Let's take a look at the tale of Jack Russell. The man, not the terrier, you fools! If reading that last line didn't at least bring a bit of a smile to your lips, chances are Radiata Stories is not for you. This tri-Ace game, published by Square-Enix, does not try to carry the torch of Star Ocean 3 with a hyper-dramatic story. No, Radiata Stories is what happens when you give a well-known developer some breathing room after they've been making dramatic games for so long.
It's pretty sweet.
Jack's quest starts in the kingdom of Radiata. Living with his sister after the disappearance of his father, Jack hopes to follow in his father's footsteps and become a royal Radiata Knight. Ready for his trials, Jack enters the tournament and is faced with one of his worst challenges yet. Wait, what?! He has to beat up a girl? Jack enters the arena and finds Ridley Silverlake, the game's other main character, and reluctantly begins his battle. Jack has had little training with a sword, whereas Ridley has been training since childhood to become a knight in her noble family. Jack gets beat up by a girl, but, luckily enough, finds his way into the Radiata Knights, despite being somewhat of an incompetent buffoon and losing in the first round. Radiata's story lends itself to be far from normal and the dialogue can be extremely funny.
Much as the rest of the game is off-key for tri-Ace, so is the music: Motoi Sakuraba did not create the soundtrack for Radiata Stories. Noriyuki Iwadare, who scribed the music for both the Lunar and Grandia series, reigns in to provide a completely fitting soundtrack for Radiata Stories. In addition to Iwadare's soundtrack, the story sequences for Radiata Stories are fully voiced. Although the voice-overs are not as high budget as the newest Final Fantasy or Splinter Cell title, they fit the game like a snug pair of pants. Jack sounds like an ambitious, if naive, young man, and Ridley like a snooty noble. Even the minor characters, of which more than 150 are recruitable, are voiced well when used in story sequences.
Part of Radiata's charm is that the world feels like a real world. All of the 300+ NPCs in the game are set to a schedule and move about Radiata's world. Although the system is not as complex as the one slated for Bethesda's upcoming title Oblivion, it does provide Radiata with a living, breathing realm for Jack to traipse about in. Although there are more than 150 recruitable characters in Radiata Stories, most of them will not simply join because you show up at their doorstep. Characters in Radiata Stories will only join your friends list and be available to join your party if you do something for them, first. This means that Radiata Stories is not a linear title in the least, and shares much more in common with Final Fantasy X-2 than a classic RPG with regards to pacing.
The battle system in Radiata is not such a deviation from tri-Ace's norm, as it's completely real time. The game exists on a fully three-dimensional field, but luckily enough, Jack can lock on to any enemy. Unfortunately for those who liked to switch between characters in Star Ocean 3, players can only control Jack in battle. However, instead of just letting your other characters take a beating like they did in Star Ocean 3, commands can be given to teammates at any one time. Characters can also move into a formation, where they recieve bonuses as long as the formation is kept. Radiata also drops the special attack system from the Star Ocean series in favor of a simpler combo system. Jack can learn up to ten seperate attacks, which can then be put in any order in his menu. It requires a bit of strategy, as it's not smart to put an extremely slow attack at the beginning of the combo.
Radiata Stories' graphics are bright, colorful, and stylish. The characters sport a super-deformed anime tint, although characters have very distinct looks. Clive, one of the first minor characters the player will encounter, has completely round eyes and looks rather... incompetent. All of the characters animate well at this stage in the game and battle powers look great. Jack's appearance changes based on what armor he's wearing, and there are quite a few that he can don.
Radiata Stories is going to appeal most to a certain set of people. Anyone who keeps their mind open to new games will find what should be an immensely fun romp with Radiata Stories. If you're at all a fan of light-hearted, humorous RPGs or even just a fan of tri-Ace's previous work, it would do you well to pre-order this game and pick it up when it releases on September 6th.
In recent years, tri-Ace has given gamers the opportunity to sail through the Star Ocean, to combat evil in Valkyrie Profile, and now to forge a medieval destiny in Radiata Stories.
As 16-year-old Jack Russel, gamers will start in the town of Soleil, a little ways outside Radiata itself. Jack's first order of business is to enlist as a soldier in Radiata, and once there, he'll encounter the game's second protagonist: Ridley Timberlake. Ridley and Jack aren't reportedly the most compatible pair; Ridley comes from a high-class aristocratic family and dreams of being a knight, while Jack is from the peasantry and has his sights set on being a soldier.
Unlike Star Ocean, which was a sci-fi epic, Radiata Stories takes place during medieval times. The departure is due in part to producer Yoshinori Yamagishi's desire to do something different and ensure that tri-Ace is not known for science fiction alone. Even so, fans need not be disappointed, as Radiata Stories has a great deal in common with Star Ocean anyway.
The similarities become especially apparent in the game's battle system. Radiata Stories features real-time action with characters moving about the battle map as they please while launching attacks on the enemy. This is hardly new, but the game does add two new features that may be of interest to fans. The first is the Link system, which allows players to determine a formation for their characters. Second is the Bolty meter, which allows players to execute special actions and super attacks, depending on the energy in the meter.
Four characters, including Jack, will round out any given battle squad.
Outside of combat, Radiata Stories has one other major feature that is sure to grab some attention. tri-Ace has stated that there will be over 300 NPCs, each with its own distinct personality traits and mannerisms. This exceeds even the immense rosters of Konami's Suikoden and Sega Overworks' Skies of Arcadia. Of that number, up to 150 will be playable, recuitable characters. Of course, just because 150 will be available does not mean Jack and Ridley will be able to gain the services of all of them.
Visually, Radiata Stories looks very similar to games such as Suikoden III, Ragnarok Online, and Wild ARMs: Alter Code F. By comparison, however, Radiata Stories comes out ahead, sporting fluid character animations, excellent texture work, and pleasing character models. The game's pallet is very soft and has a lot of muted colors, which work well to create its idealistic fantasy environment. Special effects, on the other hand, are bright and impressive, helping to contrast the ordinary from the magical.
The backdrop of Radiata Stories, aside from Jack and Ridley's personal dreams, concerns the faltering coexistence of humans and faeries. Where once the two races lived in peace--thanks to many petty differences breaking the calm over time--war has erupted. Now, humanity not only faces the faeries but their protectors: the Dragons. It is in this war that Jack and Ridley will be caught.
Just as in reality, the world of Radiata Stories moves on whether Jack and Ridley like it or not. The game's day and night system is nothing revolutionary, but its implementation adds an important mechanism to the game. Depending on the time of day, some people will work, while others will be at play; some people will be available, others will not. Monsters will sleep during certain hours, and so Jack and Ridley will have to plan their daily schedules appropriately.
Developed by tri-Ace and published by Square-Enix, Radiata Stories for the PlayStation 2 will hit Japan at the end of January. No North American release date has been announced as of yet.