tri-Ace is probably one of my most favorite developers ever. Responsible for the entire Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile franchises and the spin-off development shop tri-Crescendo, tri-Ace is a brand to be reckoned with.
At least, they were. Recently, they’ve fallen on hard times being forced to work on games like Final Fantasy XIII-2, and not the labors of love I know they have waiting in the wings. So while we wait for the glorious revival of their artistic prowess, we might as well busy ourselves with the $10 rack at the local gaming retailer.
When I came across Radiata Stories, I was a broke lil’ college kid. And heck, to be fair, this game isn’t even 10 years old yet. But so help me it has got to be one of the more-overlooked JRPG’s out there. And it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying; major publications and site rated the game quite highly. And well they should, for Radiata Stories offers an experience that simply cannot be found easily.
No game is complete without its tropes, despite how diverse it might be. Radiata Stories from the case art alone should make this very clear: featuring the main characters Jack and Ridley, the game very clearly states: “boy meets girl.” Yet in this case there’s nothing wrong with that as Jack’s initial encounters with the feisty lass mostly result in Ridley handing him his ass on a silver platter. And yes, you play as Jack. No alternative.
Never before have I played a game where the concept that “you are a novice adventurer” was more honestly delivered. Jack Russel, knight wannabe with a nice pedigree and a stiff upper lip being the only highlights on his résumé, is a complete and utter failure for roughly 30% of the game. The message couldn’t be clearer: there are people in this world who are stronger than you, some of them very close to your age. Jack struggles with this throughout the entire game but never stops trying to improve himself. He never gives up, and when faced with situations that are actually insurmountable this quality takes on a different tone. It ceases to be the classic protagonist stereotype and actually manifests itself as someone who is absurdly stupid.
Jack as a character does come across as a bit thick-headed at times, but it is always clear that his heart is in the right place. As shown above, his thoughts and worldviews are pretty common given the place he comes from. Abound in this game is plenty of intrigue and suspense as pretty much everyone is the son of someone who’s father killed their father while they were just a babe and of course it was your beloved teammate but he joins bandits and – *breath* – then you have to choose between-
If its plot you’re looking for, look no further. Set in a land with every fantasy race imaginable, the humans behave much as we’ve been conditioned to believe humans behave – relatively badly – and the nonhumans – elves, dwarves, giants, trolls, and whatnot (some rather unsavory characters, actually; don’t be expecting Tokien elves here) – behave like you’d expect them to if you’ve seen Fern Gully. At the core of this game is a conflict between the humans and the nonhumans it what will ultimate determine the fate of the world. It is Jack’s role in all of this that truly makes the game spectacular.
Jack has a pretty tiny role to start with, obviously. He spends most of his time getting thrashed by his betters and superiors and being sent on missions. The game allows a great deal of freedom, and side quests are aplenty, but the story is also a long one. Moving through the game with Ridley (a charming young lass who veritably embodies the image of strong female character) and under the command of Gantz, the player as Jack can wield any of four weapons in action-based combat with the support of “over 175 recuitable NPC’s” as the game would advertise (this number is actually almost exactly 175). Combat is frantic and fun, with characters running about using skills and dying here and there. Jack is the only playable character, but the AI for the NPC’s is pretty good and supporting characters can be ordered about in a decent manner.
This one boasts the usual RPG goodness: weapons, armor, and items are plentiful and customizable. NPC’s are very recuitable; if they have a name, odds are they can fight along side you (the odds are a little more than 55%, as out of the 300 or so characters about 175 are recruitable). And for those many characters the game has a delightful twist in store. It shouldn’t really come as a shock, but partway through the game Jack must choose whether to side with the humans or the nonhumans in the overall conflict. The game makes this choice blatantly apparent, and while one of them might seem “right” playing through both of them offers two very believable perspectives on the same war. And of course, with those 175 recruitable companions comes the stipulation that most of them wouldn’t join you if you fought for the other side.
Radiata Stories offers a lot to the gamer looking for a little more mileage out of his JRPG. Plentiful sidequests, a veritable plethora of NPC’s where almost half of them could be your loyal allies, a skill-based combat system, and a story that is down-to-earth while still being epic are all part and parcel to the fun. Maybe it won’t make you wonder about Life, the Universe, and Everything, but it’ll definitely make you think about the impact a single individual really has.