The lights are on
Tri-Ace has been uneven with its RPG offerings this generation, but on the PS2, the studio produced some of my favorite games. One of those is Radiata Stories, an often-overlooked gem with a fantasy world filled with endearing characters. Partway through, you have to make a critical choice that impacts which of those characters can be your allies, as well as which ending you receive.
Like so many things for RPG protagonists, it all comes down to a girl. The relationship between hero Jack Russell and his Ridley Silverlake is complicated; it begins with Ridley's undisguised contempt for Jack, but slowly evolves into a friendship as circumstances bring the two characters closer together. A spark of romantic interest seems to be developing, but it's a slow and uncertain process. Whether or not the two characters end up together isn't the central or most interesting aspect of the game, but Radiata Stories still makes players care about Ridley's fate.
That's why the decision you need to make 2/3 of the way through is so difficult. In the video below, Ridley comes to Jack's apartment begging for help. However, Jack also has an obligation to help humanity in a war that is brewing with non-human creatures. Watch for yourself (you can stop after the decision is made to "Follow Ridley").
(Video courtesy of YouTube user TerraForce45)
The important thing to note about the scene is that Ridley is not an emotional person. She's usually stern and businesslike, but this is the first time that she seems to let down her guard. It's a landmark moment in the friendship between the two characters, but it's followed up by the unpleasant necessity for Jack to choose between his loyalty to Ridley and his loyalty to humankind.
The consequences of this decision are seen in numerous ways. Keep in mind that this isn't just an end-game choice that affects which cutscene you are about to watch; it sets players on two different, divergent paths that each contain several hours of unique content, characters, and quests. It also closes off the option to bring certain characters into battle, which is a big deal, since amassing an army of allies is one of the central pillars of the game.
If you follow Ridley, you are forsaking your duty to your people and siding with the non-humans. This means that any human allies you've recruited to that point (which is most of them, and practically all of the cool ones) are no longer available. On the plus side, Jack is able to save Ridley during the game's final scenes.
If you don't follow Ridley, you get to keep all of your human allies and recruit the best of them. Unfortunately, this also results in Ridley's death at the end of the game.
The weight of the decision isn't fully conveyed when you make it, but the choice is still difficult, and sticks with me today. One of my favorite experiences of the PS2 era is playing (and then re-playing) Radiata Stories to see how each choice affects the tone of the story and the development of these memorable characters.
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