Review by Psycho Penguin
"I almost didn't give it a 5 because it IS special and ISN'T playable."
The GameFAQs review scoring system needs some work. 5/10 - Playable, nothing special about it? So, how do we rank games like Koudelka?
Ah, yes, Koudelka, a game I have heard about for years but never got around to play because I am a chump and always decided to play better games. But, I got tired of hearing about this game and I've always wanted to play the trilogy of Playstation 2 games, Shadow Hearts, that supposedly spawned from this series. All I can say is... man, I really hope this game is a lot worse than those. Otherwise, I'm going to have a rough couple of months coming up here.
The great thing about Koudelka is the atmosphere and storyline. This is not your typical Japanese RPG with cheery graphics and a cutesy storyline with a bunch of children. This game takes place in a haunted castle in 1898, and you control three characters who not only are adults, but also very mature. It's nice to see that in a RPG for a change. There's also a bunch of great scenes as you really get to see the characters develop, and the main villain is up there with Eve from the Parasite Eve game in my book. I especially loved the scene where Koudelka and a fellow party member get drunk and start laughing a lot, which is a lot better than a certain other game with a laughing scene that you may have heard about if you ever visit any message boards or played the particular game in question.
Now that I've mentioned what makes the game special, I unfortunately have to inform you that underneath the awesome exterior lies a crumbling block of wood that had a few too many termites on it. Sorry to say, but the gameplay is some of the most ridiculous nonsense I have ever experienced in a role playing game. The main issue is the battle system. It's been said before, and it'll be said again, but Koudelka has the worst and slowest battle system in the HISTORY of role playing games. There, I said it. It might not be totally accurate since I have not played every role playing game ever made and I am sure I will get some emails over making such a bold statement, but it's how I feel right now.
The battle system is set up in a grid-like area where you can move a few spaces around, kind of like a strategy game. The problem with this is three-fold. One, the area you can move in is always the same. It's always the same mediocre 10x10 square grid and it will never change the entire game, not even for the final boss. Not only does this mean that you will constantly be constrained to a tiny area, it means it's easy to either get boxed in or box your enemies in. This brings me to problem number two. You can't move past an enemy's row, and vice versa. Not the enemy, but the entire row they are in! This makes an already small grid even smaller since now the enemy has basically cut off half the field for you. And last but not least, the amount of spaces you can move will remain the same the entire game. Every battle started off with me moving the same 4 spaces up with Edward. It sure did get annoying in a hurry. Why add the strategy grid movement if it's just going to be this boring?
Now to the major problem with the battle system. Dear God is this battle system slow. There is no way it is humanly possible to enjoy the battle system in this game. Even an awesome and well written review giving this game a 9/10 agreed that this game has a terrible battle system. It is simply so slow. Moving the characters takes ages due to how slowly they move. Enemies move from space to space SOOOO slowly and they'll move one space at a time! Then they attack so slowly, too! Some enemies will take up to 45 seconds to get off one attack that does 8 damage to your 1000 HP character and that is no exaggeration. It's truly mind boggling. Man, I hate these battles.
Oh, but it gets worse! Now let's say you want to attack an enemy yourself with Edward, who is the physical attacker of the game. He will move from spot to spot very slowly also, running like he is in quicksand, then when he goes to attack he'll slooooowly walk up to it like he has poop in his pants, then sloooowly attack it, then sloooowly step back. To get an idea of how slow this animation takes, pretend you are walking in water and go to punch a shark. Edward goes slower. Man, I hate these battles.
I haven't even mentioned how long it takes to cast a spell. The person will first do an animation to show they are casting the spell, the game will load for one second, the person will do an animation casting the spell, the spell will be cast (sloooowly, of course) on the enemy, the spell will hit the enemy, the game will load for 3-5 seconds while the character who cast the spell stands there looks like a douche bag, then you will have to choose move or wait afterwards. The entire process takes about as long as casting a summon in Final Fantasy 8 sometimes, and you'll HAVE to do this a lot if you want any shot of winning this game. Man, I hate these battles.
