Radiata Stories – 2005 Developer Interview
This humorous interview with the main tri-Ace/Square-Enix production team of Radiata Stories was originally featured in the 2005 official strategy guide. They discuss the main design themes for the game, as well as individual character backstories and planned sub-scenarios that had to be cut. I’ve also included a small selection of concept art from the guide, with translated developer comments.
—tri-Ace is known for it’s Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile series. Please tell us what led up to the development of Radiata Stories, a brand new creation for Tri-Ace.
Yamagishi: Radiata Stories started a little after we had begun working on Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time. The main idea was to create something brand new, as tri-Ace already had the well-known Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile series under their belt. Compared to Star Ocean, we wanted to create a gameworld that was lighter, and closer to anime in feel for Radiata Stories. For the story, too, whereas Star Ocean, with its sci-fi setting and Valkyrie Profile, with its Norse mythology setting, are both kind of hardcore/niche, this time we wanted to take things in a more pure fantasy direction.
—So it was tri-Ace that approached you (Square-Enix) first, then?
Yamagishi: Yeah. tri-Ace came to us first, then after numerous talks we decided on the overall direction for Radiata Stories.
—How did you come up with the gameworld and story?
Mitori: Well, it’s true, as Yamagishi said, that we decided on a pure fantasy setting. However, when I learned about Radiata Stories, what excited me was the possibility of creating a very special world with an unprecedented level of connection between the characters and their environments. Something where just by looking at the character on the screen, you’d be able to tell so much about who they were. I wanted to try and convey that through the story—a world where it felt like the characters really lived there.
Yamagishi: From the beginning, we were consciously trying to infuse the world of Radiata Stories with the feel of an online networked game, something with more ways to communicate than just talking with NPCs. We were going to make the world first, then populate it with all these characters and their individual stories.
Mitori: At first, there were so many little sub-scenarios, and playing through those was actually going to be the game itself. Your actions wouldn’t have a huge effect on the world at-large. Once we decided to have a main storyline, though, we worked hard to tell that story without erasing all the individuality we’d already created in these different NPC characters.
—When did you decide to have the main storyline branch, between the human and non-human paths?
Akiyama: At the very beginning, around the time we decided on the basic game concept. “Let the hero decide” was one of our main motifs.
—What were some of the challenges you encountered in the course of creating this brand new world?
Jono: From a visual perspective… it wasn’t especially difficult, actually. I was able to present my art without much struggle. In terms of sheer volume, creating a world from zero is tough, but it was easy in the sense that we were free to make that world however we wanted. I do think, though, that the people who had to take my artwork and create the 3D models to be used in game—now those guys had a rough time. (laughs)
—Radiata Stories features 177 recruitable characters, and if you combine them with the other individual NPCs, it comes to a massive 300 individually crafted characters. How did you manage to create them all?
Konishi: I didn’t have any trouble with the characters—but then, I also love drawing people with different, weird faces. I kept putting off drawing the attrative, beautiful characters, and just kept drawing all these weird ones, and eventually there was little room left for pretty faces! In the beginning of the development we talked about having a guild employment system, and we wanted every guild to have some kind of distinguishing feature or two. So many of the characters I drew ended up having those visual quirks.
Danny: Radiata pretty much has zero “bikei”1 male characters. It’s all old dudes. (laughs) Maybe Felix is the only one?
Takemoto: It’s common in RPGs for the NPC characters who don’t move (like shopkeepers and the like) to re-use the same sprite in different towns and places. We didn’t want to do that for Radiata Stories—in fact, it was one of our founding ideas. We tried to give every character an individual personality and face, not to make them mere “zako.” 2 When we were deciding how many people you’d be able to recruit as player characters, the number just kept rising and rising… until finally it reached 177.
Mitori: Our original idea was that any character in the game could join your party. If we did that though, it would be difficult to structure and advance the story. And if you were to bring a character like Lord Zane or Lord Nogeira into your party, the story might take a turn into some uncomfortably adult, mature territory. (laughs) We removed characters like that, but otherwise we tried to keep everyone recruitable.
—There seems to be a lot of thought put into the different character names, too.
Arakawa: At first we aimed for a certain degree of uniformity to the naming, but as we added more characters, it quickly spun out of control. The dragons, for example, all have space-related names. We also tried to base most of the women’s names on flowers… Queen Sarasenia, for instance, is named after the carnivorous plant sarracenia. (laughs) We actually wanted to name all the royalty after such plants, but we couldn’t find enough good names. The fairy names all sound similar too, as we used German and Portuguese words for them.
