by Beepner

The RPG genre has the somewhat unique problem of being defined by fans by a distinct regional split. You never hear anyone referring to a JFPS or a W-fighting game, and, though examples in both genres exist from Japan and "everywhere else," the RPG genre has been equally prolific in the east and the west. These two subgenres reflect different tropes and gameplay styles that may turn some players off of one or the other, giving us all sorts of useful trolling and accusing each other of liking "brown and bloom" or "weeaboo shit."

Of course, developers on both sides of the RPG regional maginot line have recognized this split and attempted, with mixed results, to bridge the gap. Such games aren't usually as well received as their "pure" counterparts. Secret of Evermore may never shake its stigma of not being Secret of Mana 2. At a cursory glance, Septerra Core looks like "My First Fallout" with a coat of JRPG paint. And then there's British developer Climax's 2004 XBox release Sudeki.

Sudeki seems doomed to obscurity for a number of reasons. For one, it has a name that's easily confused with either a JRPG series originating in the 32-bit era with too many characters and rock paper scissors disguised as a military campaign, or a number puzzle printed on the back page of the sports section. It has cover art featuring generic CG renderings of anime-style characters and, while it does feature boobies, there are only four boobies and they have the distinct disadvantage of being not naked. It's a non-sports/Sega/Bioware/Halo game released on the original XBox. But is it any good? I fired up the 2005 PC port to find out.

The shadow puppet style intro briefly explains the game's mythology. The god Tetsu ruled over Sudeki, but got ronery, and somehow this caused an evil brother named Heigou to split from him. Heigou betrayed Tetsu, as evil brothers are wont to do, and kicked him out of the sandbox, splitting Sudeki into a light world and a dark world. Tetsu got four poor schmucks to do his dirty work and banish Heigou, but he prophesied that they may be needed again someday. The four Light Warriors manifest themselves during the game's events in the form of spirit animals attached to the members of your party.


Spirit Animal: Kariston the Wolf

Member of the Illumina elite guard and son of Commander Arlo. When his whole unit is slaughtered by an Aklorian attack, Tal is awakened to his guardian spirit and later meets Ailish, who decides to have him reassigned to the Queen's court and keep him around as a boy toy. Looks a bit like Maxim from Lufia II.

Tal's job as a party member is to hit stuff. His standard combos are your bread and butter damage dealer with a high Power stat and weapon runes, provided you can complete a combo without getting interrupted. Tal is probably the most Asian-looking of the main cast, but speaks with an American accent in a world of funny accents.

Spirit Animal: Olivitess the Eagle

Headstrong princess, magic-user, blah blah blah. Ailish is supposedly the game's main sex symbol, given the amount of box art real estate she is afforded. Unfortunately, her face looks like that of a freaky porcelin doll in game and her eyes are goddamned huge.

At several points the appearance of the main characters' armor changes when the strength of the heart required to face oneself Tetsu randomly shows up, blabs about courage, and grants him/her a new Spirit Strike ability. Ailish's outfit covers more skin as the game progresses. She goes from wearing a bizarre stripper outfit with short shorts that have buttcheek windows, to looking like a professional basketball cheerleader, to a rejected Power Rangers costume design. Her voiceover isn't super annoying, she sounds like a spoiled British rich girl, which fits, I guess. Her specialty is offensive and healing magic, along with the ever valuable Haste (or whatever it's called). But if I have to hear "YOU CAN'T RESIST MY HEALING KISS" one more time, I'm probably going to just let my whole party die.

Spirit Animal: Felix the Cat

Ambassador of the Shadani, a tribe of feral humanoids who coexist with a large population of anthropomorphs (furries) in Shadani-Mo. Typically distrustful of technology, science, normal humans, and corporations who sit in their corporation buildings and are all corporationy. She joins the party to rid Shadani-Mo of the monsters attacking the villagers, despite her objections to Queen Lusica's request for the Shadani crystal. Nowhere near dangerously furry, but has been known to get dangerously cheesey.

