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Radiant Historia: Do it again, whore

😦

Anyone who has been reading Faceplant! for a while is probably aware that I’m a sucker for RPG games.  I like the tedious micro management that accompanies battles and character upgrade menus, watching the best laid plans of the vapid and shallow characters in the game go completely to hell, and nothing quite beats that feeling you get when a game world completely sucks you in.  It’s kind of a hit or miss science, really, and every RPG I pick up gives me a certain sense of unease.   Waaaay back a while ago, I discussed which video game was THE BEST GAME EVER with Enosh and Elrood, and one of the things I said I look for is a game’s replay value.  To me, a truly great game is one that you keep coming back to after you’ve completed it, one that continues to suck you in regardless of how advanced of spiffy newer games have become.

Well, I guess someone at Atlus games was reading the article.  Radiant Historia has tons of replay value.  Actually, it’s required.  In fact, if you don’t go back through and replay sections of the game over BEFORE you have completed the game, you can just forget about actually reaching the game’s true ending.

For all we know the original dialogue is about how Americans smell bad.

Radiant Historia gave me a bit of a second pause when I picked it up as well.  It’s a Japanese RPG.  It’s been a sad fact for RPG fanatics that over the years the genre has moved a bit to the wayside, with even games that are marketed as RPGs have started to show signs of becoming something else.  Action RPGs.  Which is fine.  I have enjoyed plenty of action RPGs, from my bygone days of protecting the Mana Tree in Secret of Mana with Elrood to my more recent days of saving the galaxy from hand squid aliens in Mass Effect.  But somewhere along the way, traditional RPGs have fallen by the curb.  Well, in every place but Japan.

I have no problem with Japanese culture.  The only problem I have is that historically, every RPG produced in Japan looks identical.  You have the main character, who is either a plucky 15-year-old with a huge sword or a dark emo mopefest sad sack with a katana (who is also 15).  There are horrible lines of dialogue about dreams and protecting the memories of the present, and about love and hope and things so corny that no person would ever logically say to another human being.  There are secret princesses, villains you can’t relate to, plots that make no sense and sections where the characters over-analyze what’s going on in the plot.  Yes, yes, we just WATCHED the villain blow up that train full of nuns, we don’t need 14 lines of dialogue for you to tell us why that’s bad.

But sometimes you get the RPG itch, so Radiant Historia got a chance.  Honestly, it won the spot in my DS over the new sequel to Okami simply because the game promised “time travel and the ability to combine your attacks with those of your allies.”  It sounded suspiciously like Chrono Trigger, which was awesome, and who am I to forsake a world that is about to be devoured by some kind of spiky underground crab monster that is of all time?

Lavos: the only video game final boss that you can fight by jumping into a bucket

Note:  Lavos is not in this game.

Radiant Historia does break through some of these stereotypes, though some of them they embrace unashamedly.

The world of Radiant Historia is in turmoil.  Due to some unexplained phenomenon that has been slowly turning all land on the continent to desert over the past few hundred years, farmable land has started to become an issue.  This prompts a full-scale invasion of the kingdom of Alistel by the somewhat more evil country of Granorg.  Land is a premium, after all, and Granorg happens to be right on the edge of what the people refer to as the “desertification” which spell check is trying to tell me is actually a word.  I don’t buy it.

A princess will fight. A beast girl will prance. Some soldiers will die. A hero will find his DESTINY. WOW.

Anyway, the game focuses on Stocke, an agent working in Alistel’s Specint unit under the sketchy gaze of a man named Heiss.  Specint does just about everything, from assassinations to gathering intel, and Stocke’s one of the best agents they have.  Heiss gives Stocke a new mission and two subordinates to get the job done, and then hands him the mysterious White Chronicle, which Heiss says will make a decent “good luck charm” on the mission.

Stocke heads off on his mission, accompanied by his subordinates Raynie and Marco, but an intel leak leaves just about everyone dead and Stocke seriously injured.  That’s about the time the White Chronicle sucks him into a place called Historia, which comfortably rests outside of time and space.

He’s greeted by two sour-faced twins by the name of Lippti and Teo, and the game mechanics are broken down.  The White Chronicle can transport you back and forward in time, but only to times Stocke himself has experienced.  This means, if you royally screw things up, you can always go back and try new solutions to make things right.  Lippti and Teo urge Stocke to “find history’s true course” and then spit him back to the mission’s start just in time to fix everything.