Akiyama: That reminds me, Ridley’s last name was “Scotty” at first, not “Timberlake”. [[Silverlake in the Western localization]]
Takemoto: Yeah, but “Scotty” made you think of an old dude with a beard, so we changed it to Timberlake. (laughs)
—How long did it take to create all those characters—their backstories, graphics, modeling, etc? And how many people did you have working on it?
Jono: Well, speaking for the graphics side, that’s a good question… how many years did it take? (laughs) The entire first year was spent doing concept art and illustrations. A second year was required for revisions and such. I wonder how many illustrations we drew? (laughs)
Konishi: The character design feels like it took many years, too.
Jono: We would draw all these different illustrations and bring them to the planners, who then selected the ones they liked.
—Who was the first character who you finished?
Konishi: I think the first was Ganz, then Ridley. Jack took a long time. After we had settled on these three main characters, the rest were pretty easy.
—There’s a lot of other strong personalities in Radiata Stories, like Anastasia.
Kojima Yeah, she’s a fairy. And she has that attack where lasers shoot out of her mouth (Charming Voice). Then there’s Dwight, that guy just sweats way too much. (laughs)
—How did you come up with the idea for “kicking” ?
Jono: In early drafts, Jack’s personality was extremely crazy and chaotic. But the truth is, the kick action was decided without too much serious thought: “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if you could kick stuff?”
Takemoto: With Radiata Stories, we were trying to make something similar in feel to an online RPG, so we were thinking of ways to communicate with the world other than just talking. Kicking was one of those many ideas, and it was fun so it got left in.
Akiyama: Radiata Stories is supposed to feel like these characters are really living this world, and for that, kicking seemed like the perfect interaction.
—And from there you came up with the “kick duel” idea?
Takemoto: You kick someone enough times, they’re going to get pissed off, right? (laughs)
Jono: Yeah, if you kick some big tough guy, it’s only natural you’re going to get beat up. You can kick kids, you can even kick the king—though soldiers will show up and fight you if you do.
—Radiata Stories also features a big variety of flora and fauna. There’s birds that fly away if you get close to them, and you can spot insects crawling around.
Takemoto: Partly that’s the “living world” thing we mentioned, but some of those are remnants of the earlier game system we had planned, when we were trying to create the entire game world first.
Kojima: In the beginning, we wanted to create an entire ecosystem for the world. For example, if you kept hunting rats, then the larger monsters that relied on rats for food would also decrease in number.
Takemoto: The problem was that if players got too deep into defeating enemies and playing around with that ecosystem, they’d gain too much experience, and it would hurt the balance of the game as an RPG. So we never ended up actually including it.
—Wasn’t it overwhelming, trying to create this world with so many characters, creatures, and different ideas?
Akiyama: Yeah, the most difficult thing was setting every character’s individual time schedule. There was a set limit to the number of characters who could be in any given area at any time, so we had to constantly calculate that while we went. It was extremely tough.
Yamagishi: Radiata City has over 200 people in it. One problem that came up there was who would set their schedules: the planners, or the programmers who needed to calculate the memory
Akiyama: So what we did was to make a special team who acted as a go-between for the planners and programmers, solving any conflicts that came up.
Arakawa: Making everyone move in real-time was tough too. We had to pre-set all their routes. Also, we had to make sure nothing “unbelievable” happened, like characters warping out of nowhere. Eliminating all those discrepancies was a big pain.
—What parts of Radiata Stories’ battle system are you most proud of?
Takemoto: It’s fun to take down big groups of enemies. I like making all the link attacks too. Also, we gave each individual character their own personality and style, so I hope players try them all out in battle. Take Marietta, for instance—she’s always falling down, and the movements she makes are unique to her. If you like her, by all means use her to the end of the game! (laughs)
Mitori: It’s what we wanted to do in Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile. The link system, the really silly characters… I hope players enjoy these new elements that weren’t in previous tri-Ace games.
—With so many characters, wasn’t it hard creating all the unique movements and voice acting?
Takemoto: The graphic designers had it the worst. But they all suffered in silence and stoicly endured. (laughs) As for the voices, we had to hire a lot of voice actors… about 40 in total. Many people performed multiple parts, of course.
Danny: Except that some people went into the studio, and the only lines they had to record was stuff like “iyaaa!!!” That was pretty embarrassing.
Kojima: For this game, we asked the voice actors to treat it more like an anime or a Western movie, as opposed to a game. With that in mind, we chose a slightly different cast of voice actors than you might expect.
—For Radiata Stories, you also included the ability to rotate the camera angle during the cutscenes.
Danny: That was something we knew how to do, so we tried using it in the game. To be honest it was something I really wanted to do. (laughs) It’s something normal in the movie business, and since that’s my background, it made sense to try it here.
