzied button mashing to tell your healer to stop picking his nose and to heal you and tell the fighters to stop playing cards and to actually f*cking attack the enemy. The AI is frustratingly stupid. I thought I was being smart by going and helping Ridley fight an enemy, and when I started to attack one, she decided to go attack another enemy.

There is also a Link system where you can set up links with party members which allows you to perform combo attacks, which is nice, but neither unique nor special, and it really doesn’t counteract the flaws in the combat system.

Time plays an important part in this game. All the NPCs have a schedule, where they will go to work from 9-5, then go to the bar for a few hours, then go home and go to bed. This is nifty, but I’ve seen it done plenty of times before. The time of day plays an important part in certain aspects, such as the recruitment of NPCs. As I said, there are 176 players you can recruit, and each one takes some convincing to join you, so you have to not only find them at a specific place, but you have to do something for them to get them to join.

Story progression is rather annoying because to progress the story most of the time, you have to go to sleep. That’s fine, but you don’t know WHEN you have to do that to progress. Sometimes it’s sleep, sometimes you have to talk to someone, and there are several points in the game where it doesn’t give you any sort of direction, and you will wander around aimlessly before realizing that you needed to just sleep to progress.

Overall, there is nothing really GOOD to talk about here. The combat is flat out boring since all you do is attack. There are no magic skills for you, no special attacks (one volty blow and one volty blast do not equal special attacks), and nothing to make combat even remotely fun. They went with obvious simplicity, and it’s overly simplistic. Maybe a non-RPG fan would get into it more, but a non-RPG fan wouldn’t play the game to begin with. The other aspects of the game don’t add up to much to make it enjoyable.

Oh, and one more nitpick. To “examine” the environment for items, you kick them. That is the X button. To talk to people and open doors, you use the O button. BUT, on any menus, the X is Accept and O is Cancel. So to save the game, you hit the O button to activate the save point and then X to select the Save option. There is absolutely no reason for it to be this way. The Kick and Talk/Open Door buttons should be switched, but sadly, they can’t be.
Rating: 4.0

Replayability
This is one part where the game did something really right. There are two branching story paths in the game, so there is definitely a reason to play the game through a second time. You can’t recruit all 176 NPCs on your first playthrough. You have to play it twice to get them all. The real question is, do you really want to put yourself through the torture of a second playthorugh?
Rating: 7.0

Balance
Once you figure out how to play, things are pretty easy. It’s not a total pushover, but it’s still easy. Parry, attack, attack. Repeat. Even with the moronic AI off in the corner playing tiddly winks, you can still win pretty easily. The only problem is that some battles take too long, which just adds to their boredom.
Rating: 5.0

Originality
I can’t think of anything in this game that I’d truly call original. It takes a bunch of ideas I’ve seen in other games and clumps them together, and doesn’t improve on any of them. The ability to recruit a whole shitload of NPCs was clearly taken from Suikoden, but Suikoden has always done it better because you have your castle and can talk to your people there, and you have something to show for their joining you. Here, you get names on a list. The time system is kind of cool, but was done better in games like the Ultima series and Majora’s Mask. And the combat system is just a standard Action RPG type system, except dumbed down. The only thing that’s even remotely original is the initial tone of the story, and the non-badass nature of the main character.
Rating: 4.0

Addictiveness
For the right kind of person, this game could be addictive. I’m not the right kind of person. In case you couldn’t tell by now, this game just got very boring to me. Things get a little better once you can start recruiting additional party members, but you can’t recruit very many initially. In fact, most of them you get near the end of the game, which is wrong. They should have made you be able to recruit more out of the gate to make that aspect of the game more interesting. As time went on, I really didn’t want to play the game at all. I played the game for a while, and put it down for a week or so. I had to FORCE myself to play through it for this review. I almost didn’t do this review at all because of that.
Rating: 3.0

Appeal Factor
The only thing this game has going for it as far as the average consumer is concerned is that a) it’s by Square Enix and b) it’s got good graphics. Most people that will buy this game will do so because of Tri-Ace’s past products, which is why I purchased it. It doesn’t have anything that would appeal to the mainstream, and the only other selling point it has is the ability to recruit a ton of people, which only anal crazy RPG fans will really care about. Most people want to blow shit up, which doesn’t happen often in this game.
Rating: 4.0

Miscellaneous
We, as humans, like to be comfortable, which is why so many sequels are produced. That’s also where brand loyalty comes from. Just about everyone holds brand loyalty to some companies and/or series. For example, Lucard love Atlus, and Liquidcross loves Mega Man games. I’m sure they have others, but I’m not going to speak for them. Personally, I buy every Nippon Ichi title, just about every Shin Megami Tensei game released here, every Final Fantasy game, and before Radiata Stories, every Tri-Ace title. After their lackluster showing on the PS2, I won’t buy any Tri-Ace title on faith alone. There is an exception however. If Tri-Ace ever makes a sequel to Valkyrie Profile, I will buy it on faith. It’s probably stupid for me to make a statement like that, but I will stand behind it. But other than that, it will take a REALLY special Tri-Ace title for me to make a purchase from them again.
Rating: 3.0

Ratings Summary

Story: 6.0
Graphics: 8.0
Sound: 6.0
Gameplay and Control: 4.0
Replayability: 7.0
Balance: 5.0
Originality: 4.0
Addictiveness: 3.0
Appeal Factor: 4.0
Miscellaneous: 3.0

Average: 5.0 (Average)

Short Attention Span Summary
This is a game that had potential and is only marred by subpar voice acting and poor gameplay. The story is passable, so if the gameplay had been interesting and fun, it would have earned another few points, and who knows, those points may have trickled down to some of the other items on our review list. But sadly, this game just isn’t the quality that I’ve come to expect from Tri-Ace, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone buy it on faith. Rent it first, please.