Perhaps best described as survival horror meets witchcraft, Koudelka is another perfect example of a game with a heavy focus on CG movies and not enough focus on gameplay. Koudelka is the first PlayStation game from newcomer Sacnoth, a company composed of ex-SquareSoft employees. Hiroki Kikuta, whose previous credits include the music for Seiken Densetsu 2 and 3 for the SNES and Soukaigi for the Sony PlayStation, takes the helm in the development of Koudelka as director and music composer. You shouldn't expect Koudelka to be another Square title; the game certainly presents things quite differently.
The year is 1898. A young witch by the name of Koudelka Iasant is led to the Nemeton Monastery in Wales, England, by the voice of a ghost. A young man named Edward Plunkett pays a visit to the monastery, prompted by rumors that the place is filled with treasures and women. At the same time a priest named James O'Flaherty is sent by the Vatican to investigate the place. All three characters eventually meet and explore the dark, mysterious monastery that has now turned into a haunted house. As the game progresses, you'll learn of brutal murders. Discovering what is behind the murders leads the threesome into a twisted plot involving witchcraft and evil sorcery.
Similar to games like Final Fantasy VII and Parasite Eve, Koudelka lets you take control of polygonal characters on a fully rendered 2D background. You encounter battles randomly as you walk around the field map. The battle system uses a grid-based format, similar to that of some strategy-simulation games, but the grid is used mainly as a gauge for line of sight. So you'll want to send a scout (one with the best defense and highest hip points) out to extend your line of sight. You command your characters in standard- RPG fashion, selecting from weapons, magic, and various items. Aside from battles, there are Resident Evil-esque puzzles and obstacles.The largest problem with battles is a general lack of balance. Most of the time, killing normal monsters is a breeze - of course, bosses are more difficult. There are no stores where you can buy or sell weapons, armor, or accessories, so you can only obtain items on the field map or by defeating enemies. Also, your weapons eventually wear down and break - this becomes a problem later in the game, and you might find yourself fighting with your bare hands. Developers could have at least implemented a system similar to the one in Diablo to indicate how long a weapon will last. Armor is a necessity in this game, since it adds HP to your characters. If you don't have armor, then later battles become significantly more difficult. You won't be able to find armor on the field map - defeating enemies is the only way to score some shielding. There are only a few save points in the game, and in most cases you must fight a boss before reaching a save point. So if you die, you must restart from the point where you last saved. Loading time is average, but there is something during battles that is much more frustrating than waiting for the game to load. Whenever one of your characters attacks an enemy, all the polygonal objects (including your party members, weapons, and enemies) on the battlefield disappear. After each attack, it takes a few extra seconds to render each object, and this happens every time you give commands to a character. Also, the game clocks in at around 15 hours - pretty short for a game that spans four discs.
Although the gameplay is disappointing, the CG movies are absolutely top-notch, on par with some of the CG work done by large companies like Square and Namco. The voice acting may sound bad at times, but the characters move their lips very well to the dialogue. Also, the story that unfolds in the CG movies is quite entertaining. The three main characters really don't get along with each other, so watching them argue is really pretty interesting. The graphics during gameplay are nice and detailed, particularly the movements of the characters on the field map. And Hiroki Kikuta once again proves his talents with a simply amazing soundtrack.
Overall, Koudelka falls short of expectations in the gameplay department, but the beautiful CG work in the game's movies definitely makes the experience a memorable one. With a little more polish on the gameplay, this really could have been a nice, complete package. But even with the lackluster gameplay, it's still a journey worth taking if you're craving an RPG.