I like to poke around in all the nooks and crannies of a videogame—to wander aimlessly until I find a secret passage or a hidden boss. I love games that I can keep playing even after I finish them, and games with no ending at all are even better. So Radiata Stories, the action role-playing game (action RPG) from tri-Ace, should be my personal heaven: it's got a branching story that the player controls in a pretty big way, a bonus dungeon, and more sidequests than every Final Fantasy ever made.
Why do I feel so empty, then? How can a game with so many choices be so boring?
Young Jack Russell is in training to be a Radiata knight. While going on missions for the townspeople—and getting paid, of course—he learns that there are bigger problems than rats in the school cafeteria. People are succumbing to a plague that looks like something out of The Crazies, and the higher-ups are planning a war against the fairy creatures. Will Jack side with his fellow humans, or will he join the elves and dwarves?
Radiata Stories's hook is that the game lets players choose which side to fight on. We can also pick party members from over 170 characters, if we have the right skills to recruit the fighters. All of these options should make Radiata Stories a rich, personal experience, one that changes with every new game. They should, but they don't.
The numerous recruits and optional story triggers mask a battle system that gets old pretty quickly. Jack fights enemies in real time, hacking them to pieces or parrying their blows. Each successful attack earns the party "Volty Points." With 10 points Jack's moves do extra damage; with 100 points, he can use a "Volty Blast"— a powerful super-move that's different for each type of weapon in the game. (There's one Volty Blast for spears, one for two-handed swords, one for axes, etc). Players learn these Volty Blasts, and all other attacks, by fighting enemies. And since we need to fight to build up our Volty Gauges to use these ultimate moves in the first place, it doesn't take long for the game to become a repetitive exercise in button-mashing. I usually fall into a Zen-like calm from battling creatures again and again and again, but Radiata Stories bored even me.
The game's other major problem—besides awful voice-acting—is that its main story is very short. Going to Jack's house and sleeping triggers new story events, and despite an ostensibly open-ended environment I often felt pushed forward, forced toward some inevitable end. Radiata Stories took me less than 25 hours to complete. Now that I've learned the logistics of when to sleep and when not to, I can complete extra missions and play the game at my own pace. But Radiata Stories still feels hollow, as if all the collectibles and sidequests are icing on a cake that doesn't exist.
After playing through Radiata Stories one and a half times, I'm left with only one thought: "And?" The game didn't leave any impression on me at all: it took two weeks for me to realize how, exactly, I felt about it. While its story is interesting and its gameplay is serviceable, this RPG didn't thrill me, or frustrate me, or enrage me. Radiata Stories just shared my general area for a while, and now that it's gone, I don't miss it.
But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).
Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.