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SummarySome original elements, but not truly innovative.
The GoodRadiata Stories manages to be fun and engaging without taking itself too seriously. Think Disgaea and La Pucelle Tactics rather than Final Fantasy. The dialogue has plenty of humor, with the characters making fun of each other, and bad-boy Jack slamming his foot into everything and everyone he comes across. Some players might find it immature but I got a kick (that's a pun, that is) out of it. The characters are easily the best feature of the game. It's so refreshing to play an RPG where the NPCs actually do things other than wander aimlessly around waiting to give a cryptic sentence or two to a player who bothers to acknowledge them.
Graphics are gorgeous even on my crappy 21" non-widescreen, non-HD TV, with vibrant backgrounds, and bright coloring and crisp lines to the cel-shaded anime characters. Music is good but unspectacular, and a bit strange... there are a variety of styles, and some of them don't always match the tone of what's going on in the game. The voice-acting is surprisingly good for the most part.
One thing that really appealed to me was the combat system. Typically I'm not very good at fighting games, so when playing an RPG with real-time combat I tend to stick to one character and use just the simplest moves, very hack-and-slash. Radiata actually encourages this, since you only control Jack, and repeated use of the basic attacks charges up a "volty" gauge that lets you unleash more powerful attacks when you need them.
Aside from one plot branch that starts the story in one of two possible directions -- and it's very clear when you're making that choice -- the game's story always feels very open-ended. No sense of impending doom overshadowing the freedom to explore on your own. Many other RPGs try to create this urgency but then don't enforce it with any actual timed events.
Speaking of the multiple paths, I have to say (without spoiling anything) that when the time came it was a very difficult decision. There's something to be said for any game that can make me seriously think about something like that. I will admit I liked one ending much better than the other, but would highly recommend experiencing both to get the most out of the game (even if you don't try for the 177 characters).
The BadAside from the NPC innovations, Radiata Stories doesn't really break through the RPG and anime clichés. You've got the hero who starts out a total slacker but then grows up. The female lead who hates the hero at first but then they become closer. All of the overused Tolkien races (elves, dwarves, orcs) are present and accounted for. While there are a few fun menial tasks, such as escorting the oxen cart, a lot of it was still FedEx quests and monster-slaying.
While searching for other party members is fun, I didn't have the patience to track them all down and figure out how to recruit them. It's a pain sometimes, waiting around to talk to people, and learning everyone's day/night cycle. It feels a bit like stalking, except nobody ever complains. The ability to fast-forward up to a certain time of day would have been nice. In other cases I would have liked more time to figure out how to get a character on board, but the main story advanced on me before I was able to do so.
Also, sorry to say, but a lot of the 100+ party members aren't terribly interesting or useful. You can't re-equip them with new weapons / armor / accessories (though admittedly this does save you money), and you can't always rely on them in battle. Granted, they rarely get killed, so I never felt like I had to babysit them. And they do block attacks and distract enemies' attention from Jack. But a lot of times when I needed a healing I ended up just doing it myself because I didn't trust my healer to come through for me. Worst of all, if Jack is knocked out it's time to restore, because the other party members won't revive him. This is frustrating compared to other RPGs where all you need is one conscious party member to escape the battle and save the others.
I don't really have a problem with save points so long as they're plentiful. But at times the game will limit where you can save, or even worse, has save points disappear after certain events in the story. That should never, ever happen. EVER.