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Koudelka (PlayStation) artwork

Koudelka (PlayStation) review


"Occasionally, I am overcome by the urge to try something different. When it comes to video games, “different” is precisely the sort of term that someone might use to describe Koudelka. Another apt label is “interesting,” thanks to the variety of good ideas that the developers implemented. Perhaps the game’s most noteworthy quality, though, is the way that it combines familiar survival horror and RPG elements to create a unique new experience with the potential to be truly special."



Occasionally, I am overcome by the urge to try something different. When it comes to video games, “different” is precisely the sort of term that someone might use to describe Koudelka. Another apt label is “interesting,” thanks to the variety of good ideas that the developers implemented. Perhaps the game’s most noteworthy quality, though, is the way that it combines familiar survival horror and RPG elements to create a unique new experience with the potential to be truly special.

Koudelka begins with a cutscene depicting a young woman breaking into what appears to be a large mansion (later revealed to actually be a monastery), where she soon saves a dying man from being killed by a nightmarish creature. The man introduces himself as Edward, and the woman’s name is Koudelka. As the pair continues exploring together, they soon meet a bishop named James. From there, the trio begins investigating to find the cause behind a string of recent disappearances, while also unearthing the secrets behind the monastery and its caretakers.

Besides offering a seamless introduction to the game’s combat system, this opening scene sets the stage for the dark adventure that unfolds during the game’s remainder. It also acquaints you with a storytelling technique that eschews text bubbles in favor of fully voiced dialogue. Those aggressive character interactions provide a glimpse into their unique personalities and motivations. Sound effects, meanwhile, are adequate but don’t really stand out. As for the soundtrack, it can be borderline mind-numbing at times. There are roughly four tracks in the entire game, including one for the introduction scene, one for typical random encounters, one for boss encounters, and one for the final boss. Every selection is different, but they’re all repetitive and they change only slightly as battles rage on.

Koudelka’s visuals won’t win any awards, but they do help ease some of the pain inflicted by the less-than-stellar audio. Character models appear somewhat dated, even compared to other titles of the time, but they’re still effective. The main character looks like the goth/punk love child of Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield from the Resident Evil series, and the pre-rendered backgrounds bring back memories of the mansion and Raccoon City. Some of the FMVs are quite extravagant, similar in quality to those featured within a typical Final Fantasy game. They play frequently, around four times per disc, which works out to around 16 times over the course of a 13-hour adventure. The voiced dialogue is largely to blame for that, and also perhaps the expansive assortment of rare item drops.

Each character has four spaces for equipment: one for a weapon, one for armor, and two for accessories. You will quickly come across enough accessories to mostly equip your party members, which includes a number of different rings and broach that enhance your stats. Armor is rather uncommon, though, to the point where its inclusion feels like a waste. Fortunately, weapons are more common. You can find pipes, maces, swords, spears, and guns to use against the evils spirits and undead abominations that roam the monastery halls. Each weapon also has an elemental affinity, allowing you to inflict additional damage to some enemies, while other foes will absorb or resist those effects. Luckily, you can change equipped weapons even in the middle of battle, which allows you to experiment and see which enemies fall to which elements. This can also be done with any magic in your possession. You’ll need to use a combination of attacks if you want to survive. Because this is partially a survival horror game, there’s always the possibility that you’ll run out of ammunition, or one of your melee weapons could simply break without warning. Such mechanics could add tension in an ordinary survival horror title, but in Koudelka’s case they’re mostly just annoying. Wondering whether or not your currently equipped gear will last until the end of another battle keeps things tense, but it also prevents you from taking advantage of your full inventory as you formulate strategies and it can also lead to wasted rounds in combat (since you’ll have to spend a turn switching out gear).

Battles themselves are slow-paced and play out on a grid. Each character’s turn consists of movement and then an action, which could include an attack, magic spell, item use or even a weapon change. Your offensive options are determined by your position in relation to a foe (swords can strike only adjacent squares, for instance, while long-range weapons such as poles and spears have better range and a gun can attack from nearly any distance as long as you have ammunition and a line of sight). Physical attacks play out immediately, without any need to wait a turn, and the method of attack used will immediately gain experience points. Spells take longer to cast, so you’ll need to wait a turn. Besides spells that fall in one of the usual four elemental categories--fire, water, earth, and wind--there are buffing spells that increase dexterity, mind, and so forth. It’s risky to rely on magic, as that could allow a speedy enemy to mount an attack before you can finish casting. An appropriate balance is necessary, and you’ll want to stick close together.

It's unfortunate when an RPG's biggest problem is the battle system, as is the case with Koudelka. Good atmosphere and an enjoyable story simply aren’t able to make up for the fragmented gameplay. With all the seeds of potential that were planted in this game, you might suppose that it would bear luscious fruit. Instead, the developers tried to do too much at once. Thanks to the resulting lack of focus, the title winds up being a rather mediocre experience as a whole. It could still delight certain survival horror and RPG fans, but definitely don’t go into it expecting a masterpiece.

Rating: 6/10

TomatoMan's avatar
Community review by TomatoMan (April 24, 2013)

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