Yamagishi: The ability to adjust the camera angle like that was something tri-Ace had developed in the previous Star Ocean games. Using it here allowed for some very nice scenes.
Danny: Without it, the edges on the 3D models stand out too much, and it looks too angular. Moving the camera around during the scenes allows those edges to blend into the background. I’ve always liked it when 2D-ish graphics have a sense of depth.
—Noriyuki Iwadare, of Grandia and Lunar fame, did the music for Radiata Stories. What kind of sound was he aiming for this time?
Yamagishi: Something different from existing games today—that was one thing we wanted. The world of Radiata Stories isn’t exactly medieval Europe, so we wanted it to evoke a foreign land, but something a little different from your typical European-sounding RPG music. When Radiata Stories was being developed, right at that time Iwadare was working on another game, and had made some songs for it that we felt fit the mood for Radiata stories, so we asked if he could work for us.
—You also had singer Nami Tamaki appear in the game. She sings one of the ending themes, Fortune.
Takemoto: Once we decided to ask Nami Tamaki to perform the theme song, we started making preparations to add her into the game as a character. However, we didn’t have the space to add any more characters, so we came up with the idea that Cornelia transforms into Nami at night.
—I imagine there are a number of scenarios that had to be cut. Can you tell us about some of them?
Arakawa: This is connected to the characters Nyx and Sonata, but we had a scenario that had to do with a race of people living far north of Radiata. They possessed different abilities from the people of Radiata, and they were called the “demons of the north.” That was just a name, though—they were actually normal humans, not demons. We were going to have scenarios based around their community and its antagonistic relationship with Radiata.
—I’m also still really curious about the Theatre Vancoor guild and Elwen…
Arakawa: Well, we didn’t come up with this during the development, and it wasn’t intended to be part of the main story, but we had some backstory in mind. Elwen was a dark elf, and in the past she teamed up with the hero Alfred and they adventured together. In the course of knowing Alfred, Elwen comes to love humans, and after Alfred dies, she forms a mercenary group (which later became the Theatre Vancoor guild) in order to fulfill his dying wish to defend mankind.
—And Elwen would live so much longer, as an elf.
Arakawa: Right. There was a scene with hints at this with Parsec, and it’s referring back to events from Alfred’s era.
—What about Jack, Ridley, and Ganz’s mothers… anything interesting there?
Arakawa: Well, Jack’s mother is the only one who we actually wrote in as being dead. It is true that none of their mothers appear in the game though. Maybe Ridley’s Mother is a wandering knight? That’s one explanation, at least. (laughs)
—And what about algandars, the disease you learn about midway into the game, that seems to herald the destruction of Tottaus?
Mitori: Algandars is seen as a disease, one that makes humans go mad and kills elves… but that is actually a misunderstanding. (laughs) I’d explain it more like this: algandars is a disturbance in the cosmic balance caused by the actions of humans and elves. The “disease” is just one manifestation of that disturbance.
—I see. Next, can you tell us about the “orbs” that seal the dragons?
Arakawa: In the backstory, an orb is like a dragon’s “egg”, or a container to put a dragon into. In the game they say that the possessor of an orb defeated a dragon, but it would be more correct to say that he returned the dragon to the orb. Dragons are immortal, you see. The dragon in the orb has once again returned to sleep, but when the time is right, it could come back to life someday…
—Cairn possesses an orb, but why did he fight the water dragon in the first place?
Mitori: In the opening movie, you can see the gem embedded in the hilt of Cairn’s sword… that is the orb. He defeated the water dragon in order to protect humans. Cairn himself was a friend to Lord Zane and the fairies, but they parted ways over the issue of the water dragon, which was menacing humankind.
—Now I’d like to ask some questions that go to the heart of the story. Why is Ridley selected as the vessel of the gold dragon, Quasar? Likewise, how did Aphelion, the silver dragon, select Lucian as his human vessel?
Arakawa: Lucian is the one who had defeated the silver dragon previously. The popular legend says that when the Silver and Gold dragons exchange places, it will spell the doom of humans. And it is the person whose existence has created the greatest imbalance—that is the person who is chosen as the vessel. Last time that was Lucian when he wounded the silver dragon, and this time around, it is Ridley because she underwent the forbidden ritual of transpiritation.
—Even if the world is destroyed by the dragons, humankind seems to have been revived… does that mean some humans escape the apocalypse?
Mitori: Well, I apologize if this sounds pedantic, but the dragons, fairies, and all that—they all come from the minds and hearts of humans. The notion that the dragons are protectors of humankind, too, is but an idea: only because there are those who need to believe in it, does it have a reality.
