If you were ever given the opportunity to create something, anything you wanted to along with the man power and funding to make it happen what would you create. Would it be something that goes against what you’ve been known for up until this point? Something that’s weird? Something that’s quirky? Something that’s wholly original and has never been done up until that point? Well then you’ve felt the same way that the developers at tri-Ace did all the way back in the early 2000’s. Their latest iteration of their hit franchise, Star Ocean 3: Till The End Of Time, had just been greenlit for development. While tri-Aces A-Team were hard at work on this project, Square Enix producer Yoshinori Yamagishi and the company’s B-Team were cooking up something new and intriguing. These were the misfits, the new bloods, the people that had only worked in the background and never had their time in the spotlight. Yamagishi outstretched his hand to these creative individuals and gave them one priority; to create something that was in direct contrast to their previous works. Their main franchises, Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile, had their moments of levity but, for the most part, were serious in nature. Yamagishi wanted the team, and specifically scenario writer Masatoshi Midori, to craft a game world that was lighter in tone and closer to anime in feel. Another requirement was that it would have to be a pure fantasy setting, with no sci-fi or Norse mythological trappings included. It had to appeal to a wide assortment of people and be instantly understandable to anyone who saw it. Other than that, the development team, led by director Naoki Akiyama, would be given free rein to do whatever they desired. This left the dev team with a menagerie of thoughts and ideas, some ludicrous, and others so crazy that they just might work.
A Living, Breathing World
The craziest idea behind them all was what they envisioned the world to be. It wouldn’t just be some stock fantasy RPG with standard NPC’s you interact with and generic landscapes to run around in. There would be elements that anyone familiar with the fantasy genre would understand like elves, dwarves, swords, and magic but mixed there would be small editions that would make the game feel more unique and original. Phonographs, modern attire, and even an entire ecosystem were to be built to help diversify their world and separate itself from the crowd. But what’s a world without its characters; a fact that rung true for this project more than any other video game before it. They wanted to do something more than that, something that hadn’t quite been done before. A fun little thought that had popped into their heads early in development was of a world akin to an MMO, one where the characters are as personable and relatable as a fellow player. They wanted every character you met from your comrade in arms to the homeless man on the street to be equally compelling and fun to get to know. A living, breathing world where people followed their own schedules, lived their lives, and went about their day whether you talked to them or not. This would be a massive undertaking, one that would take two years just to design and finalize the characters. And these characters wouldn’t just look like any old NPC. Just from a glance you would easily be able to tell who that person was and what they stood for. Character designer Hiroshi Konishi, in particular, enjoyed drawing weird and different faces for many of the characters, leaving the attractive and beautiful designs alone till the very end. They were quirky, serious, and downright hilarious at times lending to the games comedic slant.
On the other side of things, composer Noriyuki Iwadare, known for his work on the Grandia and Lunar franchise, wanted to create a score that was different from what players had been used to at the time. Their game wasn’t exactly taking place in medieval Europe so he wanted his music to evoke a foreign land, but something a little bit different from your typical European-sounding RPG music. It would be loud, boisterous, and comical in nature with some mystical and dramatically music thrown in for good measure. Combined, it was something that felt familiar to anyone who had played an RPG before yet distinct in its own upbringing. A game was nothing without its score and Iwadere’s music made that very apparent.
The Rapscallion And The Dragon
But Yamagishi still insisted on adding a plot to give the game a goal to strive towards. Without a compelling story, no one would pay attention to their little pet project and their work would be for nothing. Thankfully Midori was more than willing to oblige. Their story would follow their main protagonist, Jack Russell, a character who had a chaotic and crazed personality for a time. Turning him into a cocky, glory seeking, albeit relatable guy, the plot would see him attempting to join the Radiata Knights, the kingdom’s defense force, and nearly being kicked out almost immediately. Saved due to his heritage, he joins the Rose Cochon Brigade led by Ganz Rothschild and the girl who defeated him, Ridley Silverlake, with the ragtag group of misfit taking on various missions around the kingdom ranging from escorting a dwarf to finding a way into the light elf sanctuary. All the while the group continues to bond and slowly learn about the injustices of the world and how everything isn’t so black and white. This, of course, all comes crashing down when Ridley is nearly killed by a Blood Orc and forced to have a transpiritation ritual performed on her, saving her from an untimely demise while endowing her with mysterious headaches and visions. This incident doesn’t sit well with many of the castles denizen’s, though, as they shift the blame onto Ganz and Jack, expelling them from the order of knights for good. Failures with nowhere to go, the two attempt to join Theater Vancoor, the local fighter’s guild, only for Ganz of all people to fail on his first try, leaving Jack all alone once again. This is where the true game starts with guild missions and plot related segments all coming together in an episodic format, akin to anime. As Jack learns more about the world and its many “interesting” inhabitants, everything starts to unravel at the seams as the many magical races begin to rebel and Ridley runs off to join them over a sense of duty. This leaves Jack with a choice, does he rebel against humanity and fight alongside the non-humans for Ridley or stay on humanity’s side and lead them to victory. It’s a tough choice that is in stark contrast to the games general lightheartedness and hilarious attitude, but it is fitting when taking in their anime inspirations, a medium that is known for its own drastic shifts in tone. Otherwise, though, the game is laugh out loud hilarious, with one of the funniest and sarcastic protagonists in all of gaming and witty writing to match. A collection of fascinating stories with a gripping and engaging plot to pull you in, there would be nothing quite like it.
