This probably means something


Call that a party? Hphm.

THAT is a party!

Tal in combat.

Which is more beautiful?

Jump around.

Well, there's at least one boss.


A good shot of the color scheme.


Jack of all trades, master of . . . ?
Platform: Xbox
Developer: Climax
Publisher: Microsoft
Rated Teen

One thing that the Xbox seriously lacks (besides a light beneath the green circle on top) is a decent, story-driven, console-style RPG. Perhaps because they have had difficulty in attracting Japanese developers, or perhaps because they believe their audience is more into action, Microsoft has only one such title lined up. But it's looking darned good. British developer Climax has come up with an action-packed game with such convincing manga visuals and Lufia-like elements that some observers have been fooled into thinking Sudeki is Japanese in origin. However, there is still one group that has to be convinced: the fans.

One thing that can be expected from a properly developed Xbox game is good graphics, and indeed, Sudeki (Soo-deck-ee) is a standout in this area. The color palette is almost unparalleled, and the bright and dark locales of the game come to life with their beauty. The player can't help but be drawn in to the mounds of detail, including but not limited to the deep background distance and the realistic reflective surfaces. All this, promise the developers, will be able to operate with minimal load-time. It is fair to say that this game is among the best looking in all RPGdom. If there is one potential blemish, it is all the hit and experience point numbers that pervade the screen during battle; and if there is one definite criticism, it is the uninspired human character models. The realistic (read: boring), yet oversimplified (read: those women are hot!) designs conflict with the stylized appearance of the background and the monsters. Nonetheless that is just a design problem: the character rendering and animation is flawless. Perhaps this polarizing description becomes more understandable when one learns that there are former Square artists on the development team.

Just as there is no slowdown when travelling between the different areas of the game, neither is the music interrupted by these transitions. Climax's commitment to realistic sound is apparent in their making all the characters properly lip-synch, a painstaking task since the game operates in full voice. However, one might be glad that one isn't seeing the invisible narrator's lips when he speaks occasionally cheesy voiceovers. Mind you, weren't fantasy games meant to play out to the tune of British accents anyway?

Another of Climax's central promises is that the game will be intuitive and easy to use, while still possessing enough complexity for veteran RPG fans. Unfortunately, the latter statement might just mean including elements that RPGamers have seen many times before. The player runs around slashing enemies and collecting experience points. Further, they can acquire "Advancement Points" that can be attached to a character's attributes. Each of the four characters has a special field ability, which can be used to solve puzzles. For example, Elco has a jetpack that he can use to fly around until his fuel runs out. One familiar aspect of the game actually isn't that familiar at all on the Xbox: linearity. Sudeki's story is dramatic and deep like it should be on a good console RPG, and Climax hasn't shied away from instituting a linear path to accomplish this. Of course, players can and will revisit old areas for story purposes and for bonuses.

As for the game's simplicity, some aspects to it players will find rewarding - for example, the responsive camera - while others will be found irksome - the guide window that springs up, at least in the demo, whenever the player receives a new quest. However, all will agree that in action battles, easy controls are the only way to go. The A and X buttons can be used in tandem to produce combo attacks, and using the B button results in dodges of different sorts, such as blocks and jumps. The party members not under the player's immediate control are supposed to hold their own with top AI programming, but for those who don't want to risk it, they can switch between them instantly with the black button, or call up a menu to give general commands. Actually, it is by pushing the Y button and bringing up the main battle menu that the fun really begins. From the menu, the player can (of course) access spells and items, but as they make their selection, the action doesn't stop - it just slows down to a reasonable pace. Okay, so maybe that isn't such a novelty anymore (Enter the Matrix, Max Payne), but it looks particularly awesome in Sudeki. In fact, players can even hide the menu and watch the spell they just cast go into action.

The developers are so into viewpoints, even, that the player can push a trigger button and go into a first person shooter mode when wielding Ailish's wand or Elco's gun. Can any other games on the Xbox do that? No, but seriously, this game has truly smooth control: all the above plus hot keys.

One thing that goes naturally with squad games is combination attacks. In Sudeki, once the player chooses a spell, they can "link up" with another character's spell to perform a Spirit Strike, which is essentially a summon spell. The resulting visuals are, of course, appropriately impressive.

The story of Sudeki focuses around the conflict between two worlds: Light and Dark (there is also a linking Shadow world as well.) The Bright Empire dispatches our heroes to find crystals to fight off the Dark world. However, our heroes find that their masters actually aren't as benevolent as they seem in an unprecedented plot twist . . . unprecedented, that is, except for all the times that it's happened before in other games. Nonetheless, it's a formula that works, and the Light/Dark polarity only adds to the drama. Heart of Darkness comes to mind, actually - but, happily, Sudekiís narrative is fleshed out with humorous dialogue.

Sudeki sounds amazing - it seems to be all things to all people. In fact, for those who tire of playing as the heroes, the villain is an unlockable character! Hopefully, it won't spread itself too thinly and will all come together into the wonder that it appears. Already a sequel is being discussed, and there will probably be demand for it once Sudeki's charm is revealed to the world.


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