Genre: Board/Card RPG
Developer: Omiya Soft/Jamsworks
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Release Date: 02/05/2008
The original Culdcept was one of those “niche”Â titles that has a loyal (but small) fan following, though most gamers have no idea what the holy hell it even is. One part Monopoly and one part Magic: The Gathering, Culdcept was an ambitious title that managed to (mostly) accomplish what it set out to do by mostly successfully merging a board game with a card RPG game. The resulting product certainly wasn’t for everyone, but it was a surprisingly entertaining concept that managed to generate enough interest to merit a sequel. Dubbed Culdcept Saga, the sequel promised to be a larger undertaking on every level. More cards! Larger boards! Character customization! A more in-depth storyline! Online play!
For myself and other fans, it was the stuff dreams are made of. And for those who are curious: it’s pretty much everything you would expect (if not everything you would want).
The story of Culdcept Saga is pretty much a fantasy anime staple: young boy who discovers he is the chosen one (in this case, a “Cepter”Â, AKA “someone who can use the cards to play Culdcept”Â) climbs out of the pits of adversity (being poor/a slave, in this case) and attempts to save the world from the coming tide of evil, though all is not entirely as it seems and so on and so forth. For the most part, the storyline is fairly average; if you’re the sort of person who enjoys Japanese staples set against one another in magical battles, you’ll heart the storyline and its execution… but if you have no tolerance for this thing, it’ll be just another silly story you don’t have much interest in. The game is, thankfully, not too storyline-centric, however; if you want to watch the various intermissions and cutscenes, you can, but if the story isn’t your thing, you can just skip to the battle easily enough.
Visually, Culdcept Saga is pretty, even if it’s not taxing the system to any significant extent. The maps, character models and card battles are full 3D, as are the cutscenes, and they generally look pretty and stylish, if not uber high-tech, and they animate nicely enough. The various cards, on the other hand, are hand-drawn 2D cards, ALA something out of Magic or Yu-Gi-Oh, and they’re mostly high-quality and awesome. The audio is also pretty solid; the in-game music is mostly comprised of upbeat cinematic fantasy score that’s fitting and doesn’t annoy, the sound effects are pretty decent all across the board (some are kind of silly and virtually unnoticeable, but that’s the exception rather than the rule), and while voice acting mostly only comes up in the story mode and the “card announcer”Â (a guy who announced the card names before a spell is cast or before battle begins), it’s generally solid overall. The card announcer, in particular, is pretty great, just because he simultaneously has a job that requires very little of his time and effort, and he has a voice that sounds like it’s absolutely fitting of this sort of job.
But what made the first Culdcept so great, plain and simple, was the gameplay, and for those who are fans, all you need to know is that the gameplay in Culdcept Saga is just as good as, if not better than, you would have wanted. The controls amount to little more than simple RPG-esque menu navigation; everything you need to do with the game amounts to pointing your character in directions, poking around in your cards, or moving around through menus to find/change/manipulate whatever. In other words, the controls are fine, and we don’t need to say anything else about them.
The actual gameplay is where the meat of everything is. Essentially, you are given a deck of cards (either a default one, or one you customize to meet your demands) and a board to move around on. At the beginning of every turn, you draw a card and, assuming you don’t have any effects to use or effects used against you, you roll one eight-sided die to dictate how many spaces you move, and then your character moves to his (or her, if you’re playing as one of the NPC’s) destination, barring any splits in the road (which offer you a choice of direction, if applicable). Depending on where you land, you can do any number of things; landing on Towers and the Castle (think “Free Parking”Â and “Go”Â, depending on how you play Monopoly) provides you with a reward in cash and the option to manipulate any of your territories; the Fortune Teller allows you to draw a card (or not, if you prefer); the Temple allows you to buy symbols (elemental artifacts that are worth magic power); the Shrine causes various effects by the will of the gods (depending upon the kind of shrine, the likelihood of good or bad effects is modified); and so on. In most cases, though, you will land on Territories (think of them like Property in Monopoly), which will either be of an elemental affinity (Earth, Water, Fire, and Air), will be a Multi-Elemental space (which represents all affinities at once), will be a Morphing space (which changes, once, to the element of the creature placed on it), or will be Neutral (which has no effect). If the Territory you land on is unoccupied, you can summon a creature from your hand to occupy the space, thus taking ownership of it. If the land belongs to an opponent, you can try to take the land from them (by summoning a creature from your hand to do battle with the resident creature) in battle, or you can simply pay a toll to the owner (again, Monopoly). If the land is already yours (or you pass lands you own en route to your present destination/land on a Tower or Castle), you can upgrade the land as you see fit, either by changing its element or by raising its level. Changing the land element is useful for multiple reasons; if the creature on a land type is of the identical element to the territory itself, for instance, said creature gets combat bonuses in battle, and the more of a specific element type you possess, the more magic bonuses you receive. Upgrading lands also increase those combat and magic bonuses, as well as forcing any opponents who land on your property to pay larger tolls (Monopoly again). In short, the more lands you own of the same type with the same creature elements living upon them, the better off you are.
Ownership of territories is one of the major keys to winning Culdcept, but it’s by no means the only one. A lot of the game comes down to proper deck composition, as you won’t just be summoning creatures out of that deck. You also have spells and equipment at your disposal, which you can use under certain conditions. Normally, spells are used at the beginning of a turn, for numerous different things, ranging from enhancing or damaging a creature to influencing dice rolls to earning extra magic and so on, each with different areas of effect, costs, and time limits (some permanent, others turn-based). Equipment is used exclusively in battle, to influence the conditions of battle beyond what each creature is capable of doing and what bonuses they receive from their territory, all of which can make a significant difference in the outcome of a battle. Equipment can carry various different effects, from statistical boosts to Attacks First (basically First Strike for Magic fans) to elemental resistances to damage ignoring or reduction, which can instantly change the scales of a battle if used appropriately. The various Creatures also, in many cases, come with their own effects, each of which is as potentially as crippling as Equipment effects and can completely change the face of battle from one moment to the next.
