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Koudelka - Retroview

Resident Evil Meets Final Fantasy Tactics

By: Jennatar


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 4
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 6
   Originality 10
   Plot 7
   Localization 8
   Replay Value 4
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Hard
   Time to Complete

10-15 hours

 
Overall
7
Criteria

Title

   The name of the game is Koudelka, who doubles as the main character: a headstrong woman gifted with psychic powers. Her powers really don't help you figure out this puzzling game, however. Mix darkly stunning visuals with a combat system that makes you want to scream, and you arrive at my hesitant conclusion of the game: if you can get past the first hour of gameplay you might enjoy the rest of the game...

   In Koudelka the programmers decided on a new type of turn-based combat system, hoping to make a more realistic battle. They also succeeded in creating a system slow enough to try any gamer's patience. Basically, combat takes you to a flat board that is cut into squares. Characters have the option of moving every turn towards the enemy, or remaining where they are. They can then either cast spells or attack if they are in range. By "range" I refer to weapons only -- you can only attack with swords (knives, etc) if you are standing right next to the enemy, and with spears only if you are two spaces from the enemy. Add to that the fact that casting spells is not automatic (often takes an extra turn), and you've encountered a decidedly dull system. Realistic, yes, but at the expense of fast gameplay. The only point that makes this bearable is that you level after almost every fight, and that the random fights you get into are few and far between.

   Leveling in Koudelka is actually a rather nice process. For each level you are awarded four points, which you may assign to any of the eight attributes, allowing you to customize all of your three characters. Your magic spells, as well as your weapon proficiencies, level with use. My single qualm with this system is that weapons break far too often, and without warning.

   The menu interface isn't the best I've seen, but it's not the worst. There are some constricting elements to the menus (for example, if you wish to heal out of battle, only Koudelka can cast the spell though the others know it), but it's pretty stupid-friendly. If you discount combat, the game moves fairly quickly, with boss fights placed around every hour of gameplay (or less). One down side to the game is that you cannot buy items or weapons; you must either get them from a fight, or find them on the floor. To counter that is the rather nice fact that you can save in just about every other room -- no chance of dying and having to backtrack an hour =)


Look out FF Tactics, here we come!
Look out FF Tactics, here we come! 

   There are some really nice musical scores to this game, with break-taking vocals. The opening and ending sequences are the most memorable, but there are several other areas throughout the game that are nice. Another plus is that all conversations in the game are actually spoken, with pleasant voice actors. Beyond that, the standard background music (dark and ominous) is forgettable. What kills the music/sound score is the combat music. Not bad to listen to once, the music repeats through all battle sequences, and gets annoying very quickly. In addition, sound effects in battle are choppy. My personal suggestion is to keep a tuner by you, and raise the volume only for conversations and movie clips.

   This game is actually more original than its sequel Shadow Hearts. First of all, it is not an epic fantasy RPG. The entire game takes place in a monastary a decade or two before World War I, and the world is never put in danger. That in itself makes the game original; I'd never before seen an RPG where the world wasn't imperiled by some evil force or another. The interface, where you must find all your items, and the fact that there are only three characters that join your party is also novel in an RPG. Beyond that, the game theme and plot and unique: an unrelieved horror theme prevails throughout the entire game.


Who would've guessed this was behind a painting?
Who would've guessed this was behind a painting? 

   The plot is small-scale, and consequently simplistic. Quite frankly, as you wander from the start to finish of the game, only two days pass by. That added to the fact that there are two or three characters (besides your party members) that you talk to restricts the plot to a minimum. The character development, however, is quite good. By the end of the game you know everyone's past, their feelings about the world, and their motives.

   The translation of the game is flawless, even down to the minor expletives used by the characters. The characters look European, and lips roughly match with words in the movie clips. The dark theme also appeals to many Americans, who might be a bit tired of smoochy romances tied into RPGs.

   I will never replay this game, but as I never replay any game, that doesn't say much. The slow combat system will turn many off from playing the game again, while the fast plot will attract some. Perks for beating the game -- unlocked areas/weapons, better endings, etc -- are nonexistent. If you're really bored and want to replay a game, yet don't have the time for the longer games, Koudelka might be a nice bet.

   The graphics were impressive. The setting is beautifully (or horrifically) detailed, where stained glass windows cast appropriately colored murals onto the floor. The characters are some of the best I've seen from a PSX, and the in-combat graphics are well-thought and detailed. They are also quite disturbing: the greater majority of enemies possess too many eyes, hands, or heads. What really impressed me, though, were the numerous and well-crafted movie clips. The complicated and flatly awesome clips are one of the main reasons why I stuck with this game.


Nice setting, 'eh?
Nice setting, 'eh? 

   Lastly, the game was hard. Advancing through the monastary requires that you complete various puzzles, many of which can't be done if you fail to pick up an item. The items (and sometimes passageways to the items), however, are often hard to find. The only way to navigate through this game is to check every nook and cranny of every room, or have a strategy guide handy. On the other hand, the combat sequences aren't that tough, with the exception of a few bosses.

   Summing it up: if you are totally turned off by the small-scale plot, few characters, and interface, don't bother playing this game. If, however, you think it might be interesting, get the game and wade through the first hour. After that, you become used to the game, and the final 10 hours are quite enjoyable.





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