Thursday, February 25, 2016

Radiata Stories

Recently I started playing Radiata Stories again, partly because I wanted Laura to see it, and partly because I wanted to relive it myself. It's the game that made me interested in tri-Ace as a developer. It wasn't Star Ocean, it wasn't Valkyrie Profile, it was Radiata Stories that made me start paying attention to this innovative RPG developer.

So, I'd like to talk about what it was about this game that caught my attention so thoroughly.

Tri-Ace is a company that seems determined to endlessly innovate in the field of RPG mechanics. Not content with the turn-based and active-time-battle systems of established RPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, tri-Ace was founded in a culture of innovation, in which game developers left Namco (after developing Tales of Phantasia) to start their own company with more creative freedom. After starting their flagship Star Ocean series, a game that focused on much more active battles that stretched the limits of what the SNES was capable of, the company continued to experiment with battle systems like Valkyrie Profile's combination attack system, acrobatic gun battles in Resonance of Fate, and so on. Basically every new title of their plays dramatically differently, and it's fascinating to see, even if the battle systems aren't always a hit.

Radiata Stories in particular has a battle system fairly similar to Star Ocean, in that you control a main character while AI controls your other party members in very action-oriented battles. However, battles aren't where tri-Ace was innovating in Radiata Stories.

The game focuses around the Kingdom of Radiata, which mostly consists of a large, central town surrounded by forests, plains, and farmland with the occasional village here and there.

The kingdom is ostensibly run by a royal family and other nobles who are protected by the elite Radiata Knights. The town itself, however, is de facto run by four organizations: the mercenary warriors of Theater Vancoor, the priests and monks of the Olacion Order, the scientists and mages of the Vareth Institute, and the crime syndicate known as the Void Community. Each organization has its lighter and darker sides. The Olacion Order is clearly divided into a pious, hard-working faction and a hypocritical, materialistic faction, for instance. Even the Void Community, with its thugs and assassins, also has its honorable thieves, and they're known for taking in the misfits, the outcasts, and the strange that are shunned by everyone else.

And then there are the non-humans: the light elves, dark elves, dwarves, goblins, and orcs who live in the corners of the realm. The game has a significant population. And most of the realm's population can join your party.

I believe the game has 177 total recruitable characters. Each one has a unique personality, set of abilities, and potential. Many of them are useless, of course: the receptionist at the clinic, while cute, will never be a warrior. She has no interest, ability, or training to do so. Yet the mere fact that she can join you makes her and the many other potential party members interesting.

As a result, you spend much of the game wandering around town and the countryside making friends with as many people as you can. Doing so makes you very familiar with the other fascinating thing about the game: the clock.

The passage of time in the game can be tracked by the clocks found around the town and in the menu. Depending on the time of day, every single person in town will be doing something unique, each one living their lives and interacting with each other in ways that give depth to each character.

The ladies' man Paul spends his day chatting with one female shopkeeper or another, but every morning before dawn you can find him practicing his sword swings on a bridge.

The students of the Vareth Institute file into the academy each morning for their classes, then go off in the afternoon for their hobbies, whether it be studying, playing music, or visiting the shady part of town to be edgy.

The assassin Iris hangs around the shady part of town most of the day, but she always spends her afternoon in the Olacion cathedral, huddled in a corner trying not to be noticed.

And ancient monk with a dedicated nursemaid gives his caretaker the slip every day to visit old friends. His caretaker runs frantically around town trying to find her ward as he enjoys himself, until finally the old monk returns to the cathedral grounds to give lessons to the town's children.

Each morning, the warrior Dennis leaves town to gather flowers he'll use to spruce up his squad's meeting room at Theater Vancoor.

Every single person in the game has a routine they follow, and it's fascinating to follow people around and see how they spend their days. Some rifle through garbage, some spend part of each day imitating other people, others almost never leave their desks. It's all of these interconnected parts that make the world of Radiata Stories feel more alive than any other game I've ever played. It makes the lives, the hopes, and the ambitions of each character meaningful, and you can feel the history between characters and institutions.

It's thoroughly impressive to me. I feel like I must have said all of this before, but it's worth repeating.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that sounds really great. I remember hearing you really liked that game, but I don't think we ever talked about it. I did get to play Resonance of Fate, and I can confirm that that game didn't feel like any other game.