Sudeki's a “But… if…” game, which are always the hardest ones to review. The “but” comes from a handful of mitigating factors: it’s fun, but easy; interesting, but derivative; initially engaging, but soon begins to feel rushed. Every positive facet of Sudeki comes with an accompanying drawback.
The “if,” of course, is that if you like action-RPGs, there is nothing in Sudeki that will actually harsh your mellow. It’s not a bad example of its genre by any stretch of the imagination, and is often really entertaining despite its flaws, presuming that you like the genre in the first place.
Sudeki is set on a world of the same name, which warring gods have split into opposing realms of light and shadow. The game begins in the kingdom of Illumina in the Light realm, where a soldier named Tal splits his time between defending the countryside from berserk Shadow monsters, flirting with the princess Ailish, getting yelled at by his father, and being the lone survivor of any mission he’s sent on.
In the aftermath of a battle, the god Tetsu appears to Tal, and lets him know that an end is coming; the current troubles between the Light and Shadow worlds are just the beginning of a larger struggle. Tal, Ailish, a demihuman warrior named Buki, and Illumina’s head scientist Elco have been chosen by the gods to combat the forces of the Realm of Shadows, whether they like it or not.
Sudeki will frequently allow you to control at least two of your characters simultaneously. Like Knights of the Old Republic, any PC who’s not under your direct control at the moment is controlled by the CPU; unlike KOTOR, you move your active character in real-time. Tal and Buki are short-ranged melee fighters, controllable in third-person and attacking via a timing-based combo system, while during a fight, Ailish and Elco move and shoot in first person.
You can switch between the members of your current group at any time using the Black button, which is excellent for micromanaging difficult battles. Each character brings a unique mix of skills and statistics to the table; Tal is basically a meatshield, Buki is a mobile attacker, Ailish wields spells and high-damage magical staves (one of her later weapons is not so much a magical cane as a two-shot rocket launcher), and Elco provides covering fire using a variety of pistols.
The fun of Sudeki is largely in the combat. A battle’s usually a chaotic melee, full of flying projectiles, charging opponents, devastating spells, and unpleasant surprises. A lot of people have claimed that Sudeki is a button-masher, and if you want, you can hammer on attack buttons all damn day. If that’s your kick, go to it.
The reality is that Sudeki's combo system is actually designed to punish button-mashing. Tal and Buki’s melee combos depend largely on timing, forcing you to land two quick hits in preparation for a devastating finisher or a series of juggles. Anyone who’s trying to get through the game just by hammering on X or A isn’t going to do as well as a player who studies opponents, looks for an opening, and lays into them with a careful string of hits.
Meanwhile, Ailish and Elco’s job is to hang back from the melee and rain death upon anyone who isn’t looking. The more powerful their weapons, the more recharge time they’ll generally have between shots, which means you’ll need to dodge and weave to stay on your feet. Once again, you can just hold down the trigger and spray death at your enemies, but the low hit strength of the weapons with a high rate of fire means that you’re really spraying minor annoyance.
Out of combat, each character has a further unique ability which allows you to discover secrets and solve puzzles. Tal can push around local designated Shoving Objects, such as crates. Buki can climb up walls using her claws, Elco’s rocket pack lets him fly as long as there’s a yellow crystal handy to power it, and Ailish possesses Second Sight, allowing her to penetrate and dispel illusions.
When you level up, you can spend advancement points to raise each characters’ stats and teach them up to six skills. In villages, you can further improve a character by welding magical runes to his armor or weapons, providing power boosts, special abilities, or immunity to status attacks. (The latter’s important, since everyone and their mom in Sudeki can inflict status ailments on your party. It’s not unusual to have two or three going at once.)
This is usually the point where I ineptly segue into discussing a game’s flaws, but aside from some dodgy character design (I hope you like Buki’s ♥♥♥, because thanks to the gods of Sudeki, you’ll be staring at it for a long time), Sudeki plays just fine. The biggest problem it has is that there isn’t enough of it.
For one thing, Sudeki is dead easy. Part of this is because Elco gets his best weapon about four hours into the game. With a little work and a few levels, he’ll be popping conventional enemies like a grape with one or two shots. This comes in handy, since Elco gets one of the hardest fights in the game all to himself -- Sudeki’s bosses always seem to contrive a method to make sure you fight them one-on-one – but it also means that any group with Elco in it skates through combat.
You can also easily get all the best skills early on, since none of the spells or abilities in Sudeki come with a prerequisite. You can easily grab all the stat-boosting or protective skills first thing, then use them at the start of any fight to stack the odds in your favor.
In addition, any given boss can be defeated with the use of a simple trick, which looks more like a glitch than anything else. Every time you use a skill, your character enters an invulnerability window that lasts until the end of the move. There’s at least one boss fight where you can completely ignore all of its attacks and instantly counter, as long as you keep casting spells.
Combine that with a few runes, some decent weapons, and Ailish’s tendency to obliterate anyone who looks at her funny with Celestial Circle, and Sudeki's main characters wind up looking less like heroes and more like exterminators.
In addition to being easy, Sudeki is ridiculously short, clocking in at twenty-five hours max. For a game that was purported to be the first real epic RPG on Xbox, this is almost incomprehensible.
Playing through the endgame, one wonders if Sudeki was meant to be far longer, but was rushed to completion. Many plot threads are abandoned or tossed aside, including a major life-changing event right before the final battle. Both Tal and Ailish have major issues that simply aren’t resolved, involving his father and her mother, and Elco is the focus of a major plot twist right before the finale that, unfortunately, doesn’t wind up meaning anything.
It’s a fun game, and it’s not a bad game, but it’s over right when most RPGs are just getting started.
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