Any gamers who frequent this blog will more than likely be familiar with the Shadow Hearts series of games, but not so many will be aware that those games also have a prequel- a PSOne RPG named Koudelka. Ironically intended to be a breakout game that would revitalise the apparently stagnant RPG genre, the finished product was a game so poor that the lucky ones were those who had indeed never played or even heard of it.
The Dark Side of RPGs
Set in the late 19th century in a suspicious abbey in Aberystwyth, Koudelka follows the adventures of Koudelka Iasant, a young girl with supernatural powers who is drawn there after a series of visions. Joining her at the abbey are Edward Plunkett, a rich adventurer, and Father James O’Flaherty, a priest, making up the party of three playable characters that you will control throughout the entire game.
Regardless of your thoughts on only having three characters to use, Koudelka will surely turn you off the moment you hear about its battle system. A rather half-hearted attempt to combine regular and tactical RPGs, the game fails on every front, making battle little more than a chore- and not even one you can get over with quickly.
Even when you do get to attack, however, the whole process is underwhelming. Guns have to be reloaded every six shots, bows have to be reloaded every shot (reloading naturally takes up a turn), whilst short-ranged weapons like swords are prone to break, leaving you to face a powerful boss with a rusty dagger or your bare hands. And don’t even think about relying on magic- it takes forever to cast in terms of loading time, and manages about 0-10 damage. It is also worth noting that you cannot even rely on a shop to replenish your stock of weapons and items- no such facilities exist.
Enemies are equally uninspired; since you spend your entire time in the one abbey, your opponents consist mainly of the various corpses and disembodied body parts, which appear over and over in various shades of grey, green and brown. With each battle taking ages to complete, and a generally high random encounter rate, you will soon get bored of taking on yet another group of identical shambling corpses.
Outside of battle, wandering the mansion is almost as painful as fighting- in order to progress there is no shortage of backtracking, solving puzzles and pressing X randomly in the hopes of picking up a barely visible key that might provide access to another room.
Visually, Koudelka is roughly at FF8 level in terms of quality, but since the colour palette is so restricted, it ends up looking a lot worse- especially with regards to the repetitive enemies. Music is equally bland, wasting the opportunity to create something tense and atmospheric in favour of simplistic and dull tracks. Voice acting at least isn’t too bad, and whilst the plot doesn’t go anywhere fast, the exchanges between the characters are reasonably entertaining.
The poor RPG’s poor RPG, Koudelka may have spawned the enjoyable Shadow Hearts series, but it is hardly worthy of being associated with that name. Doubtless there will those who are inclined to play just because of its prequel status, but anyone who tries this game should be prepared to undergo extremes of pain and tedium.