Stories, this is what compelled the project to become what it ended up becoming. A fitting name for such a tale would involve those stories and something important to the games world. Hence Radiata Stories was born. Releasing on January 27th, 2005 in Japan and later on September 6th in North America, Radiata Stories challenged its contemporaries in nearly every single way. Its story was utterly hilarious and compelling, in stark contrast to the moody and bleak tales of that generation. Its characters were nothing like anyone had seen before and felt more alive than your typical RPG. And its world and gameplay mechanics were thoroughly as captivating as the rest. Presented with pseudo 3D landscapes and cutscenes that felt like they were stripped right out of anime, Radiata Stories was an open world adventure with a linear design, something that hadn’t quite been done before. Mostly taking place in the main hub of Radiata City, over 200 people roam around the town and countryside going about their own intricate schedules in real-time, a mechanic that caused trouble with the dev team as they had to eliminate all discrepancies to make it flow naturally within the world. But these characters wouldn’t just be for show, 177 of them would be recruitable to your cause. Unlike traditional RPG’s Jacks party is comprised of friends you’ve recruited over the process of your adventure with all of them being useful in some way or another. To become friends with these people would be a challenge. Some would be easily recruited by just talking to them, others would have multi layered side quests that were adventures in their own right, and a few could only come to your side by kicking them. A hilarious mechanic that was thrown in for fun, Jack can kick virtually anything in the world to reveal hidden items or cause a duel to happen and force him to face off against the poor soul he’s been annoying.
This is where Radiata Stories unique battle system comes into play. A variation of Star Oceans real time combat, Radiata improves and mixes up the mechanics inherent to that system to make it its own. Players take command of Jack while other party members are controlled by the AI with little windows popping up in the corner whenever a character makes a quip. Using a variety of weapons from swords, spears, axes, and even giant great swords Jack goes to town on his opponents while his party members, with their own individual fighting styles, attack by themselves unless you issue a command. These commands cost VP or Volty Points, which can be used for a number of things from unleashing a super move called a Volty Blast to forming a link with your allies. Coming in many shapes and forms, these links are the crux of the battle system, allowing you to perform unified attacks on your opponents and learn crucial skills for Jack. There were RPG elements such as appearance changing equipment, multiple weapon types, and stats out the wazoo but Radiata Stories was something more akin to a fighting game than anything else. A fighting game with bucket loads of personality and comedy to boot.
One Quirky Lost Story
With a game, as uncommon as this you would think that players would be clamoring for its release, however, this never ended up being the case. Selling 290,000 copies in Japan and later 650,000 globally, Radiata Stories was an abject failure compared to tri-Aces previous works. Star Ocean: Til The End Of Time had sold three times that amount and if a new IP couldn’t at least reach half of that level of success then there would be no reason to continue on with any more entries. Radiata Stories would remain a single self-contained story, a project that was made from the unbridled creativity and freedom of a dev team that was completely and utterly dedicated to their craft. Most games are planned by a committee and made to appeal to the widest audience possible, this was something different. Created by a group of developers alone, there was nothing stopping them from creating a game that challenged the norms of the medium. Quirky, hilarious, and enthralling, Radiata Stories was their answer. It never changed the medium, it never changed the hearts and minds of gamers, and it was never meant to. Even if it’s forgotten far into the future it will always stand as a testament to the power of creators and the innumerable amount of possibilities and stories contained within.