"That's Tom Baker!" As first impressions go, roleplaying game Sudeki makes one of the best, with the ex-Doctor Who and Little Britain voiceover artist lending his tones to a beautifully-animated shadow puppet intro sequence. However, an hour later and my poor ZONE colleagues are wincing as I pummel the keyboard in frustration. Why the sudden descent into uncontrolled anger? Let me calm down and I'll tell you...
Although it sounds Japanese, Sudeki was in fact developed in the UK by Climax (currently creating Moto GP 3: Ultimate Racing Technology), and first released on Xbox last summer. Set in a world torn into light and dark by two warring sibling gods, Sudeki features four distinct heroes attempting to save the planet from oblivion: swordmaster hunk Tai, magical staff-wielding saucepot Ailish, shape-shifting woman/beast Buki and potty scientist inventor Elco. You begin your quest as Tai, and as you progress through the towns, villages, forests and dungeons, you meet the other characters, who provide extra skills, weapon attacks and magic to help defeat the increasingly aggressive enemies that include warlords, metallic spiders, ogres, sirens and giant crabs.
Unfortunately, this skilfully-presented action RPG doesn't live up to its early promise, revealing a hugely-frustrating combat system beneath the vibrant and colourful fantasy. Rather than opting for the usual turn-based approach, Sudeki enables you to enjoy straightforward gory hack-and-slash mouse button-mashing, pull off combos by pressing the left and right mouse buttons three times in a sequence, or enter slo-mo mode by pressing M to execute special attacks - if you have enough skill points. Each hero also has access to Spirit Strikes, which summon one of the ancient gods to unleash a devastating magical spell.
You switch between characters using the function keys during a battle (that always happen in enclosed arena-style areas), but even with this addition from the Xbox version, the combat system is still imprecise and random as to which enemies you hit. When you have more than half a dozen baddies to contend with, it's tricky to aim and keep track of the action, and the Al of the four heroes (with three default settings of attack, defend and retreat) isn't good enough, meaning you have to constantly jump in to babysit a character who's getting duffed up. If you do happen to be killed outright, you have to return to the last save point - which could be three or four fights ago. This is annoying and totally unnecessary to boot.
Sudeki isn't in the same league as Japanese RPGs such as Final Fantasy VII and Tales Of Symphonia, or the more-recent US-developed World Of Warcraft. What it does have are hundreds of NPCs (some with dire accents and acting), side quests and hidden treasures, along with plenty of weapon, magic and character upgrades, plus eye-smacking graphics that approach the visual splendour of those titles. However, RPGs are all about the battles and level-ups, and Sudeki's clunky real-time combat system spoils the game and brought ruin to my keyboard.
There are a number of extremely promising RPGs headed for the Xbox this fall such as Fable and Knights of the Old Republic II and it was hoped that Sudeki would be leading the charge. With a number of innovative elements combined with the standard RPG ones, on paper Sudeki had significant potential. Unfortunately Sudeki wasn't all I hoped it would be but that's not to say it isn't a worth playing either.
Sudeki is an RPG with strong elements to the action genre. Combat especially drives this home as battles are all done real time and rely on pulling off combos hitting the A or X buttons or casting the occasional spell. In addition, the story is a little on the thin side for me as I enjoy more depth in the story and character growth. It does closer resemble the plot of an action game, which isn't bad but can be disappointing as well. Many of the other RPG elements are accounted for however such as experience points, upgrading character attributes and weapons, and numerous items can be found throughout the game.
Although the combat is more action based, that's not to imply that it's not as fun as the more classic RPG combat approach. It can take a few hours of play before you really appreciate the different strategies and tactics at your disposal but once you start successfully executing them, most of your initial concerns or frustrations will dissipate. If you hang with it, you'll find out that the combat system is rather innovative and offers a unique experience among RPGs.
The graphics and audio both give strong performances with detailed and well designed environments, good voice-overs, and fluid movements. There wasn't anything that blew me away but clearly there shouldn't be any disappointment either.
Sudeki is not your classic RPG and those looking for that are going to be disappointed. Without a doubt it's not going to be game of the year or even in the top five RPGs either but Sudeki still offers something worth playing and given enough time, most will come to appreciate the innovation and unique RPG it offers.
When Western developers try to make Japanese-style RPGs, terrible things often happen. Need evidence? Witness the eye-searing horror of Shadow Madness (PS1). Or actiially; its probably better if you dont. The Sudeki team wants to avoid the overt cliches with its games design: Male lead heroes with big sparkly eyes and feminine physiques do not necessarily conjure up a character you would want to control, explains Art Director James Brace. The gameplays also nonstandard: Its less like Final Fantasy and more like Phantasy Star Online, with multihit hack-n-slash combos and all sorts of dazzling summon magic.
Snapshots and Media
- Dark Cloud 2
- Earth and Beyond
- Enchanted Arms
- Final Fantasy XI
- Final Fantasy 8
- Front Mission 3
- Grandia Xtreme
- Heroes of Newerth
- Lords of EverQuest
- Phantasy Star Online
- RPG Maker 3
- Tales of Destiny
- Tales of Legendia
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
- The Granstream Saga
- Wild Arms 3
- Ys: The Ark of Napishtim