Culdcept Saga was one of the games on display at Namco Bandai's recent press event. The game is the latest entry in the successful series that mixes card-battle and board game elements into an addictive package. We've been eager to get an update on the title since we saw it last year at Tokyo Game Show. With the game having already been released in Japan at the end of last year, we've been curious as to just when it's going to hit the states. Well, the good news is the work-in-progress version of the game was looking and playing as good as ever. The bad news is the game is still a ways off from a US release. The holdup is localization; Namco Bandai is going through and polishing up all the text in the game--which is a pretty wordy affair, thanks to the various descriptors used for the more than 400 cards in the game.
For those not familiar with the series, the Culdcept games have been around for nearly 10 years. The first title in the series debuted on Sega's Saturn system and made subsequent appearances on the PlayStation, Dreamcast, and PlayStation 2. However, like many of the more esoteric Japanese-developed titles, it hasn't had much exposure outside of Japan. The series' stateside debut was in 2003 with the simply named Culdcept for the PlayStation 2, which became a cult classic.
The franchise's appeal lies in its mechanics, a unique mix of Monopoly-style board gaming and Magic: The Gathering-style card battling. Your goal is to venture round the squares on boards of varying configurations and earn a set amount of "magic" by taking over squares and battling your foe. Once you earn the required amount of magic, you'll need to reach the castle square on the map to win the match. This basic concept is fleshed out with card battles, which form the heart of the action. The battles are basically a variation on rock-paper-scissors, with you trying to match or best the cards your opponent throws at you. Cards come in one of three types: creatures, items, and spells. Within each category you'll find a wealth of subtypes that include modifiers, such as elemental attributes, that all come into play during a fight. Though it may sound complicated, it's not once you get your in-game primer on the fundamentals.
The game will feature two main game modes for you to cut your teeth on, an offline story mode and a multiplayer mode that lets you take on up to three friends online or offline. The offline story mode will send you off to rescue a damsel in distress and will feature multiple endings. While this is pretty much the standard deal for Culdcept games, this time out you're able to create and customize an avatar for yourself. The online game will offer voice chat and let you wager cards against your opponents while fighting. The game will also offer downloadable content support and allow you to download maps to bolster the 25 already included in the game, as well as accessories to dress your avatar in.
The game's presentation, which is primarily 2D, isn't going to blow you away at first blush. However, the game's art style and 3D elements on the board give it some charm. The cards you'll use in battle feature high-res imagery and a variety of effects to reflect their various attacks, which helps spice up the presentation. The audio is still pretty innocuous but works as a solid complement to the action.
Based on what we played, Culdcept Saga is still looking like a strong title that will be worth your time when it hits. Though the visuals may not rival Gears of War, the gameplay is addictive and fun in its own way. Look for more on Culdcept Saga in the coming months. The game is set to ship this winter for the Xbox 360.