Thought it might be fun to start this article out with this atmospheric intro…
A young lady, clothed in a black robe, rides along a misty country side on her steed, slowly approaching an odd looking monastery located on the Welsh coast. She finally arrives, throws off her cloak and begins to scale the tall dark walls. Using a grapple, she climbs on the roof and falls into the main floor inside the great castle like structure. Upon landing she discovers a rough looking guy holding a large revolver at her. Slowly, she realizes he is not pointing at her, but rather behind her. She turns and sees a grisly monkey faced zombie creeping towards her… (seriously, his face is like a monkey. Cool right?)
Thus begins my most recently finished retro game: Koudelka. The creepiness just oozes off of this game, and it has one of the better horror story lines I have ever played. Oh, and it has one of my all time favorite npc’s in the ancient wizard Roger Bacon, a character who went on to star in the…sequels….(not sure if its fair to call them sequels because they are different in so many ways but) my all time favorite games, Shadow Hearts 1 and 2. Oh, yeah, and 3. But that game annoys me. Stupid ninja guy.
I originally picked up Koudelka because I remember playing through a few minutes of it with a friend in high school. At the time, Capcom’s Resident Evil series was on everyone’s hot list. And while I did shoot me some zombies in the RE series, there had yet to be a game that blended the horror genre with role playing the way Koudelka did, and I fell in love. I am still surprised that more games haven’t followed this very successful formula. (Although the new Silent Hill game for the Vita might be getting somewhere).
The game progresses just like the Resident Evil series, requiring you to find various keys and important puzzle pieces to progress to the next area, usually with a cutscene involving a ghost, zombie or giant spider. As you walk through the different areas mashing on the x button to find hidden stuff, you will encounter random battles against the minions of the monastery. The overall feel of Koudelka is right in line with the horror games of the same time period, except for a couple differences. I actually think Koudelka is much less scary because of the random encounters. I mean, in Resident Evil you never know when some zombie is going to show up and try to bite you on the neck. In Koudelka you really never have to worry. A zombie attack will be announced with a swish of the screen and the battle music starting up. Oh so spooky. So while the environment of the game is sort of creepy, it won’t actually get into your head at all. The only parts in the game that creeped me out were the scenes with ghost possessions (which just always creep me out) and the extremely gross enemy designs. Were talking like, really really gross here. Every kind of dismemberment you can imagine plus one enemy that has glass shards sticking out of his face. Oh, and he attacks you by smacking his jabby glass face into yours. Its just gross man. Keep your jabby glass face to yourself. Creep.
So you basically play Resident Evil, but you fight using rpg mechanics. Sounds cool right? Well, that depends on how much you like the battle system. Battles in Koudelka take place on a grid, and honestly I can’t think of many other games that use a grid in the same way as this. It’s not like Final Fantasy Tactics really because you and the enemy are always facing each other so you’re not trying to get side attacks or anything. I guess what makes it different is that the enemy cannot ever move past your lead character. So in my case, I put Edward up front and let him smack stuff with swords and daggers, while Koudelka threw fire at everyone using sorcery, from the protection of the back row. Oh, and James the Monk? He’s just kind of useless. I gave him high INT and let him heal people. So the battle system really has its moments, supplemented by the cool weapon level mechanic. As you use various kinds of weapons, your skill increases allowing more hits and damage. It was pretty satisfying to see Edward doing a three hit combo to the final boss using the Sacnoth Sword. Tasty. Oh and with every level you get some stat points to assign which makes for some pretty easy customization options.
The downside is that battles tend to be SLOW. Most enemy actions have a minor delay, and there is a two or three second “charge time” for every spell, which can get annoying . Thankfully, the random encounters are few and far between, making you work at finding them if you want to grab some levels. Fortunately at about the midway point in the game, I was getting a level after almost every single battle. While this meant that I was slightly overleveled when I completed the game, it also made the experience pretty fun and easy. Here is a vid of the first battle in the game. You can see that the pace tends to be on the slow side of things, but it works out fairly well as more options open up.
The real reason to play Koudelka though, is for the story. I think this might be one of my favorite storylines in any rpg, because it actually makes sense for the entirety of the game. Koudelka, the lead character is summoned to the monastery by a ghost who called on her through psychic channels. (Ok it doesn’t always make THAT much sense). So Koudelka arrives looking to help this ghost out, only to discover that the whole monastery is haunted. The story really picks up when you discover that the hauntings are a result of some serious evil. The game does this great job of showing you the horrors of the game world, before unveiling just why these gross creatures are here after all. Koudelka’s story goes on into the realms of life, death, resurrection and how far you would go for someone you love. It gets really intense and is told in a very interactive way. Even right up to the final boss, you have some options for how you want to finish the game, which has three very different endings. I have seen all three and my favorite actually results from LOSING to the final boss. Weird but cool.
Ok, here is the final rundown of Koudelka:
Should I play this game? Do you like horror games and rpgs? Then yes. And even if its not your favorite kind of genre, there is a lot to love here. And seeing as you can beat it in about 10-12 hours (my playtime was 15 hours, and I power leveled just for fun, as well as hunted for extras) its really an easy sell. Finally, if you have a love for the Shadow Hearts series, this is kind of a spiritual prequel, so you really need to check it out. More than anything though, play Koudelka because it actually did something new for the rpg genre, and that needs be applauded.
How hard is Koudelka? If you can tie your own shoes you can destroy this game.
Do I need an FAQ? Meh. No. There is only one sidequest, which allows you to defeat a hidden boss and get the Sacnoth Sword. Ok that part is actually pretty sweet and an FAQ might help there. Otherwise its pretty easy and the puzzles are simple enough. I did reference a guide for one boss that was giving me trouble, and you may want to read up on how to get the different endings. You need a couple hidden items to really get the most out of them, and two of the items are pretty obscure.
Will I pee on myself if I play this game? No. But you will think that a couple of bosses should put on a shirt…or something
What about sequels? The Shadow Hearts series is actually one of my all time favorites, so I can’t encourage you to play them enough. If you only want to play one, the original SH has the better story, but SH2 has better EVERYTHING else, and is my favorite rpg of all time. Also Karin is conspicuously similar to Koudelka…maybe related somehow?
So go get your horror rpg on and watch for zombies. You won’t need a nightlight after Koudelka but you will want to tell someone about it. Oh and definitely go play Shadow Hearts. Just sayin…here is a final vid to sell you on this fun horror rpg.