udeki is one of those titles I suspect will be either loved or hated. Role-playing enthusiasts will likely balk at some of the tinkering developer Climax has done with the traditional RPG formula. Also, the expectations you begin this title with will affect your end opinion of it. For those Xbox fans anticipating that Sudeki will be the next great Microsoft epic, you might be a tad disappointed. However, if you’re like me and Sudeki had slipped a bit off your radar, you will be pleasantly surprised with this imperfect, yet ultimately compelling game.
One area in which Sudeki fails to deliver is storyline. I won’t bore you with all the details, but basically our foursome is united to defend the kingdom of Illumina from the dark forces of the Aklorians with the help of an ancient god named Tetsu. Most of the characters are cliches right from RPG central casting – Tal, the sensitive young warrior; Buki, the fierce tribal leader; Allish, the spoiled princess; and Elco, the nerdy scientist and gadget expert. Although I didn’t really find myself becoming too involved with the plot, there were some compelling elements, particularly Tal’s conflicts with his father and the political intrigue involving the Queen of Illumina.
As trite as the tale at hand can be, the battles and detailed character advancement system kept me hungry to continue the quest. One interesting thing Climax has done is shunning typical RPG design by making the combat for the "sorcerer" characters (Elco and Allish) function like a first-person shooter. When you switch to one of these characters in battle, you’ll either see your staff or gun (in Elco’s case) and get to blast away at your enemies through an onscreen reticle. The melee-oriented party members (Tal and Buki) pull off combos by hitting simple X and A button combos in time with a three-window combo meter at the bottom left of the screen. While some of the moves they can perform are pretty sweet, I felt that the game required me to watch the meter too closely, which often distracted me from the action at hand, leaving me open to attack.
As the game progresses, battles become less about these basic maneuvers and more about casting Skill Strikes (essentially Sudeki’s offensive and defensive spells) and the awesome Spirit Strikes. The in-game menu system (although clearly based on the work BioWare has done in this area) is very well done, allowing you to slow time to a crawl while you tinker with your items, Strikes, and even set AI stances for the characters you’re not controlling at the time. I like the fact that time is slowed, not stopped, as it lends Sudeki’s battles a more visceral, tense feel while at the same time giving you enough room to thoughtfully heal, buff, and manage your party.
Exploration and puzzle solving is another matter, as I found these elements to be fairly rudimentary and overly repetitive. The "brain-teasers" are usually obvious and always revolve around one character’s special ability. Tal can push and pull objects during the dreaded box puzzles, Buki can use her claws to climb to hidden areas, Elco has a jet-pack to fly between platforms, and Allish can spot hidden chests and doorways that are marked with green floating particles. In each case, what you need to do is fairly obvious, and as such, Sudeki never really gives you the thrill of discovery or ingenuity that great game puzzles do.
For all its faults, something kept bringing me back to Sudeki, most importantly the cool and extensive ways you can keep upgrading your character – which is really the heart of any RPG experience.