Radiata Stories Hands-On
We check out the Japanese version of Square Enix's latest fantasy role-playing game for the PS2.
For gamers who have been waiting for Square Enix to release a fresh new role-playing game instead of another Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest installment, your prayers have been answered. While Radiata Stories follows the traditional swords-and-magic-style role-playing game, it comes with its own atmosphere, which combines a serious story with humorous moments. The game also takes a big step away from the recent trend toward realistic-looking graphics. As a result, the graphics in Radiata Stories present soft-toned colors, and the anime-style characters are cute and feature big eyes.
In Radiata Stories, you'll play as Jack Russell, a young hot-blooded boy who's trying to take the same steps in life as his late father Keian, who was a legendary knight of the Radiata Kingdom. After a riveting flashback scene of Keian fighting his supposed last battle against a ferocious water dragon, the screen switches to a scene of the main hero, Jack, who looks pretty goofy because he just got out of bed. It's supposed to be Jack's big day to try out for a position in the Radiata military, but he's wearing his pajamas backwards, and he obviously lacks intention, neither of which is a good sign. After dressing up and going to the tryout, Jack meets the game's heroine, Ridley, the young and talented daughter of the great Timberlake clan who's been thoroughly educated to become a knight. With plenty of guts but no fighting experience (and mistaking Ridley for a weak little girl), Jack gets quickly knocked out by Ridley during the exhibition match that's supposed to determine who will join the military. When Jack returns to consciousness to hear that Ridley was accepted to the Radiata military, he doubts his own ears. However, he soon hears his name announced as the second accepted member. Jack, of course, is accepted because he's a blood relative of Keian's. Together with Ridley, for whom he develops a passionate rivalry, Jack gets assigned to the Rose Cochon (Pink Pigs), a unit led by a peaceful but somewhat unreliable chubby man named Gantz. Here's where the game's story begins.
After you get accepted to the Radiata military, you get some freedom to roam around the castle until you reach its meeting room. Considering that it's the first area in the game, the castle is pretty huge. From what we've played so far, all the towns in Radiata Stories are relatively large, and they give you lots of room to explore. For example, the dwarf village that you'll visit on your first assignment has about a dozen houses spread across three levels of wooden platforms, and most of the houses have multiple rooms. The village also has a dungeon at its far end that's open for adventure, although the enemies there are too tough to challenge at such an early point in the game.
One of the unique things in Radiata Stories is that it lets you kick objects around the screen instead of "checking" them as you would in a traditional RPG. So although it's kind of rowdy, you'll be going all over the place, kicking objects such as barrels or closets to see if there are any items hidden inside. You can kick pretty much anything in the game, whether it be road signs, livestock, or even people. While some characters, such as the guards in the castle, will resist your kicks with unpleasant moans, other people will often get angry, so you'll get pulled into one-on-one engagements with them. It's amusing to see that some of the civilians in the game are pretty strong. Fortunately, though, losing to them won't lead you to a game-over screen.
Another interesting thing about Radiata Stories is that each person lives his or her own life. As a result, you can actually follow a person along to see him or her working and sleeping, as well as going to the rest room or hitting the dance floor. Time is an essential factor in Radiata Stories, because many of the events in the game only happen during certain hours of the day, and some events will end if too many days have passed. The world of Radiata Stories runs in real time, and about one minute in reality is about one hour in the game. Also, going to an inn to rest will advance the time to 7:00am the next day, which is convenient for those times when you need to wait a while to let the game's events progress.
While the towns in Radiata Stories are pretty big, the field map, on the other hand, has been pretty linear so far, and there haven't been any issues in getting from point A to point B. Rather than presenting random encounters, the game displays enemies on the field, and when you touch them, you land in combat. While battles are often unavoidable because enemies are blocking your path, you're still given the opportunity to prepare yourself before going in to battle. This is of vital importance, because the game automatically ends if Jack's life drains to zero.
The battle system in Radiata Stories plays a lot like an action game, so you'll run around a roomy 3D field, attacking enemies until they're all beaten. The gameplay is simple enough that players who aren't good with action games shouldn't have too many problems. The basics involve attacking with the circle button and defending with the X button. Hitting the X button twice lets you hop backwards, which is handy because you're completely invincible during this motion. You can lock on to a target using the R1 button, which is convenient when sneaking up behind an enemy while he's wide open to attack.
Aside from the usual life meter, Radiata Stories also features a power bar that fills up whenever you attack enemies. You can use the power bar to execute a powerful attack, called a "volty blow," or a superattack, called a "volty break," depending on how full your bar is. The attack that you can perform by consuming the power bar also depends on the weapon you have in hand. For example, performing a volty blow with a one-handed sword lets you thrust at your opponent, which oftentimes pushes him far away and breaks his guard. Using a spear, on the other hand, lets you execute an attack where you'll stab your enemy multiple times. There are four different types of weapons in Radiata Stories, and each has its different strengths. One-handed swords have short reaches but allow you to attack quickly. Two-handed swords are slow to use but are powerful and have long ranges. Spears have very long ranges and are good for poking. Finally, axes are extremely powerful but have short reaches and are slow.
Radiata Stories' battle system also features something called the "chain point system," which allows you to customize your own combination attack. You can learn new attack moves in the game by defeating enemies, and they can be added to your combination attack through the chain point system's menu. Doing so will let you pull off a chain of moves by simply hitting the circle button multiple times when you're attacking your foe. That's not to say that you can add on an infinite number of attacks to your combo, because each of your weapons has a limit to how many CPs' (chain points') worth of attacks it can execute. Weak attacks tend to require just one or two CPs, while stronger attacks tend to require more. You pull out different moves with each type of weapon, so if you've been using a one-handed sword for a long time and you're switching to another weapon for the first time (like an axe), you'll need to learn new moves for the weapon.
Radiata Stories gives some extra personality to your characters during the battle, because they often speak via a portrait window that pops up on the bottom of the screen. While the game features a lot of attractive characters, it, unfortunately, limits you to controlling only Jack. The remaining three members of your party are computer-controlled. As the story progresses, and as Jack becomes the leader of his party, you'll be able to give orders to the other party members. You'll also be able to align your party into different formations, which, aside from preventing your members from running away from your sight, allows you to pull off special team attacks. As previously noted, you have to be especially careful about taking care of Jack, because the game will end if his life drains down to zero. Other party members, however, can be revived if they lose all their life.
Finding new party members is one of the factors that spices up your adventure in Radiata Stories. The game's party-member collection menu features slots for 177 characters, including Jack. That's a lot of characters you can chose to fight alongside, so, needless to say, it's not easy to complete your collection. For picking up some of the characters, you'll need to find them at the right place at the right time and then go through a small event, if required. You'll also probably have to play through the game at least twice to fill up your member collection, because the scenario in Radiata Stories splits in the middle of the game.
So far, Radiata Stories seems to be a solid RPG. Radiata Stories is pretty story-oriented, as its title obviously suggests, and it has its fair share of real-time-rendered movie sequences. Additionally, its large towns and numerous side events give you plenty of room to explore. If you've been waiting for a fantasy RPG that has good quality graphics and music, but doesn't feature Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest in its name, you might be interested in picking up Radiata Stories. But unless you have a good understanding of the Japanese language, you'll want to wait until Square Enix (hopefully) announces an English language version of the game.
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