Monday, October 19, 2015

Erik's Favorite Things: Koudelka

Okay, I've mentioned Koudelka before.  In fact, I think I spoke pretty highly of it.  If I was to keep talking about it, I might mention how, if I sat down and thought about it, it'd wind up on whatever my "favorite games of all time" list would wind up being.

But...just why do I love this bizarre little RPG so much?

Let's dig a bit deeper.

Hiroki Kikuta isn't a name a lot of people would recognize.  If you've played a lot of classic role-playing games from the the Super Nintendo age of video games, then you probably played Final Fantasy.  If you dug deeper, you probably played the Secret of Mana series, created by the same company.  Hiroki Kikuta created the music for the Secret of Mana series, and is highly regarded as one of the better composers video games ever had.  He's at least in the top ten,

In 1997, he split off from Square to form Sacnoth, a game company only really famous for Koudelka, the Shadow Hearts series, and a weird obscure game called Faselei!  I'm not excited for the title, it's actually spelled with an exclamation point.

In 1999, the company released Koudelka on the Sony Playstation to little fanfare and announcement, and it wasn't until later that the Shadow Hearts franchise started to develop a cult following on the Playstation 2 did anybody really go back and notice this game existed.

The main character is Koudelka Iasant a young woman of gypsy descent with strange magical powers, In the year 1898, she's attempting to break into the Nemeton Monastery.because a voice from deep within is constantly calling to her.  She's plucky, brave, and not afraid to tell those who might brand her a witch (or worse) where they can stick their holy smugness.

Also, bonus points for being able to kick ass while wearing a lace top and leather skirt.
She meets up with Edward Plunkett, a Nathan Drake-type adventurer who's in it purely for the money, and James O'Flaherly, a priest there at the monastery to recover some holy artifacts for the Vatican.  He's named "James O'Flaherly" because "Irish O'Faithandbegorrah" was a smidgen too stereotypical.

As the three explore the monastery they get caught up with the strange nightmarish creatures that lurk down the dark corridors of a building once used to house (and torture, let's be honest here) heretics and people thought to be possessed by evil forces.  The caretakers don't seem to be very helpful, since one of the first things they do upon meeting you is poison the soup they serve you.   There are multiple stories happening throughout the monastery, some taking place in the past as well as the present, and they all come to a head in a story focused on love, loss, and (man, I keep using this term) hope.

The graphics for this game...don't...really hold up that much.  They aren't bad, by any means, and some of the settings are actually better with less detail, I think, because it lets your mind fill in the gaps.  What it took dumping mud on the camera lens to do for movies, video games got perfectly right back in the 1990s by just having graphical limitations.

Pictured: cutting-edge graphics
The game became notorious for having a terrible combat system, but rumors abound that initially, when Hiroki Kikuta proposed the game he wanted it to be more action-based, like the Resident Evil series.  However, most of his developers had come from Square and weren't comfortable programming outside of a standard RPG setting, so a compromise had to be made and neither side really pulled off what they wanted to do.

Pictured: cutting-edge game play
However, if you could force yourself past the game play (not an easy feat by any means), there was a deep, rich story buried under everything that would normally turn off a lot of players.  It did well enough that the Shadow Hearts series spun from it, creating an alternate history of the world where magic still survived and several major historical events went very differently because of otherworldly forces being involved.

Plus, the game got a manga accompaniment.  I've read the fan translations, and I think it really holds up as a solid story on its own.

Seriously, this is a good read.  It deserves its own article.

I managed to get my way through the game years ago, and while it's not completely fresh in my memory, I remember that every time the game let me explore a new area or a cut-scene would come into play, I always felt satisfied with how much work it had taken to get there.  The monsters were extremely well-designed (and a few were actually quite freaky and scary), the characters had some genuine depth to them, and the story came to a neat conclusion at the end that left an entire world open for the future series to begin to explore.
Pictured: Not the freakiest monster in the game.
There are a lot of Let's Plays of the game out there on the Internet.  Seeing as how it's hard to find a copy to play these days, it's probably your best bet to see everything the game has to offer.

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