Battles are turn based. Also: complicated.

That’s about all the plot you’ll get from me here.  But that’s not the end of the mechanics.  Shortly after the game’s prologue, a decision Stocke makes splits the time line into two.  Both timelines are tied to each other.  In order to progress in one, you’ll have to progress in the other, travel back and forth through the time line, learn abilities, and try to keep the people alive who history is actually going to need.

The characters are a refreshing change.  Stocke is a stone cold professional.  He’s not an emo loner like Final Fantasy 7’s Cloud, and he seems to be a bit older than 15.  The only reason he seems to prefer working alone is that the missions he takes on have a tendency to get everyone working with him murdered.  When he has someone with him, he only has two goals:  finish the mission and make sure everyone comes back alive.

Marco and Raynie are also seasoned agents, though they’re not quite as serious professional about it.  In fact, most of the characters you’ll recruit will be the reliable, dependable sort.  Well, that is until…

AAAAAAHHH PLUCKY BEAST GIRL PLUCKY BEAST GIRL

I think somewhere along the line, someone at Atlus snapped.  Like, the dev team was sitting around the table making up new characters and one of the writers was stunned that the characters weren’t standard JRPG fare.  I’m pretty sure this lone writer physically assaulted all the other writers, because somewhat suddenly in the story we’re sprung with a plucky, hyper energetic beast girl who is absolutely IN LOVE with Stocke.  The game then spends a while trying to act like this never happened, and spends time trying to justify why her character exists.

There’s also liberal use of a gun toting, cool headed princess, though thankfully they don’t try to keep that one a secret.

Battles are pretty unusual too.  Enemies are placed on a 3×3 grid, and characters are given abilities to push and shove their foes around the map willy nilly.  Once enemies are grouped up into a single spot, your attacks will hit all of them.  This creates an interesting strategic element to battles, where you have to spend time to herd enemies together before unleashing some good combos on them. Combos, for the record, aren’t an actual combination of abilities like in Chrono Trigger, but instead can be chained together to cause even more damage to your unsuspecting foes.

You're probably going to want to burn down those wood shields before you start herding the soldiers in the back

Here’s the major kicker for battles:  you can swap your place in the turn queue with allies and enemies to better maximize your damage dealing potential.  It might sound like you can just postpone being attacked indefinitely, but you’ll get what’s coming to you eventually.  If you really want to accumulate a spectacular combo, you have to let the enemies pound your face in for a while.  It creates another element to strategy.  If you’re not going to survive being attacked that much, maybe try to thin out the enemy pack a bit first.

The major problem with this game is ultimately its time traveling mechanics.  Often in the game you’ll be given a choice on how to proceed, and most of the time one of those choices will lead to the end of the world.  When this happens, Lippti and Teo will pretty much say “ha ha!  Wow, you fucked that one up!” and then send you back to fix it.  There’s never really a sense of danger because if something actually causes problems and kills people you like, you can usually go back through and change it. The key is in remembering details, or so we’re told.  Most of the time, however, you’ll be given an item somewhere down the line and be not-so-subtly reminded that you need to go back and do something.  (Oh hey, didn’t that guy want this a while back?  Oh he died.  I guess we can put it on his grave or something!  Ha ha!  Hey Stocke, why are you being so quiet?)

"Stocke, that choice you made seemed like the right one, but you still failed because you suck so bad. Ha ha! You're awful at this!"

Also, time traveling gets a bit annoying.  When you travel  back in time, you’re REALLY back in time.  Dialogue will proceed like it did the first time (even though Stocke already knows damn well what happened), cut scenes will replay, old areas will have weaker monsters that become more of an inconvenience than a challenge, and plus, when you actually get into the story the last thing you want to do is go back and see something you’ve already seen.  I was kinda hoping to FINISH the game before entertaining ideas of replaying it.

You can skip most of the dialogue and cut scenes with a liberal amount of mashing the start button, but even these skipped sections just do little more than to pull you out of the action.

As JRPGs go, Radiant Historia does (mostly) a great job of breaking some of those old stereotypes.  But I can’t help but feel that the game would have benefited from less repetition, less running through old content, and less passive aggressive remarks from Teo and Lippti.  If you want to get a good idea about what it feels like playing this game, click here and read through the entire article.

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