Buki is the other melee fighter, and is prettymuch interchangable with Tal outside of their Skill Strikes. She starts off in a somewhat modest red singlet and quickly moves on to more revealing attire. The character designers of Sudeki were clearly ass men. Her rack seems slightly bigger than Ailish's, but this is somehow never fodder for any shoujo-ai breast-size joke antics.

Spirit Animal: Puff the Magic Dragon

Elco hails from Transentia, a mountainous technological city full of sexy robot servants and excavator droids with chainsaw arms that are all too happily spout random facts about crystals and wormholes. Seriously, Transentia is great. Its vital mining operation is turned over to the supercomputer Krenn, who is dedicated to better living through murdering the party. It's also home to the astronomer Lupa, who has an army of freakish Chucky clones who sing renditions of classical music consisting only of her name.

Elco has a girlfriend, whom he later has to defend in an escort mission where she never shuts up. I can't place his accent, I think he's supposed to be totally Italian, or maybe some kind of Spanish. His effectiveness in combat lies in his Ion Fluxinator weapon. It can hit multiple targets in a row and does decent damage, and though it has a long cooldown period, it scores instant knockdown on most normal enemies, making him invaluable for crowd control. Ailish later gets a weapon with this effect, but you'll probably end up putting more points into Elco's Power stat and keep him on this detail, barring points where the game forces him out of your party. I probably ended up controlling him 2/3rds of the time. He also can learn Tesla Shield, which takes party debuffs and turns them into buffs or status effect immunities.


Exploring the world of Sudeki isn't quite as daunting as exploring the changes your body goes through during puberty, but it's probably about as worthwhile. You have towns, where you talk to NPCs and go to shops and stuff. You have non-towns, where you travel from A to B and fight stuff. There's no overworld map as such, the early parts of the game have you physically walking through the wilderness to reach your next destination, at least until you get access to teleporters. Along the way you'll meet NPCs, for whom considerably less time was spent on modeling than the main characters, and as such look like badly molded Taiwanese capsule toys. Talking to an NPC generally presents you with a couple of conversation options, but it's nowhere near as sophisticated as a Bioware dialog tree with branching options and actual consequences for what you say. NPCs will occasionally send you on a quest to collect bafmodads in exchange for a few pennies or healing items and a slight EXP boost. The economy is frustrating early on because enemies don't drop money, you either have to find it in chests or trade for it. Scattered about the world are traders who'll bust a nut if you're carrying whatever material happens to be their fetish and pay more for that type of item than if you tried to sell it to a trader with a different fetish. Every town has a shop tended by Kamo, an asshole duck whose pissed at you because the queen made him give you a free map and is more eager to get you to leave than a part-time teenage Blockbuster employee. When are people going to realize that no one likes talking ducks not owned by Disney or Warner Bros.?

There's usually some Wild Arms style puzzle solving going on in any given area. Each character has a specific ability needed to overcome specific obstacles and procure more magical mcnuggets. Tal, the dumb ox, can push boxes. Ailish can dispel illusions and open up hidden paths. Buki can climb walls with a specific moss texture. I can accept a little cookie-cutter forced condition puzzle solving up to a point, but Elco's ability is just [REDACTED]ed. By standing next to a special orange crystal, the fuel gauge for his jet pack fills up. Then you need to move quickly as it slowly drains so you can fly between platforms to reach a certain area. You can't change elevation either, you can only hover from platform to platform, requiring you to climb ladders to reach new heights. Of course, he's perfectly capable of unassisted flight in the cutscenes. This isn't even a "why does Dracula keep turkey legs in the walls" type of rant either, this dumbass mechanic destroys almost all the RPG suspension of disbelief I can muster. A fucking grappling hook that can only lock on to certain points would have worked just as well, pricks.

Combat in Sudeki takes place in real time, in instanced arenas that pop up when you reach a particular spot on the map. Gates go up blocking the exits, enemies spawn, and you must kill them all to progress. You'll take control of one of your party members while the AI handles the others. You can set their AI actions to generic settings like Attack, Defend, and Run Away, but they won't use Skill Strikes on their own, so you'll need to cycle through characters every now and then if you're going to have any success.

