We check out Climax and Microsoft's upcoming RPG.
If there's been one genre where the Xbox hasn't quite proven itself, it's the RPG genre. The system has been hurting for a solid console style RPG since it launched two years ago. While last year's excellent Morrowind offered up a meaty challenge to fans, the game's PC roots hindered it from having the hook of a homegrown console RPG. Fortunately help is on the way courtesy of UK-based Climax, best known for Moto GP and Rally Fusion. Officially unveiled at last year's European X02, Sudeki is part of a wave of Xbox RPG's on the horizon that are set to fill the void in the system's software library this year. We've had a chance to check out a build of the game and get a feel for how Climax's unique hybrid of original ideas and standard RPG conventions is shaping up. While obviously still a work in progress, Sudeki features a rich graphical package complemented by solid gameplay and an interesting story that should offer fans of the genre quite a bit to chew on.
For those unfamiliar with the game, Sudeki focuses on two worlds, Hikaria and Kuria, at war. You'll take the role of four Hikarians who are thrown together as the game's story progresses. The game's narrative will unfold via a mix of CG cutscenes and real time cinemas that use the game's graphics engine. You'll start the game as Tal, the son of a respected general who's eager to prove himself. The story kicks off when the young soldier is asked to investigate the appearance of a demon-spewing portal at an ancient temple which has put a serious damper on day to day temple activities. While this may seem fairly cut and dried, demon spewing portals aren't traditionally seen as being fixtures in temples, after all. While we can't reveal too much of the game's story right now, the trouble at the temple is part of larger developments that will challenge everything Tal knows about his world. Fortunately Tal won't have to shoulder the burden of dealing with this massive threat to the world by himself. As you progress through the game you'll be joined by Ailish, a young, busty sorceress, Elco, a gun toting scientist, and Buki, a human/beast hybrid who happens to be a martial arts whiz. The motley quartet will adventure through roughly 16 massive locales and travel between three distinct realms-light, dark, and shadow-as they try to uncover the mystery of what's happening to their world.
Sudeki's core gameplay should be pretty familiar to RPG fans as it follows the standard RPG structure. Your time in the game will be divided between exploration, character interaction, and, of course, combat. While exploration and character interaction in the game doesn't deviate from what you'd expect out of an RPG, the game's combat does. Climax has spent quite a bit of time ensuring that Sudeki's combat system manages to stay fresh even after your hundredth battle. Each member of your party will have an assortment of attacks that break down into three basic types, physical attacks (melee and ranged), magic (or skills for the magic challenged members of the party), and spirit strikes. Physical attacks make use of a simple combo system that features a light attack mapped to the A button and a heavy attack mapped to the B button. Alternating between both types of attacks will yield various combos that dole out different amounts of damage.
Magic and skills work roughly the same: you'll press the Y button to call up a menu, simply select the spell or skill you want to use, and then target your foe. The spirit strikes are extremely powerful attacks that can only be performed when a character has gained enough spirit power from defeating enemies, performing long combos or taking damage. The attacks are done by combining the magic power of two or more of your party members and summoning different spirits to come and kick some butt. The more characters you use for the attack, the more damage it does. The arsenal of available strikes you have will grow as your party gains experience and certain conditions are met which unlock them. At higher levels, the strikes dole out smart bomb-caliber damage, wiping out normal enemies in one hit. The way your characters use these attacks is up to you and the game's AI. While you'll always be in control of one member of your party, the game's AI will determine the actions of the other three. You'll be able to customize each character's AI to your liking to ensure each character makes the best of their unique abilities. While the system is similar to what's been seen in RPGs over the years, most recently in Kingdom Hearts, it differs in that you'll be able to take control of any character at any time.
The one significant catch to combat in Sudeki is its real time nature. Besides having to hack away at your enemies in real time, you'll have to contend with the fact that you won't be able to pause the game. Calling up a menu during battle slows down the onscreen action to a crawl that but doesn't stop it completely. As a result you'll have to be on your toes to ensure that aggressive enemies aren't too close to you when calling up a menu. There's nothing more soul crushing than being struck down in slow motion by a spider while reaching for that healing herb. While the lack of a pause feature is challenging, Climax has implemented some nice touches to keep such painful experiences to a minimum. A hotkey set up on the d pad lets you assign various items to directions on the pad and color coded items make manually choosing what you need out of your inventory quick and easy.
The graphics in Sudeki are a rich collection of disparate elements melded together by Climax's sizable and enthusiastic art staff. Given the game's lengthy development time, the art team has had ample time to let their imaginations run wild and create rich and detailed environments that are very dense. You'll find a variety of environments in the game that run the gamut from towns, valleys and snowy mountains with organic detail to some stunning mechanical locales with massive clockwork gears grinding away.
As for the characters, Tal and company sport unique and distinctive looks that suit their individual personalities. The character models feature high amount of detail and a generous polygon count complemented by clean textures. While the game obviously has a very strong anime influence, due to the presence of some award winning talent on the concept and design teams, the game's look has undergone some changes since its inception. The game initially sported a much more overt anime influence that bordered on cartoony. The look has since evolved into a more distinct and European flavored style that still retains many of the key elements of its anime inspired roots but is far less over the top. The special effects in the game are a particle effect and lighting explosion that make use of just about everything the team could coax out of the Xbox. The most dramatic evidence of this can be seen in the magic, skill, and spirit strike effects during combat which feature dramatic effects to highlight the various attacks. The game also sports a ton of subtle environmental effects such as wind, fog, and lighting that add quite a bit to the ambience of the various environments. The game's framerate, slated to run at 30 frames per second, manages the visual load pretty well. There is some framerate inconsistency in places at the moment but Climax has yet to optimize the game. Even still, the game runs pretty smoothly which bodes well for its final release.
The audio in Sudeki is still coming together but what we heard certanly seemed to be heading in the right direction. Character voices matched their personalities pretty well. The voice acting seems to be pretty solid so far, which is certainly a positive sign. Sound effects and ambient sound are still being implemented but what we heard was quite good and definitely set the tone for the various areas we saw. The music in the game had a very modern feel, opting to pass on the stereotypical themes heard in RPGs in favor of more contemporary tunes. The game's planned support of Dolby 5.1 should ensure a very strong audio presentation for players with surround sound setups.
From what we've seen so far, Sudeki is shaping up to be a promising entry in the Xbox's notoriously thin RPG catalog. While lacking the name recognition of higher profile titles such as Morrowind or the upcoming Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, the game should offer a compelling experience thanks to its unique story and gameplay. The game manages to cover all the key points you'd want out of an RPG and appears to be doing so with a distinctive style. Sudeki is currently slated to ship later this year for the Xbox. Look for more on the game in the coming months.
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