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Radia Senki: Reimei Hen (NES) artwork

Radia Senki: Reimei Hen (NES) review

"Game production was much different during the days of the NES. Cartridges had to be bought and licensed from Nintendo, distribution was expensive because cartridges had to be manufactured long in advance, and translations were a much bigger proportion of the total cost. Essentially, every release was a huge risk. Add to this Nintendo of America's rule that each company could release only five games per year. The conglomeration of these situations caused third party companies to release only the ..."

Game production was much different during the days of the NES. Cartridges had to be bought and licensed from Nintendo, distribution was expensive because cartridges had to be manufactured long in advance, and translations were a much bigger proportion of the total cost. Essentially, every release was a huge risk. Add to this Nintendo of America's rule that each company could release only five games per year. The conglomeration of these situations caused third party companies to release only the cream of their crop since mediocre games by weak third parties were too risky to distribute and the five game rule kept strong third parties from usurping Nintendo itself by releasing a glut of games. 

Argue as you may about Nintendo's reasons for these edicts, but the fact that Nintendo's practices prevented another video game crash is undeniable. The United States received most of Japan's blockbusters while cutting much of the cruft. However, a few rather excellent games were kept in the homeland to make room for likely more successful or less risky exports. Tecmo's 1991 action-RPG masterpiece, Radia Senki, is a prime example of a game that should have made it outside of Japan but never did. Don't let the company name fool you: this is no Secret of the Stars.

You play the role of a hero who awakens in a strange land only to be assaulted by a brash stranger. Before blows can be struck monsters arrive so the two call a temporary truce until the fiends are dispatched. It turns out the hero is amnesiac and knows little besides his name (which you choose). From here the hero is gradually drafted into a fight against a corrupt and power hungry empire. Radia Senki takes your character and up to four allies through forests, caves, and castles in an attempt to rescue friends and vanquish foes. While not original, Radia Senki's plot does move the game along, and there are enough twists and characters to keep things interesting. Transitional sequences are simple and short, but there is a little room for character growth. 

In many ways Radia Senki is a standard RPG. You buy weapons and armors in shops, take on objectives in sequence one at a time, find treasure in dungeons, talk to townspeople for information, and fight enemies for experience. What separates Radia Senki from the standard RPG, however, is its extraordinary battle system. Instead of the battle screen separate from the normal walking screen, Radia Senki places both in the same scenery (think Chrono Trigger). When battle occurs, enemies appear from the edges of the screen. The player himself freely moves the hero character around while the computer controls the other characters, but the player can give commands that influence the other characters' actions. When in range of the enemy, the player presses a button to attack with the hero's sword (think Legend of Zelda). The computer-controlled characters attempt the same, though most other party members use ranged attacks. 

The interactive battle element adds an incredible amount of depth to the battles. Most RPGs treat battling as filler between story segments, but battles are the meat of the game in Radia Senki. It's far more exciting to actually stab that slime to death rather than select ''Fight'' a few times.

Unfortunately a few flaws slightly dull the enjoyment. Both enemy and ally artificial intelligence are subpar. Even though just about all allies use ranged attacks, they often walk into enemies and...wait. Sometimes allies take two or three hits before they fire a round off, but they may then fire three quick shots in succession. Enemies often wait around as well and exhibit similar behavior as your allies. More often than not, you'll use the hero to kill sixty percent of the opposition. However, reflexes seem to improve on both sides as the game progresses, so battles do become more exciting. 

During battle, menus called from controller actions allow the player to influence the behavior of just an individual ally or all at once. Available are magic, defensive, movement, and target selection. Unfortunately, the valuable ''Defend,'' which makes allies avoid enemies, and ''Rush,'' which makes allies attack a specific target, are missing from the ''All'' menu, which allows you to control the behavior of all allies simultaneously. Otherwise, about the only useful option that can be given to all allies is ''Regroup,'' which moves all characters at once to a specific location.

Along with great battles, what sets Radia Senki apart is its perfect pacing. The game moves steadily, fast enough to prevent boredom but slow enough to avoid burning itself out. Waiting around to gain experience is not necessary at all, but if one feels the need to do so, levels are quickly gained. Save points are also littered about to avoid those terrible several hour quests. 

The final standout element about Radia Senki is its sheer convenience factor. You have ample inventory space and saving and life restoration is free. You will not have to backtrack through dungeons to collect all the treasure, nor will you have to pay abusive inn fees just so you can save.

Difficulty steadily ramps, as one expects. Radia Senki never becomes unplayable, but occasionally the player needs to tap his stockpiled reserves for healing purposes. Fortunately, Radia Senki yields plenty of curative options. Besides a few objectives, though, this game is a walk in the park compared to other NES role playing games. 

It's the pure simplicity which makes Radia Senki so much fun: simple battles, simple plot, simple challenge. One may think too much simplicity would hamper a game's enjoyment, but think for a minute. How much fun did you have wrestling with Final Fantasy's inconvenient and limited magic system? Or its asinine inventory system? How about its lopsided character class system? Simply put, Radia Senki takes out all the time filler and frustration standard in role playing games and leaves you with just the dessert, a scrumptious game you just can't get enough of. 

Visually, Radia Senki is about what one would expect from a 1991 NES RPG. The environments are well drawn and colorful, especially towns, each of which has its own theme. A nice touch is the attention to detail regarding building proportions; the dimensions inside a building are roughly proportional those of the outside. There are also a few ''cinemas'' scattered throughout the game á la Ninja Gaiden; these assist in story telling and add a bit of charm to the game. 

I have a minor complaint with the sprites, however. The palette selection for some of the party members is goofy (one of your characters is a purple knight), and three of your party members are the same sprite, though only two of these are in your party at any given time, thankfully. Also, the scanline code is rough, so there is a lot of flicker when even a medium amount of sprites are on the screen. 

The music in Radia Senki is very good, to put it mildly. Adequately long and well written pieces take the monotony out of listening to the game. Especially well done is the battle theme with its urgent beat and hint of adrenaline. Perhaps the biggest plus of Radia Senki's music is the fact that each area has its own set of music, vastly reducing the problem of overused tunes. Sound effects are mostly limited to spell casting and ''crunching'' noises. Some of the spell effects sound like they're from Contra or something, and the crunching noises are standard. 

The game's simplicity has its price, however. Radia Senki has few secrets or subplots. Therefore once you beat it, you've beaten it; there's just not that much new to do the next time around. The game is awfully linear, from its choice of objectives to the dungeons themselves. Still, it is a decent length game, and the incredible flow just may draw you in for a second or even third quest. 

It is a shame there are games like Radia Senki confined to Japan. 1991 was such a slow and dull year for the NES with all the companies gearing toward the Super Nintendo Entertainment System release. A quick translation and release by Tecmo could have made Radia Senki the game of the year. Radia Senki grabbed me in the first ten seconds of play and had me playing for hours more. The battles are so ridiculously fun that I didn't mind the repetition of fighting them, a rarity in RPGs as battles tend to get monotonous fairly quickly. Any fan of 8 bit role playing games or Zelda-style adventures should check this one out.

whelkman's avatar
Community review by whelkman (May 26, 2008)

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