Culdcept SAGA is the type of game that will frustrate you, send you intro fits of rage and make you cry ... and that's all before you beat the first level. With its steep learning curve, slow-paced action and mind-numbingly complex set of rules, Culdcept SAGA is not going to appeal to everybody. But if you're a fan of slow moving board games or card-based battles, then this brand new game from Namco Bandai may be worth checking out.
Culdcept SAGA began its life on the Sega Saturn, which is where it gained a cult following and eventually found its way on the PlayStation, Dreamcast and the PlayStation 2 (not to mention an announced, although unreleased, game for the Nintendo DS). Along the way the gameplay (and the basic look) has stayed the same, which is good since despite its relatively low sales this is one of the most interesting adventure/role-playing games on the market.
Now on the Xbox 360, Culdcept SAGA takes all of the elements that fans of the series have fallen in love with and added a few new wrinkles, not to mention a fun online component and the ability to patch the game when problems arise. While this game is still as intimidating as ever, those who have been intrigued by this strange adventure game can now pick up the most complete version of the game yet, all for a slightly lower than usual price tag (expect to pick this game up for $40 instead of the usual $60).
So what is Culdcept SAGA? In a nutshell it's the combination of Monopoly (the good Parker Brothers Monopoly, not the bad Ma Bell kind) and Magic: The Gathering, a fusion that doesn't sound as delicious as it actually is. Basically the game is played on a small board, each player takes turns throwing a die, traveling around the board, putting down monsters on the various property and fighting for control of the board. At first it's an overly complex mishmash of weird rules and crazy cards. But don't worry, all it takes is a few losses and you'll figure out just what you're doing and how to beat the poor computer up.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves; it's important to understand that unless you're a master Cepter, the chances are good that you're going to lose the first few times. Yes this is frustrating, but before long you are starting to figure out the intricacies involved in playing this game. Every time you land on a plot of land you're going to ask yourself if you should lay down a monster card. And if you do, what kind of monster will it be? You will also need to figure out how you want to use your money. Should you pay to upgrade the land (which will give you more points and get you closer to winning), or should you save up the money for when you actually need it? The first few minutes of this game are a chaotic mess that will likely send you into the kind of rage that will make you hate this game. But stick with it, because after you've gotten the hang of the fundamentals, Culdcept SAGA ends up turning into an incredible game that is worth checking out.
For the most part you will notice that I've avoided actually explaining how the game works, and trust me I'm doing that on purpose. While I could spend the next few paragraphs explaining the ins and outs of plotting a successful round of Culdcept SAGA, the truth is that all that's going to do is turn everybody off. It's not that the game isn't fun (because let me tell you, the game is a blast), but this isn't an easy game to explain to those who have never seen it before. And besides, you basically know what you're getting when I compare it to Monopoly and Magic: The Gathering, this is a deep card combat game that requires you to spend a lot of time traveling around a board. Now don't get me wrong, when I say that this game is the combination of those two long-running franchises I'm not playing coy, I'm serious, this game is exactly like you blended those two things together, baked it in the oven and decided to sell it at your local farmer's market. Heck, you even get gold when you pass go (but don't worry, there's no jail you have to worry about).
The battles themselves (when they actually do occur) are your basic card fighting fare. That is, two cards go into battle and each player gets to choose some sort of card that will augment (effect) the card in one way or another. Once both players have done this you can put the control down and watch the cards duke it out. But don't get too excited, because the game's combat visuals leave a lot to be desired. At most you'll see a sword pop up on the screen and take a swing or fire engulf your enemy's card, neither of which is all that exciting of effects.When it comes to Culdcept SAGA you're going to be putting your control down for more than just card battles, there are long stretches of this game where all you'll do is watch the computer take their turn, summon monsters, earn gold and battle you for land. Unfortunately you aren't able to fast forward all of this, so you're going to spend a lot of time just waiting around for your turn. This gives you the opportunity to catch up with your emails, go make some food, do a crossword puzzle, learn to speak Japanese, watch TV and, if you're anything like me, write a review of Culdcept SAGA.
While I kid Culdcept SAGA, the truth is that this is an incredibly slow-paced game, to the point where that aspect alone is going to turn off a lot of gamers. But I would contend that not every game needs to be a fast-paced action game like Halo 3, sometimes it's just nice to be able to sit back with a game like Culdcept SAGA and not be in a rush to get anything done. The nice thing is that the game will wait for you, so you can literally leave the room when the computer is playing and then come back in whenever you feel like taking a turn. I found myself playing Culdcept SAGA and a portable game at the exact same time, and not once did I feel like I wasn't giving this game enough attention. Like a chess match (or a game of Monopoly, if you want to continue this analogy) you never really have to pay attention to what the other person is doing.
While we're on the subject of things that will surely turn off most gamers, this Xbox 360 Culdcept doesn't look much better than the PlayStation 2 version that came out a few years ago. Obviously there are a few differences, for example it's nice to have full HD support and a widescreen display, but there's no doubt that this game could have looked a lot better than it does. I don't know if the company just wanted to rush it to the new console or just didn't think it would sell well and decided to skimp on the graphical flair, but there's no getting around that this game looks awful. The most dazzling moments of the game happen when you're in combat, and even that doesn't look very good.
With its bad graphics, steep learning curve and long waiting times, you might think that I'm ready to pan Culdcept SAGA. But you would be wrong, because despite all of the negative things I've said about it so far, this really is an exceptional game. This is not the kind of game you fall in love with when you first start playing, it takes a few turns before you start to get the hang of it and call what you're doing "fun". But the more you stick with it the more you'll enjoy it, to the point where once you've completed it you're friends are never going to get you to shut up about your experience. This is a deep experience that only gets deeper as you trudge through the story mode.
The story itself is somewhat interesting (even though the dialog and voice acting is a bit on the cheesy side), but the real meat and potatoes of this game come in the online mode. Once you've played against the computer, compiled a worthwhile card deck and feel like you understand the basics of the Culdcept universe, it's time to go online and test your mettle. Online you can play up to four players at the same time, either as teams, individuals or against computer opponents. While it might seem minor to some people, the addition of the online gameplay is just the thing Culdcept fans have been asking for ever since playing it on the PlayStation 2. It's hard to find friends who are into this kind of game, so being able to play this game online against people who love the game as much as you do is a real godsend. But beware, because just like the single-player game, playing online will require you to actually sit by your TV for a long, long time. There are not short Culdcept matches.
Sadly Culdcept SAGA isn't everything it could have been, it would have been nice if they had added more to this new game (outside of the addition of 200 cards), improved the graphics and made the title just a little more user friendly. But outside of those complaints this is a top-notch adventure game. Just keep in mind that this game is not for everybody, it's takes a certain kind of gamer to look past some of the imperfections and find the pearl in this oyster. Fans of the PlayStation 2 game should definitely pick this up (if for no other reason than the online modes), but everybody else may want to check out the demo before leaping head first into this unusual, complex and exciting adventure game.