Sunday, March 30, 2014

Radiant Historia Review

One of the PS2 games that I have strong memories of is Radiata Stories (2005), a Japanese RPG where the 200+ characters all have their own personalities and activity patterns, from students going to and from magic school, to thieves populating an all-night bar, from clerics in a church, to mercenaries in a for-hire company. It wasn't the best RPG I've played (that may arguably be Chrono Cross), but I definitely believe that giving the characters individual lifestyle patterns is a good thing. I've been hoping to find another game that has the same concept, but that hasn't happened so far. However, a few weeks ago I was looking in the $10 bin at Bic Camera and I found Radiant Historia (2010). The name sounded close enough to Stories that I bought it right there.

(Title screen.)

Radiant Historia is really nothing like Radiata Stories, although they share some of the same development team members. It is unique (as far as I can tell), though, in that you can travel back and forth through time to try making different decisions to see what the various outcomes are. You play Stocke, an intelligence officer in the army of the country of Alistel, in the war against the larger nation of Granorg. Heiss, Stocke's superior, assigns him two subordinates, Reine and Marco, and sends the trio out to meet a spy coming in from Granorg. On the way to the exit gates, Stocke is intercepted by his friend, the unit leader Rosch. Rosch doesn't trust Heiss and asks Stocke to choose between following orders and joining Rosch's unit, thus marking the "Beginning of Everything." Stocke takes Marco and Reine to the pick-up point, where they're ambushed by Granorg archers and all three of them are killed.

(Stocke, exploring the Alistel capital city.)

Or so it seems. Stocke finds himself outside of time in a place filled with stairways and doors, occupied by two kids. This is Historia. They give him the White Book, which lets Stocke return to Historia at will, and revisit key node points in the past. Returning to The Beginning of Everything creates an alternate timeline, where Stocke can thwart the ambush and further the story. Jumping between the standard and alternate timelines allows you to fix various problems that ultimately allows Alistel and Granorg to resolve their war, and for humans and non-human beastpeople to live together in peace. Historia combines the reliving of events from Groundhog Day with the puzzle solving of Legend of Zelda and the hack-and-slash of Final Fantasy.

(Party status screen.)

This is one of those massive games that is impossible to complete without a walkthrough. It's fun, and definitely worth playing, but having so many nodes to jump between (30+) for finding solutions to the puzzles makes it very time-consuming. There are 236 node points in total, but you can only revisit certain ones via the White Book. Many of the decision points have "bad answers" that take you to deadend nodes where everyone dies. Fortunately, this just means that you pop back to Historia and have to return to that decision point to pick the better choice. There are at least 20 sidequests that you aren't required to complete for reaching the end of the main story, but they give you power ups and extra attacks, and unlock up to 10 animations that play before the final game credits.

(Battle menu screen.)

The first time I beat the final boss, I'd unlocked 216 nodes and had 8 of the 10 ending animations. I missed completing two of the more important sidequests, and I'd avoided choosing most of the "bad endings" at the main decision points. Before putting the game away for good, I tried going back and switching to a few of the bad endings to see how long it would take to walk through them. After about 2 hours, I'd completed another 13 nodes, including one needed for reaching one of the ending clips. The next day, I figured I might as well finish off all 236 nodes and get all of the endings. This took me another 2-3 hours because I was having trouble following the walkthrough. It was worth the effort though, because with all of the nodes completed, I got one more ending sequence not mentioned in either of the walkthroughs on GameFaqs.

(Battle order display/change screen.)

The game is very talky, and there's no animations for the characters when they have dialog - it's just a static still of the character. But those stills are really well-drawn. Most of the characters look either extremely handsome or extremely beautiful. The combat sequences are generally good, but there is so much fighting that everything starts to look the same after a while. The special attacks don't have the glorious sequences of something like Final Fantasy, but they're not all that bad. Generally, I didn't need to resort to them, though. One thing I do find interesting is the combat timing system. During a fight, you can see the order of the next 10 rounds and you can choose to change that order, even to allow the enemy to go first. If you want, you can chain 10 attacks in a row for some spectacular damage to the enemy at the risk of them getting in a surprise instant kill or putting one of your characters to sleep first. It's this ability to make long attack chains that lets you defeat even the strongest bosses in 1-2 minutes, if you're at a high enough level and have the right members in your party (3 of 6 people max.) In fact, my party was so high-powered (levels 64 to 74) that I polished off the final bosses with virtually no effort at all. Finishing the last side quests and fighting the last bosses again was just as easy.

I do like Radiant Historia, and I'm surprised that it was available used at such a low price. Also that there are only two walkthroughs on GameFaqs for it. I highly recommend it to anyone that likes Japanese RPGs.

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