With the release in Japan, truckloads of media, equal amounts of word-of-mouth hype, and an impressive E3 demo all in the past, Square Enix is now ready to introduce the North American RPG audience to the world of Radiata. While there, one should expect some--you guessed it--stories.
More specifically, the tri-Ace developed Radiata Stories will tell a tale centered on two youths: Jack Russell and Ridley Silverlake. Jack is a strapping 16-year-old lad with ambition to spare. His father was a general who, while alive, gained a reputation as a powerful dragon-slayer. Jack has big dreams of following in his father's footsteps, so the main thing occupying his mind is the entrance exam for the Radiata Militia. Ridley also comes from famous blood. The Silverlake family is quite powerful, and planned for Ridley to be a knight since even before her birth. This in mind, it's possible that her stubborn, bullheaded attitude is hereditary.
Two general races populate Radiata: the humans and the faeries. The latter group is actually better broken down into three sub-groups, those being dwarves, dark elves, and light elves. Dwarves live in the mountains, mine for a living, and love booze as much as life itself. Dwarves have a pretty open relationship with humans, as they often sell some of their crafted good to them.
The light elves are the oldest of the three faerie races. They tend to have a low opinion of humans, seeing them as destroyers of nature. Light elves also have wings which they use to fly. Dark elves dwell in shadowy places, and somewhat like the dwarves, have a commercial relationship with humans. It's been said that racial conflict is a key factor in the plot of Radiata Stories. The fact that each race has its own dragon guardian certainly creates some messy potential....
"Radiata Stories doesn't pull any punches"
Many more characters than just Jack and Ridley appear in Radiata Stories, though; there are nearly 200 that will join players. RPGamer posted mini-bios of a good chunk of these characters here and here. But don't let that high number throw you, only Jack can be directly controlled. Not just that, Radiata Stories goes a step farther by making Jack the only character that can be specifically commanded in battle. Other ones can not be given exact orders. After entering combat, done by touching an on-screen foe and being swept into a separate screen, players can freely move him around battlefields. A press of the Square button will make him run towards the closest enemy and swing his axe at it. A secondary attack is also available; by using the X button, players can take a more powerful swing, though this extra power most likely comes at the cost of accuracy and/or speed. Each character has a Volty Gauge, which fills up little by little after each successful hit. When this gauge is full, pressing X and square at the same time unleashes a devastating special attack.
Battles are fast-paced, so all of this is going on in a shorter period than the description makes it sound. Many testers have compared numerous aspects of the battle system to Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, saying it feels similar in the way it plays out and even has the same field-to-battle-screen transition. Perhaps this is a tri-Ace signature. But there is also a slight similarity to a non-tri-Ace series, .hack. This is because while players only control Jack, the others are acting with AI based on general strategies set by the player. They'll also be able to get into special formations which can have certain benefits. A couple examples are "Fighting Spirit," which boosts the party's attack power for a short time, and "Endurance" will boost the party's defense power for a while. The player can also use the L1 button to bring up a special menu and issue specific orders to the other characters. One such order is "Decoy," which makes a party member draw an enemy away from Jack. Another is "Play dead," which makes a party member keel over and plays possum to avoid attacks. That said, gamers need not worry too awful much about AI holding them back from executing the perfect battle plan.
A big feature of the combat is the link system. Link commands are large-group actions that the party performs at Jack's command, some being for immediate results and others being for strategic purposes. For example, the Blast Link will cause the party to dogpile on top of an enemy, then detonate some sort of explosive attack. Circle Link is a formation in which the party begins to slowly heal itself, and will continue to do so as long as the arrangement isn't broken. There are several others with as many different functions.
During these fights, the characters will be letting everyone know just how they feel. If a character takes a powerful blow, he or she might express the pain out loud with a simple grunt, but text may appear in a box, with a full sentence describing the chararcter's reaction. Likewise, they might ask for help when they have low HP, taunt the enemy after landing a few hits, or verbally demonstrate their frustration when an attack misses. The speaking character's face will appear in the form of a 3D model next to the text box.
Like most games published by Square Enix, Radiata Stories doesn't pull any punches in the technical department. The game features fully 3D graphics that have a slightly cartoonish art style, but there is no cel-shading to be found. The camera works like that of a movie, with characters moving in and out of focus as they approach or move away from the player. With all that said, the game is looking to be among the more aesthetically unique and pleasing RPGs on PlayStation 2. Moving from graphics to music, Noriyuki Iwadare has composed the soundtrack. Fans may recognize Iwadare's style if they've played games in the Gandia, Lunar, and Langrisser series, among others. Those wanting to learn more about Iwadare-san can visit his English homepage here. Iwadare did not work alone, as the main theme was composed by Motoi Sakuraba of Star Ocean and Tales fame. Vocalist for the theme song is J-pop artist Nami Tamaki, who also voices an in-game character.
Jack loves to kick things. He opens treasure chests by kicking them, he might get a pre-emptive stirk in battle by kicking on-screen enemies, and can even start fights with townsfolk with a a good, swift kick. And while Jack is a-kicking, time is a-ticking, as Radiata Stories comes with a day and night system. About a half hour in real life will see one day go by in the world of Radiata, with the sun rising and setting accordingly. Furthermore, citizens will be seen going about their regular lives on a rough schedule, perhaps leaving for work in the morning and eating a lunch somewhere around noon, then getting home in time for dinner. Stores will have set hours during which they are open or closed, etc. It should be noted that just like the real world, not everyone has the same schedule.
Square Enix USA will ship Radiata Stories to North America retailers on September 6 of this year. It will sell for $49.99 and has been rated "T" by the ESRB.