Guest Author - James Shea
A charming PS2 with a lot of unique touches, Radiata Stories is in many ways a standard RPG but distinguishes itself in many ways as well.
The story follows Jack Russell (as in, the terrier), an enthusiastic young knight, as he negotiates the treacherous path carved out by his profession. The early parts of the game follow his unit, the Rose Cochon (pink pig) brigade, as it takes missions to protect the humans' alliances with the other races of their world. The story doesn't really develop until later in the game, when Jack is forced to choose an alliance that will dictate the entire rest of the game. The game's main virtue, in terms of story, is the wide variety of characters that it has - 175 in all, similar in scale only to the Suikoden games. Depending on the path chosen, different characters can be gained.
The gameplay is a cross between standard RPGs (encounters lead to mini-arenas where enemies are fought, just like most other RPGs) and action RPGs like Kingdom Hearts (the action is real-time, and the player must attack and dodge with the controller. The player is always Jack, who has four options: attacking, defending, using a charge attack (that takes energy gained from regular attacks to do a more powerful one), and items. His companions tend to be more diverse and have a wider array of skills and weapons. Mages, clerics, and warriors - among others - are available.
One of the neatest things about the game is the fact that the NPCs live actual lives - depending on the time, they will be at a different place and can be observed moving back and forth. Stores will be closed at night; not unusual, but unlike some others which have an arbitrary locked door and a sign, this one actually shows the shop owners heading home. One early puzzle involves getting a chest guarded by a dwarf; at 5 o'clock game time, the dwarf will head for the pub, and you are free to get the chest's contents.
Despite some darker twists in the story, the graphics are bright, colorful, and cheerful, the music is bouncy and energetic, and the characters all have light-hearted moments. Graphically, the game resembles a cross between Final Fantasy IX and Dark Cloud 2. It's cartoony and the characters are misproportioned like FF9, and the colors more resemble DC2. The voice acting is done pretty well, but can be turned off if preferred (the options are text only, text and voice, or voice only).
As a whole, this game falls into the same categories as other RPGs, but also tends to stand out on its own merits. While a lot of the game is the same old stuff, it has a few quirks to make it unique.