Of course, to summon all of these creatures and cast all of these spells and use all of this equipment, you need magic (or gold, whatever you want to call it). Under standard circumstances, you normally earn magic by passing a Tower or a Castle as you go around the board; each time you do this, you receive a payout of magic which can be spent on whatever. You can also earn magic in other ways; each time an opponent lands on one of your Territories (and can’t kill the creature on it), they have to pay you the associated toll, for instance, and there are spells and creature effects that can also potentially generate an influx of cash for you. As you level up your Territories, make laps around the board, collect tolls and so on, your “Total Magic”Â number goes up, which represents everything you own (again, much like Monopoly). Generally speaking, whoever has the highest number at the end of the game is the winner; how this is determined can be customized (though usually it’s just a case of “Whoever has X amount of points by the end of the game is the winner”Â).
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the biggest selling point of Culdcept Saga: it is, as they say, “Simple to learn, but complex to master”Â. Nolan Bushnell would be proud.
That’s not the only upshot of the game, though; there’s a large amount of variety to it, to boot. There are over 400 different cards available to customize your deck with, and so many different “deck themes”Â one could consider building a deck around (direct damage spells, elemental types, creature effects, and so on) that building the ultimate deck can be just as consuming as actually playing the game. There’s also a ton of replay value to the game; aside from being able to play the game on-or-offline with friends and being able to host versus matches against the CPU (if one is so inclined), you can also unlock all sorts of parts by winning matches against Story mode opponents to customize your Avatar with (and rumors also exist of possible XBL downloads of additional boards and Avatar parts coming in the near future), which should keep you busy and/or interested for a long while.
That is, if you can actually get into the game.
See, Culdcept Saga is a fantastic game, IF you are willing to put in the time and effort to learn and play it. But the problem, unfortunately, is this: it takes a LONG time to get the game down sufficiently, for more than one or two reasons. Deck building is a tricky thing, and it can take several matches to know if the deck you just assembled is good or crap. Actually playing the game is a time-consuming thing as well; ONE MATCH can take hours to complete depending on how the winning conditions are set and how evenly matched you are with your opponent. Luck also plays a lot into the results of the game, so even a great deck can be hampered by a crappy draw and poor dice rolls. Skill is a learned trait, but in some respects, learning the skill needed to be good at the game may be beyond most players (heck, just getting through Story Mode can take days).
And even beyond the time considerations, there are other considerations you might want to make before you invest your time into the game. If you’ve played Culdcept, Culdcept Saga is much the same game; there’s a ton of originality in the pure concept, but not in this specific iteration of it. Loading times are also a bit of a pain in the ass; granted, matches are, usually, an hour or more long, so the time spent playing compared to the time spent loading is usually miniscule, but loading times of thirty seconds or more are common, so be aware. You can, at least, suspend games in mid-play to pick them up later (so as not to spend hours at a time on one match), but by doing so, you lose the option of unlocking any Avatar parts you might have unlocked, as well as the ability to save replay data (in case you care). And, as noted, it’s not really a game you can just pick up and play, either; deck construction and its relation to board layout make a lot of difference in the game, and a person with three sessions under their belt has little hope of beating someone with eighty hours logged into the game (unless the latter player is a dope). And playing against the computer isn’t a terribly educational or enjoyable experience; the computer’s decision making skills are… questionable, to say the least, and it will often do some the most inane and ludicrous things imaginable, but on the other hand, CPU-based multiplayer free-for-all matches often degenerate into all of your opponents ganging up on you whenever possible, the dice rolls seem a tad favorable to the computer on more than a few occasions (I mean, in every CPU match I’VE been in, the computer is usually two or three laps ahead of me by game end, and when an opponent gets three random 8’s in a row… well, I’m just sayin’), and while everyone is GENERALLY aware of everyone else’s cards at any given time (you see your opponent’s hand when they draw cards, summon monsters, etc.), the computer is more readily aware of what these cards than the average player would be… which can be a tiny, tiny headache. This is mostly alleviated in multiplay, of course, but if you want to unlock Avatar parts and complete the story, you’ll be spending hundreds of hours against the CPU, which can become annoying.
That said, the good generally far outweighs the bad with Culdcept Saga, so long as you can accept that it’s a time consuming experience. You’re going to be spending hours and hours with it, and it is by no means a pick-up-and-play game. That’s certainly not a bad thing, though it might scare some people off; if you’re looking for something with a little meat on its bones and some substance to back up its solid style, Culdcept Saga is definitely something you’ll want to snag. For those of you with short attention spans or who get bored easily (or who thought Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh looked fruity), you might want to steer clear, as this is probably not something you’re going to fall in love with, but for the more dedicated and attentive gamer, this is something you’ll probably want to buy, the sooner, the better.
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Final Score: ENJOYABLE.
Short Attention Span Summary:
For forty bills, Culdcept Saga is damn good times. It requires a lot of investment of time to get anywhere with, and if you get bored easily you might find this to be over your head, but fans of Magic: The Gathering and Monopoly who find themselves wondering how to put the two together should probably just stop reading now and start driving around looking for it. It’s definitely niche-oriented, but if you’re in that niche, this is a must-own for you.