That's because weapons are mostly completely useless, in my eyes, and magic is the way to go. I didn't even give Edward a weapon for one reason. Weapon breaking. Oh dear God, have two worse words ever been uttered in the role playing game genre? You can't even tell when the weapons break (or level up, but more on that later) until they randomly decide to break. Usually in the middle of the battle. Then, you have to waste an entire turn switching to a new weapon since your last one broke. Then, that one will probably break too. Man, I hate these battles.
So, yes, magic is the way to go, even though you will need to multitask in order to survive the constant frustration of animations and loading and slowness, but magic will be proven to be very effective and with a little bit of leveling up you will completely BREAK this game. That's because when you level up, you are giving 4 bonus points to level up in 8 areas as you see fit. Most of them are utterly useless, so you'll want to focus on Strength/HP/MP/Magic Power. If you level up these four areas, the enemies won't stand a chance. You can also level up weapons and magic to a maximum of level three by using them OVER and OVER and OVER again, since it takes ages to level them up, but for some reason it doesn't tell you when you leveled a weapon up. Unless I just missed that, since I barely used weapons anyways. Man, I hate these battles.
Moving on, at least the game should be competent outside of battles, right? Wrong. The puzzles in this game are some of the most tedious and boring things in the history of role playing games. Find some dolls to give to random.. dolls! Collect pieces of stained glass! Use math to figure out the weight of someone! Get some acid from the other side of the castle to fill something with it! Find a bunch of statues and put items on them! Ugh. Totally ridiculous and "inspired by" Resident Evil. I also loved how sometimes you couldn't even tell which way you could exit a room, and which stuff you could climb on. It sure was a lot of fun trying to figure some of that stuff out, especially in the beginning of disc 3 when you're all by yourself as Koudelka and trying to find four statues. One of the statues is out of the way and you can't even see the pathway to go to it. I had to look up a youtube video in that area to figure it out, so thanks to whoever did that video!
The puzzles aren't the only thing "inspired by" Resident Evil. Holy cow, Resident Evil style controls for the loss. Seriously, I hate these "realistic" controls and hope most games with them die in a fire. I could not stand the control system in this game, as it was some of the worst controls I have ever encountered. The worst problem was simply the fact I had to jam X constantly to climb up some stairs and boxes at times. One Koudelka fan tells me this isn't the case and one did, so I am convinced I am right and one of my friends is wrong. Because it happened to me, and I hope it doesn't happen to you, because man that is some annoying stuff.
The best part about all this is combining the fact that you can't tell what you can climb and what you can't with the fact that you have to jam the X button to climb up things. So, you either have to read a FAQ or be Nostradamus to figure out what you can climb up to begin with, otherwise you might be like me and randomly jamming the X button trying to climb up things you eventually figure out were not meant to be climbed up on to begin with. Man, the gameplay in this game is just not very good.
I wish the graphics would help, but again, they really didn't. I hated how you could not tell what could be climbed and what couldn't, I hated that a lot of pathways didn't look like pathways, and I hated how everything just blended together. Plus, they're so damn dark in trying to keep the "mood" of the game so I had to turn the brightness up all the way on my television just to be able to see what the hell was going on. They were a nice style and the pre-rendered graphics are admittedly beautiful for the time frame this game was released in, but otherwise I will complain at will. Don't even get me started on the laughable attempt at battle graphics. At least the enemy designs were nice.
The music is probably the other big strength of Koudelka, as there's four battle themes you will hear throughout the game, and they all rock. The regular battle theme is one of the stronger ones in a role playing game, and the boss battle theme is unique enough to stand out. The two final boss themes are simply incredible and I made sure to download them after hearing them so I could hear them over and over. I don't remember any music besides those four tracks so either the game has no other music or it's so memorable I can't remember even though I just beat the game yesterday. YOU DECIDE 2008!
The problem with Koudelka is simple. I'm a huge gameplay nut and this game is ridiculous outside of the cool leveling up system. Battles are ridiculously slow paced and clunky, the controls are horrible, and some things are just too obscure to figure out on your own right away. Fortunately, the game has a nice presentation, awesome storyline, deep character development, and a nice array of battle tracks. You decide if all that, and the chance to understand Shadow Hearts better, is worth the 10-12 hours it takes to beat this one. (Did I mention it's short? That's one positive, I guess.)
Man, I hate those battles.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 10/07/08
Game Release: Koudelka (US, 11/30/99)
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