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Sudeki Preview

We clock in some quality time with Microsoft and Climax's Xbox RPG.


It seems as though Sudeki has been on the horizon for the Xbox just this side of forever. The game was announced in September 2002 and slated for release last year for the console, but its release slipped into this year. During that time, we were treated to scant glimpses of it at E3 or demos, but we never had the chance to clock in some proper playtime. Thankfully, we've been able to get a hold of a work-in-progress version of the game, and we have dutifully put in a fair chunk of time exploring the lush but troubled world of Sudeki. While lengthy development cycles usually mean trouble, Sudeki doesn't appear to have much in common with the epic disasters that often occur when a game's release date is shifted.

Tal is the sword wielding brawler in your group.
Tal is the sword wielding brawler in your group.

The game's opening forgoes the standard "epic cinema" approach that appears in many RPGs. Rather than stick you with a lengthy cinematic that sets up the conflict between good and evil, Sudeki just throws you into the day of main character, Tal, as he rushes to join his fellow soldiers in the military. Along the way you'll get brief looks at the three other characters who will eventually make up your party. Princess Ailish is the busty daughter of the ruling family; she's a powerful sorceress who is easily bored. Elco is the kingdom's resident scientist who comes armed with a variety of pistols and a jetpack. Finally, Buki (from a nearby kingdom) is a rather surly human/beast hybrid who's a fighting machine.

The standard in-game tutorial is folded into the hectic start to Tal's day, with the young soldier being asked to perform maneuvers with the other soldiers while visiting the dignitary, Buki. You'll initially start out as Tal and make your way to the seaside town of Brightwater in search of Ailish. Once you find her, the two of you will make your way back to the castle. The deliberate pacing helps ease you into the third-person control mechanics of Tal and Ailish and helps you to recognize their unique abilities. Tal, being an athletic soldier, can push and pull certain objects, while Ailish uses her magical senses to reveal hidden objects or passages.

Once back at the castle, Tal heads out on a new mission to Buki's village, leaving Ailish stuck in the castle. Faster than you can say "hijinks ensue," you're in control of the young princess who decides to follow Tal. It's hard to say if Ailish is stalking Tal because she's bored or whether she's merely lusting after him. The young princess is a bit hot and bothered in the opening cinematic, but it's not clear if she's lusting after Tal specifically or the entirety of the armed forces assembled underneath her castle window. Whatever Ailish's reasons are for following Tal, her actions reveal the added advantage of letting you get a better feel for using the first-person view for combat.

Once you get to Buki's village, you'll get your party of four and set out to cleanse a temple. Your group is then broken up into squads of two as you explore the temple and alternate between controlling Tal and Ailish and Elco and Buki. The structure puts a fresh spin on the unfolding narrative, which is nice. Another benefit of swapping between the two sets of characters is familiarizing yourself with Elco's and Buki's unique abilities. Elco, an action nerd, uses his jetpack to access new areas, while martial art whiz Buki is able to use her claws to climb up certain surfaces. Learning how to best use each of the characters and their abilities is a crucial aspect of exploration and puzzle-solving.

The environments in Sudeki have a very distinct style.
The environments in Sudeki have a very distinct style.

Another key element to Sudeki is the various systems for combat and character development. Combat is fairly straightforward. Each member of your party will have an assortment of attacks that break down into three basic types: physical attacks (melee and arranged), magic (or skills for the magically 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 result in different amounts of damage. Magic and skills work roughly the same: You'll press the "Y" button to call up a menu, select the spell or skill you want to use, and then target your foe.

The spirit strikes are extremely powerful attacks. The arsenal of available strikes you have will grow as your party gains experience and when certain conditions are met that unlock them. At higher levels, the strikes dole out smart-bomb-caliber damage, wiping out enemies in one hit. The way your characters use these attacks is up to you and the game's artificial intelligence. 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 one makes the best of their unique abilities. While the system is similar to what has been seen in RPGs over the years, 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 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 setup on the D pad lets you assign various items to directions on the d-pad, and color-coded items make manually choosing what you need out of your inventory quick and easy.

The game features an impressive sense of scale.
The game features an impressive sense of scale.

Character development isn't quite as traditional as the rest of Sudeki's gameplay mechanics due to its slant toward user customization. Each character has a set number of stats of which you'll be in direct control. When characters level up in Sudeki, you're given a set number of points to assign to one of the stats and enhance one of their abilities. How the members of your party grow as you play is entirely up to you. However, you should be smart about how you develop your characters, as there is one path that can be better than others. For example, it's better to develop Ailish's spirit and magical abilities rather than try to make her the ultimate hand-to-hand warrior.

The graphics in the game are pretty good. The characters and their world sport a very stylized look that is a mix of Japanese anime and European art influences. The end result makes for a distinctive look that is unique enough to set Sudeki apart from other RPGs on the Xbox. On the technical side of things, Sudeki serves up high-polygon characters and richly detailed environments that look good. There's a good amount of variety in the enemies you'll face and the areas in which you'll adventure, to keep things interesting. The game's visuals take a pleasing detour into more over-the-top territories when it comes to the magic and spirit attacks from both heroes and villains in the game, which helps keep combat punchy.

Combat is made a bit more exotic thanks to the game's third- and first-person cameras. The default setup in the game has your view in third person when controlling the team's brawlers, Tal and Buki, and first person when you're playing as Ailish or Elco. The switch is a bit jarring at first, but, once you've gotten the hang of it, it works nicely and lets you appreciate the detailed graphics. The biggest issues in the visual department in our version are the frame rate, which takes some pretty adventurous and inconsistent leaps as you play, and the occasionally troublesome camera that sometimes freezes in the wrong places. We hear that Climax is currently working on both of these issues as the game's release nears, so we're hoping they'll be sorted out when the game ships.

Buki can pack quite a punch when developed properly.
Buki can pack quite a punch when developed properly.

The audio in the game was still coming together when we played, but what was on hand boded well. You'll hear quite a bit of chatter, thanks to the liberal use of voice throughout the game. As is usually the case, the voice actors vary in quality, but the core cast's voices match their personalities well. The sound effects are fine, albeit a little bland, and the various weapon clangs and magic spells aren't very gripping right now. However, the effects used for the spirit strikes are suitably over the top. Finally, the music and ambient sound you'll be hearing complement each other nicely and create very distinct audio palettes for the different locations you'll be exploring.

When you look at the other RPGs currently available for the Xbox, Sudeki stands alone to a certain degree. The game doesn't appear to be revolutionary or to take the genre in any new dramatic direction, but it does offer an accessible experience that's fun to play. In many ways, Sudeki feels like the next generation of old-school action RPGs, such as Wonder Boy in Monster Land. All told, the game looks good, has solid gameplay, and has an interesting story, which should make for a nice diversion for anyone hankering for an RPG. If Microsoft and Climax can tighten up the rough spots we've mentioned, the game should be worth a look. Sudeki is slated to ship this June for the Xbox.

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