Release Date: 11/05/2002
At its core, Robot Alchemic Drive is a surprisingly entertaining and original mecha game. Sure, it is highly derivative in terms of artistic and situational material, but it is also highly innovative and playable despite the fact that fans of the genre won’t find it to be as immediately engrossing as other, more popular, giant-robot games. But the fact remains: RAD successfully absorbs the player by allowing him to remotely control powerful mechs, and the end result is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, for better or worse.
RAD brings quite a bit of kitsch to the table, right from the get-go to the end-credits you’ll be presented with completely over-the-top circumstances, but the cheesy dialogue and sometimes-hokey voice-acting is wholly deliberate on the part of the developers, so it’s more a game that you seem to laugh with, instead of at. You’ll play as one of three characters, all of whom will play the part of heirs to the Tsukioka family legacy. As you begin the game, you come to realize that Tsukioka Industries has invested all of its money into building giant robots, and it is now up to you to use these mechs to defend the planet against other alien-created robots that are tearing up the planet and threatening its very existence.
The mechs that the Tsukioka family have been secretly investing in all these years are called Meganites and unlike the conventional method of actually “getting into” the mech and controlling it from a well-placed cockpit, RAD proposes a new idea (quite successfully, mind you) that requires you to remotely control the Meganites by means of a device that looks suspiciously similar to the Dual Shock design. The control design is actually quite inventive: each analog stick controls an arm on the Meganite. By executing different motions on the analog sticks the mech will perform different types of attacks. Each of the three characters that you can play as have their own unique Meganite, and while they do all control the same for the most part, there are special attacks that vary from mech to mech. Things like fist-missiles, flamethrowers, laser beams, and missiles are all common place in RAD, though, as is expected, they are in limited supply. But the thing that really sets each of the three available mechs apart is their ability to transform into mobile vehicles that can get from point A to point B with much haste. Actually, only two of the three Meganites can technically “transform”, the other one uses a Volcanic Mode, which substantially enhances its offensive capabilities.
An interesting aspect of the game’s remote-control method of action is the fact that both the mech and the character are independently controlled. By hitting the Select button you can rotate between moving around and controlling the character and the Meganite. You’ll find it necessary to do this frequently as repositioning your character is requisite for getting the best view of the robattle action. Luckily, your character is equipped with a pair of turbo charged gravity boots that allows them to reach incredible heights so that you can perch on a skyscraper to get a good perspective of the mech you are controlling. For the most part, this element of independent control adds to the enjoyability of the experience, but sometimes it can be frustrating when your mech is getting the snot beaten out of it as you are frantically trying to position your character into a suitable location.
The game is played on a mission-to-mission basis, where exterior objectives vary, but despite the intentions behind controlling a Meganite the result is almost always a combination of running around a map and duking it out with an equally decked-out alien mech. In between missions you’ll be treated to a news broadcast that changes depending on your actions, though only to a minimal extent. For example, if the mission objective included saving so-and-so structure from destruction, the newscaster will report the relative damage to it complete with the amount of monetary destruction.
In terms of visuals, RAD certainly gets the job done, though it doesn’t looks particularly impressive doing it. The Meganites themselves are very well-rendered with a distinct Japanese influence similar to Robotech or even Zone of the Ender’s. RAD purports an entirely believable amount of sheer scale in regards to the giant robots, standing at the foot of a Meganite as you are inputting commands that results in mass destruction really gives you an idea of just how huge these 40-meter tall mechs are. The way your mech moves as it winds up a punch, or how the recipient of that punch reacts is also great, inertia is in full-force in this game. But while the robots may look and move around in a manner that is on par with other more-popular mech-based games, the backgrounds, structures, and objects are all entirely generic with bland textures and simple architecture.
The sound presentation is another bucket of chicken altogether, however. RAD fully supports 3D positional sound and the occasional rumbling bass due to huge amount of destruction directly coincides with the Dual Shock’s rumble effect, the result is unprecedented immersion despite the game’s many graphical downfalls. The voice acting is, more often than not, overtly cheesy and purports about the same sincerity as a telephone voicemail system but it is also, somehow, fitting. The music seems overly dramatic at times, though it is not entirely wasted on the game’s seemingly-tacky dynamics.
It’s hard to say exactly what kind of game RAD is. Obviously, there is a distinctive mecha aspect to it, but to call it a mech simulator and leave it at that would be doing this game an unforgivable injustice. I mean, the dual analog control system alone puts this game in a completely unique category. I guess I could say that if you enjoyed the obscure game Remote Control Dandy (which I highly doubt very many people have even heard of) then Robot Alchemic Drive should be right up your alley. But if my opinion counts (and I’m assuming that it does since I’m writing the review) I can attest to the fact that RAD is surprisingly-addicting. Before I knew it, it was 5am and I had been playing the game for over 6 hours without even realizing it, there is something to be said about a game that makes you lose track of time. But, on the other hand, it isn’t perfect: the visuals are basically average, the perspective method has a tendency to annoy, and the mission objectives are undeniably bland. Nevertheless, RAD is so original that it deserves to be noticed.