Someone once sang, that there’s “a thin line between love and hate”. Culdcept Saga straddles that line and on more than one occasion jumps from one side to the other only to return to the position of tightrope walking said line. Culdcept Saga is the sequel to the PlayStation 2 title originally released in 2003. The best way to describe the game is Monopoly meets Magic: The Gathering (or Yu-Gi-Oh, for you younger readers). If that sounds odd, but strangely appealing then you’re right. It’s an interesting concept that offers a lot of gaming and tons of replay value especially if you’re a fan of the “Trading Card” style game. This review, will then, be based on the theme of the thin line between love and hate, or what I really like about Culdcept Saga and what drove me into fits of rage and nearly made me throw my Xbox 360 wireless controller through my television.
At no point in time did I suspect that Culdcept Saga was to be a masterful work of visual glory the likes of which have not been seen on the Xbox 360 before, as I had played the demo on Xbox LIVE prior, so I knew coming into this exactly what to expect. Again, this is, in essence a digitalized version of Magic on a “board”, so you should fully expect to see cards and simple animations. The cards, though are nicely illustrated and colorful with each one representing a different element, such as: fire, earth, water, and wind with neutral creatures thrown in as well as items and spells. Some of the cards are a bit risque for the younger set with implied nudity, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before in video games, art, or for that matter nothing that can’t be seen when looking into ancient mythology, which is where many of these cards draw their inspiration. The downside is that for the most part the cards are static and the only animation you see is of a weapon damaging the other card. Nothing major and it’s decent for a card game, though, if you’re expecting more action you will be sorely disappointed.
Sound wise Culdcept Saga is just OK. Actually, it’s rather on the bland side. The voice acting is stereotypical dubbing from any anime or video game brought over from Japan. It’s weak and the writing is equally at fault here. In general you may just want to mute it and listen to just about anything else because the dialog isn’t important to the story, whatever the story is about anyway, and if you want to follow along you can just read the text and act it out in your head. You might be better off for it. The music isn’t horrible, it’s just not something that you may want to spend the next hour and a half listening to repeatedly because it’s virtually on a repetitive loop only broken up by card battles.
Really, the meat of the game comes from the cards and the single player experience. The basics of the game are like this: Land on a space, place a creature on said space to claim it as your own. When an opponent lands on this space they can either battle you or pay you the toll up front. If they battle you and they win, they claim the space as their own with any upgrades, which basically means an increased toll. If they lose, however, they may lose that creature for the time being and any magic (money) needed to summon whatever cards they played during the battle. The winner is the player who has reached the designated amount of magic for the stage. It’s a simple concept that can be grasped rather easily, thank goodness because the rules of the actual battles are difficult as it is. Cards come in a variety of spells, scrolls, creatures and items. Each card can have a different effect on the outcome. Spells are used before you roll the die. Items, scrolls, and some creatures can be used during battles. Meanwhile creatures will be the occupants of each specific terrain. You can create combos and chains based on the creatures you have in play around the board and it only goes on from there. Without going into detail and writing a manuscript, I’ll end the basic explanation there and let you just check it out on your own if you’re interested in giving the game a shot.
Playing the game itself for the first time is pretty easy. It might take a while to understand some of the rules, but they walk you through it at first until you’ve gotten a few battles under your belt as well as a better card deck. However, the lack of foresight into what to expect from the computer just plain sucks. They know every rule and seem to draw the most appropriate card to defeat you at all the most appropriate times. Not to mention they plain cheat to try and beat you at every turn. This I discovered upon suspending a game, which is a nice feature because playing through one stage can take upwards of an hour or two, easily. After suspending a game, I realized that I didn’t like the “random” roll of the die that I was given, which put me on the opponents territory that essentially would have forced me out of the game. I restarted the game only to “roll” the same number. Well, I thought, it could be a coincidence because there are only eight numbers to choose from on this die, but no. I tried two or three more times just to prove my theory with no “luck”. Every roll seemed to be predetermined, and this went beyond just my first roll because if I continued playing, the computer would subsequently roll the same numbers, draw the same cards and play the exact same creatures, like clockwork. I found this to be disturbing because I continually got the feeling that the computer was somehow cheating me into landing on their territories which would then lead them into victory, while I was forced to repeat the same stage tweaking my deck here and there in the hopes that I could counter what they were doing. By the way, I know my strategy of restarting could be considered my own form of cheating, but I’m on time constraints for this review, so wasted hours playing one stage over and over again just isn’t in the forecast. My point really is that the game should be random as would be rolling a die on a table in your parent’s kitchen, but this lack of randomness makes the game far less enjoyable and more to the point really frustrating at times. I’m all for difficult AI. I don’t exactly want them to roll over while I make my way to the final stage in ten hours never having lost a match, but the simple fact that I felt as though they knew my every move before I made it wasn’t exactly my idea of fun. Another example, which I can prove, is that when I played a card, I got the feeling that if I were to also play an item that would assist me in victory the computer knew exactly what to counter with. So, when I resumed my suspended game I tried different combinations of cards to win, the computer “magically” knew which item card of their own to counteract with. This too should be random, a guess of the opponent’s strategy, not an exact knowledge because they’re the computer and they take their turn after me and are in essence peeking at the cards I have played.
There’s a lot of strategy involved. Culdcept Saga is a good game, and at times fun, but somewhere along the line someone decided that the only way to program this game was to have the computer cheat. That’s not what makes a game good, it makes the game frustratingly difficult when the computer knows what’s coming at every turn of the card. There are enough stages and gameplay in Culdcept Saga even if the computer laid down and acted as a doormat, like so many other games, that you would like to continue playing beyond the single player game experience to collect more cards and build the ultimate deck.
If all that is a turn-off to you, you may find a more rewarding experience with the multiplayer online game. You can play an every-person-for-themselves battle, or a team battle if you prefer. However, you’ll probably want to build your deck in the single player mode before even attempting to get online where I’m sure the game is more random due to human error and unfamiliarity with every single rule of every card.
I want to love this game for trying to be different, but in the end it falls short because of cheap computer A.I. and the lack of randomness, which is a bi no-no in my book. Overall, this would have been far more enjoyable were the developers more interested in accounting for some potential errors on the computer’s part. Some stages are near impossible without nearly a complete overhaul of your deck because the computer can seemingly draw any card at will in order to defeat you, and that my friends is just no fun. It makes for an un-fun game and a dissatisfying experience. If, however, you can look past all that and want to challenge yourself to a game of fate with the computer because you fancy your card playing/capturing abilities, you will find a deep and strategic game. I found that for whatever reason, I just couldn’t keep away from this game, so I’m either a glutton for punishment or I just felt the need to see it through to the end, it’s one of those reasons…I think. Just know what you’re getting into before you jump in. Definitely try out the demo on Xbox LIVE firsthand so that you can get a feel for this unique game.
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