We have acquired our copy of the Japanese import version of Koudelka, the Sony PlayStation adventure-RPG developed by Sacnoth. Some members of the development staff previously worked on several SquareSoft titles for the PlayStation. The game starts with an FMV that shows a beautiful young lady witch named Koudelka entering a monastery. Inside, she meets a badly injured young man named Edward, who is lying by a wall. When she is attacked by a monster you enter into the first battle sequence. Similar to RPGs like Shining Force and Arc The Lad, Koudelka is a turn-based game that features elements of strategy simulation games while implementing a grid system.
The overall game balance during battles is quite awkward as at times, players won't know whether they're kicking butt or getting their butt kicked. For instance, the first boss monster you fight is actually easy to defeat. Your party induces damage around 100 and enemy attacks only take about half that. But later on, you may encounter a normal monster, and the damage you inflict on it will only be about 50 and you will receive damages ranging from 200-300.
There are no stores where you can buy or sell weapons, armors, or accessories, so you can only obtain items either on the field map or by defeating enemies. The weapons eventually wear down and break. This becomes a problem later when you run out of weapons and end up fighting with your bare hands. Developers could have at least implemented something similar to Diablo indicating how long the weapon will last. And armor is a necessity in this game, since it adds about 500HP to your characters. Enemy monsters in the later parts of the game induce damage that can range from 300-400HP. Without the armor, one hit could instantly kill your characters. The worst part is, you won't be able to find armor on the field map, and you will have to defeat enemies to gain some. There are only a few save points, and in most cases you must fight a boss before reaching that save point. So if you die, you restart from the point where you last saved.
Loading time is average, but there is something more frustrating during the battle sequence. Whenever one of your characters attacks an enemy, all the polygonal objects (including your party members, weapons, and enemies) in the battlefield will disappear. After each attack, it takes a few extra seconds to render each object. And this happens every time you give commands to each character, which makes it actually more annoying than load times.
Although the gameplay has been disappointing so far, the atmosphere and the mood of the game is perfect for its setting. Voice acting is not superb, but it proves to be better than Resident Evil or even Metal Gear Solid. It is also one of a few games that consists of three members in a party that don't get along with each other. Their dialogue and arguments are quite entertaining to watch. The relation between Koudelka and Edward somehow seems reminiscent of the relationship between Anastasia and Dimitri in the animated motion picture Anastasia.
So far, the story and characters are more compelling than the gameplay itself. At the time of this writing, I have finished the first of four discs. It was surprisingly short, with only three or four hours of gameplay total. Hopefully there will be more interesting things to expect in the remaining discs. We'll have a review of Koudelka sometime next week. In the meantime, check out these high-quality CG movies.