Robot Alchemic Drive Review
America hasn't had ever had too many niche games come from Japan and for good reason. Most of the games are usually only decent on the whole because of the exact reason we call it a niche game, a unique experience or aspect geared towards a subset of gamers. Enix's Robot Alchemic Drive (RAD for short) is exactly this but surprisingly is a better than average game.
The basic premise of RAD is that you, the hero, are a part of an organization called the Trillenium Committee. This organization's aim is to defend the Earth until the year 3000. Your father put his entire company, Tsuikioka Industries, into creating the Trillenium Committee and its pride and joy, the 120 foot-tall Meganites. The Meganites were created to combat the Volgara, an alien race from space.
Sound like the trappings of a Giant Robot show from the 70s and 80s? That's exactly what it is and the game plays just like that, a giant robot simulator.
Niche titles always bring a new and different element to the conventional game. There are two elements that RAD brings to the table. The most interesting concept is the control scheme. Unlike most games involving robots, RAD gives you full control of the entire Meganite. Each leg and arm is mapped to a different set of buttons for independent control. The shoulder buttons control the legs with L/R 1 being forward and L/R 2 being reverse. You have to actually alternate legs to move (left, right, left, right and etc.) and hit either hit both L's to turn left and both R's to turn right respectively. The arms are mapped to the analog sticks. By doing different motions with the sticks, the player can change the type of punches that are thrown. Want to throw a hook? Tip the sticks outward and roll towards up. Want to throw an uppercut? Tip the stick down and do a 180-roll to up on the inside and so on and so forth. The face buttons access the other weapons, the d-pad controls the torso of the robot, and even a jump and crouch feature can be achieved by using the shoulder buttons as well. It's a very unique control scheme and can take awhile to get adjusted to since it's so quirky. Once you master the controls though, it'll be a blast.
The second feature that separates RAD from other games is the unique camera angles. All the camera viewpoints are done in the eyes of your hero character that is on the battlefield and is a separate entity from the Meganite. So part of the game is trying to position your character in an opportune place to view the battle while keeping him away from the enemies while making sure your robot isn't getting beat in to a pulp while you're moving. The camera literally becomes part of the game play because of this and is a great feature for this type of game.
Along with the unique approach to camera, the game presents an incredible sense of scale. When you get close to the Meganites, they tower over you and the farther you get away, the smaller they get. It's incredible having these gigantic robots move around you and have the screen shake and tremble when they move. The draw distance is amazing in RAD and really helps the scale in the game. One other thing that makes the game great is that almost everything can be destroyed. Buildings, cars, highways, trees, towers the whole nine yards. If there's a building in your way and you need to get somewhere fast, just destroy it.
On the other hand, while the draw distance, scale, and destructibility are incredible, the rest of the graphics are rather mediocre. The Meganites are well modeled but the buildings, and the characters are about as simplistic as you can get without going back to blocky polygons. It looks horrendously drab. Fortunately, you get anime renditions when the characters speak so you don't have to look at the mangled action figures. The last thing that's a point of contention with the game is the amounts of slowdown in the game. It can get downright aggravating at times when you're trying to position your Meganite or get somewhere fast.
The audio for RAD is far and away the worst aspect of the game. The strongest audio aspect is the sound effects. The thunderous booms, smacks, and sounds for lasers and bombs firing are great. They really fit the mood well and make the game feel like an authentic rumble of the robots. The music is bland to the letter. Nothing stands out nor does it blend in to the background well. It's kind of just there. Sometimes you'll notice it, sometimes you won't but it's definitely not something to look forward to. Staying with the current trend, RAD also has voice acting for it. Just like the recent trend, it's pretty awful for the most part. I personally liked it to an extent, mainly because it gives the game an air of nostalgia for fans of giant robot series of yore, bad dubbing and all. Yet, it still bothers me and most other people will want to rip their eardrums out.
The game is played in a mission structure disguised as episodes to make it feel like a show. After the introductory stages, each mission adheres to a standard structure with the mission outline, story, battle, story, and damage summary to each. So the story is strung out little by little throughout the game. It's a fairly decent structure and works well for the game.
The negative side of this is that the missions don't differ very much. The AI follows set patterns and won't do unexpected things such as target certain people or your character on the fly. An increase in the types of missions that you can be sent on would be a welcome addition if there were ever a sequel.
RAD is a fun game for people who want to try something new but the flaws of the game prevent it from being an excellent title that could be recommended to all. It's an excellent idea marred by some horrible execution but it's definitely worth a rental and some time over the weekend. It certainly is a RAD game indeed.
11/21/2002 Anton Cao