Radia Senki: Reimeihen

Introduction

Radia is a top-down action Role Playing Game from Tecmo. It came out fairly late in the NES’ life (1991), never seeing a release in the west. Many of the designers involved in this game would go on to play key roles in SNES titles: Star Ocean and Tales of Phantasia.

Radia has been unofficially translated by fans of the Japanese title to a good standard. Perhaps inevitably – some of the detail found in the original seems to have been lost in the process of inserting the English script. While this makes the plot difficult to follow much of the time, the overall quality and style is consistent with what one would expect from a professional, early nineties localisation attempt (minus the odd profanity, perhaps).

Combat

The best place to start reviewing this title is probably with the fighting mechanics; arguably the stand-out attraction, and pivotal to the overall experience.

The battle system in Radia is pioneering for its time; merging attributes of live action combat with the less predictable encounter rates synonymous with a turn-based battle system. In outfield play, the party is stopped in its tracks every screen or so – without warning – and confronted by a group of enemies.

This scenario is consistent with a plethora of other adventure RPGs; including the Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy series. But once the enemy party appears; the combat style switches to live action, and the terrain you were previously exploring becomes the battlefield. Thus the real time fighting begins.

The actual combat resembles the original Zelda’s overhead, sword-slashing frenzy. But impressively; there can be up to four other allies involved in the battle, each contributing to the action under the guidance of simple (though largely effective) artificial intelligence.

A menu can be called up at any time – granting access to spells and items acquired up to that point – and the player can experiment with simple formation strategies for the rest of the party.

There is even an option to run from weaker enemies at the start of an encounter. This functionality – while not as fluidly integrated as it might have been (the player’s exploration is still interrupted for an unnecessarily long time) – is another example of the game’s ambition.

Radia probably helped inspire the combat systems we would see in such Square titles as Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana in subsequent years. With Chrono in particular; this synergy of random encounter rates with real time fighting pays some homage to this game.

Exploration

But beyond the ingenuity shown in the battle scenarios, Radia is generally a shallow affair; relying on a clichéd ‘save the princess / world’ story and predictable puzzles. In fact, its biggest flaw is that it is unexceptional – and ultimately neither looks or flows like a late generation NES game should.

Part of the problem is a relatively small playfield, with little emphasis being put on exploration. On several occasions, deviating from the stipulated route results in some less-than-subtle redirection. Invisible walls, doors which no longer open, and absent stairwells are amongst the less glamorous tactics used to stop the party jaunting in an unexpected direction. These measures are usually employed to prevent the player from revisiting old ground, though one cannot help but feel the placement of a NPC with a simple explanation would have been a far better approach.

Many of the same designers would go on to create Star Ocean on the SNES, and players familiar with the roaming restrictions of that title will find this game disappointingly similar.

Unlike SO, however, this ancestor is not shackled with an overly high difficulty level. In fact; the threshold is too low for much of the gaming experience, and so Radia’s menu options do not require exploration for the first few hours of play. It is only when the avatars reach Necrude castle (about a third of the way through the game) that most players will feel challenged. Once this stage is reached, however, the user is obliged to experiment more readily just to survive, and the whole experience becomes somewhat more strategic and involved.

Even after this late refinement in difficulty, one cannot help but feel Radia is simply too slow and repetitive to be involving enough. Over world navigation, in particular, is hindered by the absence of a run button (functionality which, while not common-place, was found in other similar titles of this era).

Finesse

There are other equally frustrating failings in the game. Inexplicably: three of the main characters in Radia share a single sprite set. Palette variations are all that save these tiny graphics from being entirely indistinguishable from one another, but it is enough to make the story and character development difficult to keep track of.

Another major usability issue arises when trying to identify which characters can carry which articles of equipment. Weapons and armour found in dungeons are added to the player’s inventory, but no indication is given as to who can adorn what. A clumsy equipment swapping procedure makes what is already a trial and error process even more agonizing.

Doubtless the original Japanese game would have come with the appropriate documentation, but some signposting should also be present in-game. Considering how late this game came out (it may well have been in development the same time as Zelda III at one time) many of these issues beggar belief.