Melee fighters Tal and Buki control in a hack and slash manner, sort of like Jade Empire without enemy lock-on. They have two attack buttons and you can execute a number of combos if you know about timed hits, or if you just pay attention to the mouse icons that light up on the bottom of your hud indicating that you can perform your next strike. Combos are only good for three strikes, save either character's juggling combo, which actually goes up to six. You'll probably want to pick one or two combos and stick with them; some can strike multiple targets, some can do massive damage but are easily interruptable, and the rest are either unwieldy or useless.

Ailish and Elco are a different story. When you cycle to them during combat, the POV goes into first-person and the game controls like an FPS. Each character has a couple of weapons to choose from, distinguished by their damage, rate of fire, ability to hit multiple targets, and some even cause status effects. The mouselook in this mode tends to be slightly choppy when moving on the Y-axis, which usually isn't a problem since your combat arenas are always flat planes, but every now and then a flying enemy will pop up or you'll need precision aiming in a boss fight. There's a Y-axis auto-targeting option you can turn on if you can't handle three dimensions or if you're just really nostalgic for Doom. Also, your character moves much slower when strafing or moving backwards than when you're just pressing forward. I guess it's more realistic that way, but it might be a little off-putting for you Serious Sams who are used to circle-strafing the shit out of enemies, and a game where a hoochie princess who receives a spirit animal from a randomly appearing Captain Planet angel while searching for magic crystals missed the realism boat at the harbor.

The main thing that keeps combat from being fun is that the enemies have the tendency to aggro on whichever character the player is controlling. It's a bad idea to, say, turn Tal into a tank and control Buki to DPS any stragglers because they'll almost certainly ignore Tal unless they're on the complete opposite side of the map from the player. Trying to get combos off with a melee character is impossible if you're surrounded by enemies, you're either going to spend most of your time kiting, blocking, or getting your shit kicked in. This is why it pays to pick Elco or Ailish, keep running backwards while the enemies stupidly follow you, and keep blasting them with your knockdown laser. It's boring, but it's probably the best strategy besides spamming Skill Strikes and wasting all your SP restoring items. Only after you've thinned the herd is it worth it to try to control a melee character.

You can assign hotkeys to items and spells, but Sudeki also features a form of Bioware pausing. Well, it's not exactly pausing, it just makes everything super slow. You can still get hit, and if your character is in the middle of an action, or knocked down, the menu will refuse to perform an action until the character is ready, rather than queueing that action up and automatically performing it at the next opportunity. It's also annoying trying to read item descriptions while an axe very slowly approaches your head, but you can probably get by just keeping a large stock of SP replenishing items and having Ailish spam Witch's Kiss (It's the healing kiss you can't resist! Of course you can pay me in gum). Too bad every spell is accompanied by a good ten seconds of animation that you can't skip, so be prepared to sit through that two or three times per battle. You also have a meter shared by the entire party for casting Spirit Strikes, which summons a spirit animal who either heals or buffs the party (100 SSP), or makes things die (200 SSP).

Oh, you also have control over your characters' stat progression. Every time you level up you get blue balls (herk) that you can put into health, SP, attack power, magical power, or learning new skills. Standard stuff.

A weird glitch I just had to mention happens sometimes when you force an enemy near an obstruction or the map's edge and knock them down. Sometimes they'll get back up and be suspended about a whole character's height in midair, just running around on an invisible platform. You can still kill them with a ranged attack, but if the enemy drops an item, there's no way to pick it up, it just floats there above your head until it disappears. I only noticed this in the Realm of Shadows, so maybe there's some other condition that has to be met to cause this.

Audiovisual Cacophony of Sensory Projections

The graphics look alright. It's got this overly colorful cartoony look to the environments, kind of like Torchlight but not as well designed. The characters look kind of weird and the NPCs are lazily modeled fish-eye abominations, even the ones that aren't actual, you know, fish people. For a PC port released in 2005, support for up to 1440 x 900 isn't bad, but my screen had a tendency to jitter when it had too many models to draw, so I had to drop the resolution to 1280 x 800. FMVs look like shit. They run at a fixed resolution and are full of jaggies and compression artifacts. I don't know what they looked like on the XBox, so I think I can chalk this up to lazy porting or some kind of limitation with Bink Video. Plus they're rendered with the same models as the game's engine, so aside from better scripting and more dynamic animation, they're kind of redundant. In-engine cutscenes have some clunky scripting, there's always a couple seconds pause at the end of a line of dialog where the character shuts his/her mouth and keeps going through whatever the last body language animation they were using is, like they're waiting for the floor director to feed them their next line.