In the story, people are afraid of the balance being upset and the world being destroyed if the gold and silver dragons alternate. Or to put it another way, they want to be ruled over by the dragons.
So you see, although the legend says that the world will be destroyed, that’s not neccesarily true: it’s simply a tradition people have come to believe. In other words, if someone has a strong will that rejects the legend, there is a chance the world will not be destroyed.
—So it’s all up to the player, how he wants to interpret it?
Mitori: Well, Radiata Stories isn’t a “multi-ending” game: rather, it’s a game with two distinct stories. But we did leave room in there for player’s imaginations. We left room for that interpretation, that the world isn’t destroyed despite the player’s actions. For example, in the non-human path ending, when Jack and Ridley are shown walking through Radiata and the streets are empty, it’s possible to think “they just came back when everyone was sleeping.”
—It looks like Jack is disappearing in that scene, though?
Mitori: It’s open to your interpretation. That’s certainly one choice: Ridley becomes the next gold dragon according to the order of the world, and Jack disappears.
—And Mitori, how do you see the ending?
Mitori: Well, as the person who wrote the plot, I’ll share my notes with you. (laughs) In the human path ending, humanity avoids destruction and lives happily ever after—that’s one way to see it. Yet Jack has lost the person he loves, and humanity as a whole has lost the protection of the cosmic order: from now on, they must construct that order by themselves. And yet the world continues to turn… so this ending is very similar to reality, I think.
In the non-human path ending, the themes are all found in that final conversation with Lucian, and aside from that, it’s left up to the player’s imagination. Personally, I like to think that Ridley and Jack are alive. However, if players see Jack as being dead, I have no problem at all with that interpretation.
Yamagishi: In the worlds of literature and manga, there’s no need for every tale told to have the same conclusion.
Mitori: Exactly, hence the title, Radiata Stories.
—Who is everyone’s favorite character(s)?
Mitori: I just love that big sweaty guy, Dwight. He’s the first character I developed a bond with. (laughs)
Yamagishi: There’s a lot I like, but Flau and Cornelia are adorable.
Takemoto: I like Elwen. I love how imposing and frightening she becomes in battle! Normally she’s so calm and reserved, then in a fight she’s like, “YAAA!!!” It’s awesome, I love that.
Arakawa: Paul, maybe. That guy shows up all over the place. For the scene on the bridge where he’s practicing, we had motion capture done for that. (laughs)
Akiyama: Ganz for me, I think. At the start of the development, we had this idea that people rode on the backs of pigs, and even the Rose Cochon brigade rode pigs instead of horses. That idea got dropped though, and those pigs became the Travel Pigs.
Danny: I think Cross has the most interesting events and scenes. He’s Jack’s rival, but his flaws make him all the more interesting to me.
Jono: I really like the black goblins, but for a human character, I like the animations for Iris. I love the way she startles back when you talk to her. Definitely chat her up if you encounter her. (laughs)
Konishi: Probably the character I have the most attachment to is Ridley. I think part of it is that she was the real lynchpin for us in getting to the other characters; once we had our image for Ridley, the ideas for Jack and everyone else came in turn.
Kojima: For female characters, I like Alicia the best. I like how she’s got high attack power but low defense, and her sexy derriere, and her black, high-collar alternative outfit. (laughs) She’s actually a descendant of Alfred.
For male characters, I’d have to go with Ricky. He’s a real strong character, and he looks cool riding his wolf.
—In closing, please give a final message for all the players today.
Kojima: Link attacks, volty attacks, command books… I think each player will use different tactics, but I recommend that, from time to time, you mix things up and try out new tactics. You might find that those abilities and attacks you never use are actually quite helpful!
Jono: The Goblin Song skill, which refills goblin hp to the max, is super useful.
Kojima: It’s really strong if you form an all-goblin party. Some people even defeated the Ethereal Queen that way. Also, the combo of Square Llink + Fighting Spirit is very strong!
Arakawa: Have fun! Also, definitely check out the weird dragons in the bonus dungeon. (laughs)
Takemoto: I hope players have fun observing the NPCs’ time schedules. Of course you can’t do this in real life, but in Radiata Stories you can follow someone around all day long!
Konishi: Some people complain that you can only recruit old dudes into your party… each time I hear that, I want to say: hey, old guys need your love too. (laughs)
Yamagishi: In Radiata Stories, anyone can reach the final bonus dungeon, so as long as you have a strategy guide and know what to do. We don’t usually make it so easy at tri-Ace! So I hope players enjoy playing to the very end.
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A “beautiful” character, with slender and delicate features.↩