There was a day when Microsoft billed Sudeki as a killer-app role-playing game for Xbox. There was a day when Microsoft billed it as the pre-eminent action-RPG on any console. There was a day when Microsoft billed it as one of the most replayable and best-looking RPGs Xbox owners would ever see. Then the game actually shipped.
With Knights of the Old Republic and Morrowind now out, and with Fable and Jade Empire both on the way, Sudeki no longer fills the RPG void that once existed on Xbox. The presence of these RPGs is certainly a good thing, but it also means Xbox RPGs have more competition and, as a result, more pressure on them to deliver the goods. Such is the case with Sudeki.
Sudeki has some great elements, but several other aspects don’t quite hit the mark. The game is deep in its character customization, for example, but it’s relatively linear in its gameplay. It has great graphics and sound, but it suffers from minimal story development. It has interesting magic and melee upgrades, but only a few are actually necessary. In short, the game is good but not great, and with more RPGs on Xbox than when Sudeki was first announced, those shortcomings are all the more obvious.
Sudeki’s team of four includes two melee and two magic characters, and the way players approach combat for each type is decidedly different. For starters, the game switches from third-person perspective to first-person when you battle as one of the magic-imbued members. This makes ranged combat feel like a trigger-happy FPS, hence the “action” part of “action RPG.” Yet the melee aspects are also heavy on action, with a combination system that enables powerful attacks that only work when button presses are timed perfectly, which also discourages simple button-mashing.
The magical and melee characters also have use of “Spirit Strikes,” powerful moves that range in scope from enemy-clearing attacks to comrade-healing spells. The power of the Spirit Strikes, much like the power of each character’s standard attacks and health level, can be augmented by assigning the points accumulated when characters level-up. As a result, Tal can inflict more damage with his sword-related attacks, for example, or Ailish can restore more of her teammates’ lost energy with her Witch’s Kiss.
Deciding which Spirit Strike to buy, upgrade or use, or which weapon to buy or enhance with runes, is entirely up to players, and in theory this gives Sudeki infinite depth of customization. In practicality, though, players only really need to purchase two or three Spirit Strikes for each character, and the weapons that players earn during the course of several quests are generally sufficient to succeed in combat. Enhancing individual character traits is good RPG fare, but the combat enhancements are somewhat marginal.
Like KOTOR, Sudeki allows players to determine the combat tendencies for each character (“attack,” “defend” or “retreat”), and players can switch between the characters at any time. This allows players to do battle however they prefer (melee or ranged) and trust that the AI will hold its own. Also like KOTOR, Sudeki’s combat can get harried, since players much constantly monitor their teammates’ energy and situation and act accordingly. In other words, the combat in Sudeki will keep you just as busy, if not more so, than the Xbox’s best RPG to date.
Unlike KOTOR, though, Sudeki’s great combat mechanics are hampered by poor story development. The lack of resolution when it comes to Tal, the main character, is just part of the problem. Where games like KOTOR and Morrowind left players invested in their character’s (or team’s) situation, the four characters in Sudeki just “exist.” There’s very little background given for each, and their personalities progress so blandly, if at all, that there’s little to make players feel invested in Sudeki’s already linear story.
Sudeki starts to pick up the pieces as the game progresses, but more from a graphical standpoint than narrative. The early models for enemy characters are good yet derivative, but later enemies get creative in their design. The environments also step up in quality, and the particle effects first hinted at in Elco’s jetpack continue to improve. Just about the only noticeable graphical hiccup, in fact, is the occasional animation snafu for each character, particularly in scripted interactions with non-playable characters.
When it comes to audio, Sudeki shines its brightest. I have yet to hear a game make better use of Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, and that says a lot when you consider the audio in the Xbox library. The dynamic music changes with battle and with each region on the world map, and although it can get repetitive, the game moves so quickly that the musical repetition avoids being overbearing. Each Spirit Strike also sounds good, and the only thing keeping Sudeki from scoring higher is its questionable voice acting. I’m as politically correct as the next guy, but honestly, do we really need a different accent for each main character just for the sake of inclusion?
Yet just as the graphics and sound have you thinking Sudeki is on its way up, leave it to the quest structure to bring the game back down. In most RPGs, the optional quests contribute significantly to the game’s longevity. In others, like Morrowind, it’s the open-ended nature that keeps people playing for weeks on end. Unfortunately for Sudeki, the uninspiring optional quests and overall linearity don’t bode well for a second play-through. The game is a single-player experience too, which limits the replayability even further.
In spite of all this, Sudeki does some things (just about) right. The combat, for one, is reminiscent of Jade Empire, and the use of surround sound is second to none. But those positive factors are tied to some negatives. Sudeki’s combat may feel like Jade Empire, for example, but it’s sad when a game doesn’t feel as polished as one six months from completion. The surround sound may be great, but bad voice acting is bad voice acting, no matter how many channels it comes from. Had Sudeki appeared earlier, when there were fewer RPGs on shelves or on their way, it might not be judged so harshly. But Sudeki no longer lives in an RPG vacuum, making it simply the right game at the wrong time.
- Gameplay: 8.1
- Solid controls, combat and role-playing elements, but non-existent immersion.
- Graphics: 8.2
- Good models and environments, but so-so animations.
- Sound: 8.7
- Repetitive music and iffy voices, but fantastic surround sound.
- Replay: 7
- The story’s linear, but the unlockables might compel a few people.
- Overall: 7.7
- Fast combat and good RPG elements, but little to keep you going.
— Jonas Allen