Culdcept SAGA Review
Written : Tuesday, February 12, 2008
By: Alan Pettit (GT: The Pants Party)
Culdcept Saga is a relatively obscure sequel to a relatively obscure Japanese import from developer Omiya Soft and the mad geniuses over at publishing firm Namco Bandai, whose off-the-wall 360 releases Beautiful Katamari and Eternal Sonata I reviewed with good scores late last year. I feel like if someone in their board meetings doesn’t say “that idea is ridiculous, it makes no sense” then they immediately pass on the game. Anyway, most definitely the first of its kind, Culdcept mixed the Collectible Card Game genre (a la Magic: The Gathering) with the classic board game Monopoly. If that isn’t enough to pique your interest, continue reading anyway.
The basic concept behind Culdcept is that you are a Cepter, someone who can control “cards” which are actually pieces of a fragmented book of unimaginable power. Many Cepters exist through the world in an ever-going struggle to control the cards and use them for good or evil. Your particular Cepter hails from a small, happy village suffering poverty and not surprisingly, he does not even know that he is a Cepter. To be a hero in the only way he knows how, he sells himself into slavery to fund the village. Shortly after leaving with his new master, a woman passing sees a strange reaction in one of the cards she is holding, revealing that you are indeed a Cepter. You are then immediately attacked by a bandit after the woman’s card and thrust into the actual gameplay of Culdcept Saga.
One of the first boards and card sets you play with.
The main goal of each stage of Culdcept (as well as each online battle) is to reach a certain figure of magic, then eventually reach “Go” (which in this case is actually a castle) while still holding that amount in your reserves, thus defeating your opponent(s). To gain magic, you roll a die and move around whatever shaped board you are playing (from a normal square, to multi-tiered and multi-pathed boards) and land on different colored squares. Each square corresponds to a certain element (red-fire, yellow-air, blue-water, and green-earth) and can be controlled by placing a creature on it from the cards in your hand. Once controlled, a certain amount of magic is added to your reserves. By placing multiple creatures in a row on the same colored square, you form a chain and increase not only the magical wealth of those squares, but the attack and defense attributes of the creatures. Additionally, placing same-colored creatures on each square increases the effects. For instance, a Red Troll on a red square is better than a Green Troll on a red square.
Aside from using your creature cards to control the lots on the board, you can bolster your books with Item and Spell cards. Spells can be used directly at the beginning of your turn and range from simple direct attack spells (Lightning Bolt, for instance) to support spells (like Haste or Slow) that can affect the die rolls of any player in the game. After choosing whether or not to use a spell, the rolling phase commences. Depending on where you land, a number of options are open. An empty lot can be controlled by placing a creature; a lot you own can be upgraded; or an enemy lot can be attacked. If you do not think you can win a fight against the enemy creature at a particular lot, you are forced to pay a toll to land there, taking away a certain amount of your magic. By chaining and upgrading your lots, it forces enemy players to pay you larger tolls, quickening your race toward the total magic goal. Effectively, you’re aiming to get Boardwalk and Park Place, then throw some hotels on there and bankrupt your opponent. If they can not pay the toll when they land on your space, they are forced to destroy their creatures on the board to get the required magic.
Linking squares together is key to victory.
Item cards come into play when either attacking or defending a lot. Different weapons, shields/armors and scrolls are available to aid you in battle. Adding a weapon or shield/armor will obviously raise their attributes and give them a better chance to win the battle ahead. Scrolls are instant attacks that take the place of your creatures’ normal attack. Some scrolls have greater effects on certain enemy types, so using one of these can sway the battle in your favor. You can also use support troops to bolster an attack or defense, effectively creating a two-on-one situation.
There are many different abilities and creature types, with over 500 unique cards in the game. Many creatures have “first attack” ability, allowing them to attack first whether they be on offense of defense. Some creatures are better suited for just sitting on a land, absorbing damage and avoiding capture (Wall of Ice, for instance) while others are vicious attackers. Culdcept does not really take that long to understand, but creating a killer deck and knowing how to effectively use it will definitely take some time. In addition, there is a certain amount of luck thrown into the game. Often your opponent will be rolling sixes constantly, while you roll ones and land on four of their lands in a row. However, it does go both ways and you might find yourself absolutely tearing someone up, so take the good with the bad and enjoy the ride.
Every win or loss during the story awards you cards, most of which will be new to you until you begin to fill the encyclopedia up. You can carry as many cards as you want, but each book you take into battle can only be comprised of 50 cards, so selecting your creatures, spells and items is very important. In addition to receiving cards as a reward, winning battles with certain conditions met will unlock “Avatar” pieces, which you can use to accessorize your Cepter. After my first win (in which I don’t think I did anything that special), I received some armor and a mace, which I decided to dual-wield. Badass, I know.
This is the battle screen. Not too exciting.
Relying on its unique gameplay, Culdcept severely lacks in the graphics and sounds departments. One thing I really wish they would have done was spend some time on actual creature battle animations. Instead, they simply show the face of the two creature cards, and then have whatever weapon that creature might yield slash or shoot at the other card. There are also really no environments to speak of; the backgrounds of the boards are very plain and boring. During the dialogue sections of the game, the characters are extremely basic and pretty much just thrown on a few stationary backgrounds.
The voice-acting and writing is also some of the weakest I’ve seen since Bullet Witch; but worse, if you can imagine that. Granted, Japanese ports have never been stellar, but this one is just plain awful. In addition, the music during the board game sections are just bizarre. Carnival music instead of some nice battle music as you might expect? No thanks. Playing on mute might be a good idea for this one.
The achievements in Culdcept are somewhat ridiculous. Making it through the story mode (which will take a good 15-20 hours) grants a measly 115 points, while a variety of online achievements make up 215 points, requiring 200 online wins and up to a 10-win streak. On top of that, there are achievements for acquiring every card in the game, as well as all the different Avatar parts, which are received by winning matches in various different ways, none of which are all that easy. You are also rewarded for winning with certain creatures on the board, or switching all the squares to one single color. Unless you’re very good at this, I’d expect a good long wait for the full 1000 on this one.
Horrible voice-acting. Horrible menu and battle music. Bad sound effects. I'd give this a lower score, but the small amount of actual talking and sound effects detracts from how bad they are since you aren't bothered with them often.
Again, this might be lower if it really mattered. Obviously an FPS or true RPG couldn't get away with these graphics, but for the most part, they do their job here.
It actually doesn't take that long to learn the game. By my second match I was very familiar with the basics, but later on you'll need some more advanced tactics and battling online opponents will definitely require a carefully laid out deck and good knowledge of the finer points in the gameplay.
For the type of game it is, it really does well. Very unique, very fun, very addicting. It most definitely is not for everyone, but fans will be ravenous and doubters will be many. That right there is my type of game.
Awful, simply awful. Low scores for completing the story mode and double that for the online, then tons of points wrapped in collection achievements, as well as requiring many, many matches won in a very strange array of conditions. This one will take a long, long time.
Overall, Culdcept is an extremely fun game. However, the luck factor can make it frustrating at times; the terrible story, graphics and voice-overs are sort of hard to deal with; the achievements are plain insane; and worst of all, it is very addictive. As much bad as I found while playing to beget this review, it was always a sense of “gotta finish this round” and then “let me just arrange my deck for next time” and then “ok, one more round”. This game certainly isn’t for everyone, but for those out there that can appreciate a unique game, this is more than worth the very reasonable $40 price tag.