The Xbox has never been overwhelmed with good role-playing games, so Microsoft's Sudeki is sure to be welcomed by many of its users. Developed by Climax Studios, the game takes many of its visual cues from the big-eyed, funky-haired stylings of Japanese anime. However, it eschews all of those endless, turn-based, "The spider hits you!" mechanics in favor of refreshing, real-time combat.
Sudeki takes place in a fairly typical (but very detailed) world that's torn by light and darkness. Players alternately control four characters -- although they move about as a party, they are individually called up for varying skills and must often conduct different types of actions for the common good. Tal and Buki are the melee brawlers of the group and do their fighting from a removed perspective; Ailish and Elco are, respectively, the primary magic-user and techno-geek of the quartet, doing their damage from a first-person perspective.
Each hero has an even more specialized, indispensable personal ability. Tal, the most generic soldier of the bunch, gets to push and pull heavy obstructions out of the way; Buki, the "anthropomorph," can clamber along certain sheer surfaces inaccessible to the others; Elco uses projectile weapons and other mechanisms that he geeks together in his workshop, and Ailish has the uncanny ability to render ethereal flickers of energy into visible objects.
In combat, players can switch on the fly between characters. Thankfully, your autonomous comrades usually handle themselves intelligently enough. If you have a more personal vision of how the fight should go, you can even assign default behaviors (aggressive or defensive stances) for each character.
You often get a lot of enemies thrown at you, and often in temporarily closed areas, so it's a good thing the combat works so fluidly overall. Combos are simple enough but require some rudimentary timing, and crucial items like health potions or recovery objects can be assigned to the D-pad for near-instant access.
For more effective skills, devastating spirit strikes, or anything else that requires deeper fiddling with the menus, the game automatically slows time without stopping it. This gives you the chance to do your thing, but at least keeps the dramatic pressure on, which is a nice touch.
Once a powerful spell is activated, players are presented with a visible arc-of-effect gauge which they have a few seconds to point in the right direction before the fireworks start. If you're absolutely hip-deep in oversized crabs, irritating flappy things, blade-wielding beasts, or other unpleasant company, a press of the B button will send all nearby foes sprawling back, unharmed but out of your face, at least for the moment. It's a good, clean system that even has moments of brilliance.
Sadly, the same can't be said for the more exploratory parts of the game. The story's basically a linear experience, and even the most curious seeker of spoils can't get very far off the beaten path. Perhaps the biggest problem for non-hardcore gamers is that while the story is decent, it does take a relatively long time to get cracking. The second half of the game is notably more interesting than the first, and if you're enjoying the combat, you should try to stick it out.
The environs are detailed, vibrant, and very easy on the eyes. They almost balance out some extremely uneven voice work and hammy dialogue. Despite a fairly busy-looking menu interface, the game ends up being much more streamlined than it appears -- armor, weapon, and upgrade options aside, there are many of those items you won't ever have to juggle or mess with, thanks in part to the generous caches of booty to be taken from fallen foes.
In the end, Sudeki does more right than it does wrong, and offers more fun than frustration. Its beautiful environs and great combat system outweigh the less critical problems, and make the title a solid action-rooted RPG.