Sounds consist of your typical slashy or explody stuff. The characters make some weird grunting that doesn't quite loop right when they're doing a repetitive task like climbing a ladder. And of course, there's the incidental voice clips. "A soldier's pay! In the bag! Ooh, prizes and surprises! It seems we are blessed! Is this all we get for our torment and strife? Let's throw some lead in the air, see what falls down. Burn in hell, you fiends! Enemy is everywhere! I will destroy you!" Okay, just kidding on those last two.

The music isn't going to show up on OC Remix any time soon, but there are some pretty cool laid-back acoustic guitar tunes in some of the towns, namely Transentia and Crystal Reef. New Brightwater has this overly peppy tune that loops after about four bars, so that gets annoying when you're running fetch quests and listening to NPCs have nothing interesting to say about their fishing club. Theres a volcanic area with pulsing rave music, which fits about as well as you can imagine.

Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before

You're from a kingdom that's being attacked by teleporting S&M gimps and Metroid space pirates. Your queen wants you to go around and collect crystals for a tower she's building in order to do... something. Eventually you and your three friends learn that there's another world, and in this other world are four other people just like you. And using the crystals' power, as it turns out, is a really bad idea.

The problem isn't that Sudeki rips off JRPG design and common tropes, it's that it doesn't do anything with them. Yes, the overall plot smacks of a 2D Final Fantasy. Yes, I was tempted to use pictures of Crono, Marle, Ayla, and Lucca in the characters section. But rather than parody Sudeki's JRPG influences, or remind us why we find them so endearing in the first place, Climax seems content to fling a bucket of cliches at the wall and see what sticks.

It doesn't help that the narrative is so uneven. Establishing conflict and having characters overcome it works when you take time to develop the story and get the player emotionally invested. Not when every story arc plays out like a 90 second soap opera.

"So Tal, you think you're too good for this family!"
"Shut up dad, you're just mad about my brother's death! Which I totally had nothing to do with!"
"I know, I just couldn't stand to lose him like I lost your mother, who is also dead."
"I love you dad, let's get drunk."

"Tal, after this is all over, we could go back to my place for some... overtime."
"Damn ho I like you and everything but right now we got monsters to fight. BTW your mom's a bitch."

"I hate all this technology!"
"Buki, technology and science are the bomb-diggity. I should know, I created them."
"Thanks Tetsu, I now realize that science and nature are the same shit."
*Buki received Time Bitch Armor*

We also get to spend an extended cutscene watching Tal and Elco soliloquize about a mermaid's colossal tits on a mural in a cave. Even though the story starts to get interesting when you reach the dark world and meet the characters' shadow selves, by that point the game's practically over. That's right, Sudeki is only about 15 hours long. That's 15 hours I could have spent fighting Emerald Weapon. Climax couldn't even be arsed to give it a real ending either. All we get is Tal striking the final blow on the crappy final boss and another one of those shadow puppet cinemas that basically amounts to "Fight, Mega Man! For everlasting peace!"

William, It Was Really Nothing

Sudeki is a half-assed, half-finished mess of a game. I wanted to give it the fair shake that time never gave it, but Climax's corner-cutting design gave me the desire to get the whole experience over with as fast as possible. I don't know what I expected from a company that specializes in licensed games and portable versions of bigger franchises that the original developers have nothing to do with. A little more of a labor of love for an original IP, prehaps? A more fitting tribute to the 16-bit RPGs that we grew up on? Something besides blatant cheesecake?

Sudeki gets half a sock. For being half-assed. It gets one sock for Buki's ass, and it gets one sock for trying to bring something resembling a JRPG to the XBox. The only JRPG on the XBox that I can think of is Shin Megami Tensei NINE, which was also half a game. So put them together and you get... uh, something to keep your Timesplitters games company, I guess.


Buki's Ass:


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