The lights are on
Since they take 50 or more hours to complete, almost all role-playing games can be time sinks. However, only a select few have inspired me to pursue multiple playthroughs, complete every sidequest, and beat every optional boss. Radiata Stories is one of them.
Radiata Stories may not be the biggest name in PS2-era RPGs, but I think it is one of the best titles of the last generation. The story and characters seem to adhere to traditional conventions at first, but as the plot goes on, more and more surprises start to unfold: the transformation of lead character Jack Russell from charming idiot to heroic idiot, the complicated relationships between characters, and the game-changing decision you need to make partway through. Every player experiences these things with Radiata Stories, but they aren't necessarily what made me spend over 100 hours with the game.
(Video courtesy of YouTube user CoreyStewart55)
If you just blow through the story, you're going to miss what makes Radiata Stories special. Much like the Suikoden series, the major draw is recruiting a huge roster of allies. What begins with a small ragtag group of knights grows into a veritable army as Jack Russell meets various residents of Radiata. The city is full of cool characters, and they each have unique schedules and recruitment requirements. Because the game has a day and night cycle, getting someone to join your team is often a question of finding them at the right place at the right time, but it isn't always that easy.
For any of the non-garbage characters, you have to complete certain prequisites before they are available. This could be as simple as reaching a certain level, or passing a particular point in the story. You have to beat some characters in a duel (initiated by kicking them; Jack's constant kicking is one of the game's highlights). For the best allies, you may need to recruit a large group of other people. For instance, Elwen can only be obtained after recruiting every other member of Theater Vancoor – no small feat, considering that some of those characters have difficult and precise conditions to meet before they join up.
(The former knight Gawain only joins if you take the non-human path)
Hunting down the best fighters, discovering their requirements, and building a team of elite warriors takes time. A lot of time. It's how I spent the majority of my (several) playthroughs of Radiata Stories. You'd think it would get boring, but the excellent character designs and good writing ensure that every new character you meet is interesting. I can't count the number of times I walked by characters as they were going through their daily routines and thought, "I can't wait until I get them in my party!" The draw is similar to games like Pokemon; the collection element is the emphasis, and it is a constant thread that takes you through the entire game and beyond.
Even after you finish the main quest, you can go through a bonus dungeon to recruit a special character that Valkyrie Profile fans (such as myself) will appreciate: Lenneth. Then, when you're completely done and want to start a new game+, you can get a new batch of allies. Since Radiata Stories makes you decide whether to side with the humans or non-humans, the final 1/3 of the game features completely different sets of characters to recruit.
For some people, jumping through a bunch of hoops to get imaginary characters to be your friends sounds pathetic. For me, it's the backbone of one of my favorite RPGs of all time. Getting each new ally is like a sidequest, giving me an excuse to spend even more time in Radiata Stories' lively and entertaining world.
Email the author Joe Juba, or follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Game Informer.