Gaming Today Impressions of Culdcept Saga (Xbox 360)
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: T for Teen (Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes)
Release Date: February 5, 2008
For me, just being within earshot of the term “card battles” is enough to make me break out in a rash. That’s why I was even surprised in myself when I started to become interested in a game like Culdcept Saga. I never played its PS2 precursor, but the idea of card battles mixed with a board game intrigued me enough to try out the demo. Sadly, the demo only fueled my interest in this game, practically forcing me to seek out a copy — probably the only one within ten miles of my house, I might add. So does this game’s charm still hold up after several hours of card/board gaming action? Well, yes and no. My full impressions after the break.
The story of Culdcept Saga is your usual Japanese fantasy RPG fare. You know the drill: a young boy lives as a peasant (or slave in this case) until he discovers he’s “the chosen one” from a female character that he meets up with. Of course, she’s a princess and convinces him to travel with her to her father’s kingdom, so he can fight the forces of evil and meet up with all manner of strange people whose primary form of conversing is through card battles. The story is all revealed through extremely boring cut scenes with overly philosophical dialogue delivered through absolutely terrible voice-acting. The only saving grace for this is that it’s all skippable; trust me, you won’t miss much.
The gameplay is like Magic: The Gathering fused with Monopoly. And no, I’m not trying to grasp at two games to loosely compare it to. I’m saying it’s obvious that the developers had both these classic tabletop games (or at the very least, Monopoly) in mind when they started piecing together this game. Tell me if this sounds familiar: you roll a die to move around a board, you take control of spaces on the board, other people who land on those spaces have to pay a toll, you can purchase upgrades to these spaces to increase their toll, and completing a lap around the board nets you a reward. See what I mean? Of course what changes the whole system up is the inclusion of different cards which can summon monsters, items, and spells. Rather than buying up a space on the board, you place a creature there to defend it. If an opponent lands on that space, they can either summon a creature to fight you for your territory or pay the toll. There are also items you can use to give your monsters an edge in battle and spells that conjure up different effects. These all cost “Magic Power,” which you gain through various means on the board. Your objective is to acquire a certain “Total Magic Power” over the course of the game before your opponents. I know this all sounds rather complicated — and it really is — but you get the hang of it after a few rounds.
So here’s what’s good in this game: the gameplay is absorbing and addictive. I’m not one to usually get into these sorts of things, but even I found myself spending a fair amount of time pondering which cards to put in my deck, which would work well with other cards, and so on. It is very easy get lost in the game for hours as you try to plan your next course of action, while simulatneously praying for a good roll of the die. Though there’s an element of randomness to it, the game does require some strategy to ensure you come out ahead of your opponents. As you continue playing, you’ll feel yourself adapting more readily to your enemy’s strategies while honing your own. In seamlessly fusing card battling with a tabletop board game, the developers have created an entirely new play experience that allows you to build your skills at your own pace. That and you can dress your character up in a pirate hat.
Unfortunately, there’s a main flaw to this innovative gameplay, and it’s a big one: the rounds are looooooong. Playing just one battle will take as long as an average game of Monopoly, and I am not exaggerating. The very first battle of the whole game takes over half an hour, and the last round I played — my tenth, I believe — took almost two hours. And if you lose, you have to start that match all over. While I do find myself getting absorbed into each round, there eventually comes a point where I focus more on just finishing up the match so I can move on to another board. Luckily, you can save mid-round and come back to it later, but I usually find myself dreading the thought of coming back to the same scenario more than once. You’re also compelled to finish each game even if you think you’re going to lose, because you can still gain cards that way. For its part, the computer is pretty speedy with its turns, so you won’t spend a lot of time waiting for to make your moves. Of course, you don’t have to focus all your attention on the game for every second. Honestly, I’ve written half of this article in between my turns, while the CPU does its business.
Culdcept Saga is to the game world like a novella is to the literary world. It’s not small enough to be a downloadable game, but it’s not fleshed out enough to be a full-priced retail title. Thus, it costs about $40: a price that it’s definitely worth, but just barely. If you’re a patient sort of person that normally enjoys either card battles or board games, you’re sure to find some fun here. Otherwise, feel free to move right along, because this is one game that is definitely geared to a specific clientele.
Also be sure to check out 1Up’s official review of Culdcept Saga.