The world of Sudeki is actually two. The lands were rent--light from shadow--long ago, when a dark god decided that he'd rather not share with his kindhearted brother. The light god, Tetsu, appealed to the peoples of the world for aid, and four legendary heroes rose to strike down the evil deity, Heigou, to restore peace to Sudeki. That was several hundred years past, and since all ancient evil is unionized and contract-bound to rise again, you can bet that Heigou's resurgence draws near. This is where you come in. You'll take control of the swordsman, Tal; the sorceress, Ailish; the beast-woman, Buki; and the gun-toting scientist named Elco to fight and protect the land of Haskilia from invasion--so that you can ultimately save the world of Sudeki. Unfortunately, along with crowds of evil creatures, you'll have to contend with an often-cumbersome battle system and some odd design choices that rob much of the adventure of its luster.
http://image.com.com/gamespot/images/2004/reviews/562275_20040726_embed002.jpgSudeki represents the epic battle between light and dark, good and evil, the X and A buttons...
You'll start off just controlling Tal, though the game picks up speed fairly quickly, so you'll meet your three other companions in short order. In your journeys, you'll move through a lot of towns, dungeons, and countryside, and you'll meet a variety of fully voiced non-player characters who will chat with you, offer clues, and sometimes give you side quests. You'll also meet a large number of crates, barrels, vases, and other such breakables (which dot the landscape) that often hide useful items. As a result, you'll reflexively start kicking open everything you see while you roam. To get through difficult areas to solve the many simple puzzles you'll encounter as you go, each character has a unique special ability to use. Tal, the soldier, possesses a surfeit of strength. As a result, he's good for dragging large objects, like boxes or statues, to where you need them. Ailish, as a spellcaster, can dispel magic that would otherwise block secret passages or hide valuable treasure chests. Buki can use her hand weapons to climb certain kinds of walls (much like another Catwoman who's currently prowling the scene, but Buki doesn't have her own movie). And, finally, Elco comes equipped with a rocket pack on his back that you can charge via a special kind of crystal. Once it's been charged, Elco can use the rocket pack to reach otherwise inaccessible objects and areas. The game generally leads you by the nose when a special ability is required, so you won't spend much time figuring out how to handle puzzles.
Combat pits your fighters against monsters in often-tight areas that present opportunities for 3D, real-time, button-mashing frenzies. Tal and Buki are melee fighters, so they typically engage their foes up close with swords and claws. You'll control their moves from a third-person perspective. Pressing the X button will cause them to perform horizontal slash attacks, while pressing A will cause vertical, uppercut attacks. The B button is a roundhouse move that can clear out a pack of enemies around you. You can hit various three-button combinations of the X and A buttons to pull off slightly different attacks, including a couple of extended combos that let you "juggle" your enemy with successive strikes. Ailish and Elco are ranged fighters. Ailish uses a selection of magic staves, and Elco uses an assortment of energy guns. When you switch to one of these characters, the view changes to first-person mode while you run and gun. Different weapons have different rates of fire, and by pressing the X button, you can cycle through the various weapons that Ailish or Elco happen to possess so that you can select one that is more appropriate for the situation. The black and white buttons on the controller let you switch the character you are directing while on the fly. You can have all four characters in battle at once, though the other three will act according to the artificial intelligence you have set. There are only three AI settings--attack, defend, and retreat (and retreating, naturally, causes the character to avoid battle).
http://image.com.com/gamespot/images/2004/reviews/562275_20040726_embed003.jpgKill bats. Kill robots. Kill everything!
Characters can also use something called skill points to pull off various special moves called skill strikes. Many skill strikes are devastating attack moves, though there are also skill strikes that boost the party's defenses, increase its ability to dole out damage, heal damage sustained by the party, and so on. At certain points in the game, you'll encounter the light god, Tetsu, who bestows upon individual characters abilities called spirit strikes. Spirit strikes use a separate meter (the spirit strike point meter), and they invoke the power of one of the four legendary heroes who saved the world so long ago.
This all sounds great, and when you're dealing with a moderate number of pushover enemies, it works pretty well. You can concentrate on using one or two characters, and there's little trouble. Things start gumming up when you have a large number of tough enemies onscreen and are in a situation where you need to quickly switch between characters to pull off a number of different skill strikes. The AI settings aren't particularly intelligent, and even if you have your friends set to defend, chances are likely that they're still going to take a bunch of damage. This will require you to stop what you're doing to baby-sit them by either switching to the problem character or getting Ailish to heal everyone. Since the black and white buttons cycle through the characters instead of performing some kind of instant switch, you can almost never snap right to the character you need to handle. And if you want to use an item on a character, you can pull up a quick menu by pressing the Y button. However, bringing up the menu doesn't stop combat; it only slows it down. You'll waste time having to cycle through all the options to work your way to the intended item, only to have to wait to use it because your character has since started to get pummeled in the background. The system just isn't very brisk, nor is it particularly efficient. And when you have four characters onscreen, all of whom require some kind of management at any given time, you'll quickly find yourself frustrated.
http://image.com.com/gamespot/images/2004/reviews/562275_20040726_embed004.jpgYou can have up to four characters in battle at once--but you can only baby-sit them one at a time.
Outside of this, neither your melee characters nor your ranged characters have any sort of autotargeting available. With the ranged characters, you can adjust your targeting with a fair amount of precision by using the right thumbstick, but you'll be endlessly circling and hammering the attack button. The melee characters have a limited number of simple melee combos, and once these combos begin, the characters build up some inertia. This inertia can carry you right past an enemy who happens to get bumped the wrong way.
Succeeding in battle and finishing quests will earn your characters experience points that go toward leveling up. When your characters level up, you'll get advancement points that can be used to either raise a number of attributes or purchase new skill strikes. Various quests and exploring will net you all kinds of different weapons, as well as special items that can be offered at special locations so that you can receive a character's "ultimate" weapon. Tetsu grants the characters various armor upgrades as you progress, and you can further customize both weapons and armor at a blacksmith's shop. Weapons and armor have special slots that a blacksmith can attach runes to, and these runes have various effects, like raising a chance for a critical strike or guarding against status effects.
Happily, Sudeki is at least pretty to look at. Its various landscapes are bright in color and rich in detail, and the game has some nice areas and vistas. The characters themselves are also well detailed, though their movements are a little on the stiff side. Special effects in battle aren't overdone but still manage to be dazzling--although after seeing a particular skill a plethora of times, you'll start to get tired of it (however lovely it may be).
http://image.com.com/gamespot/images/2004/reviews/562275_20040726_embed005.jpgSide quests don't have a whole lot of depth, so you might want to just avoid talking to the game's twangy NPCs to save yourself the aural anguish.
Voice-wise, just about every NPC has something to say, though the quality of the voices varies from character to character. The main characters manage to be mainly inoffensive, though they have some pretty stilted dialogue along the way. Meanwhile, the various other people you'll meet have a wide, inconsistent array of accents, inflections, and acting abilities. When you meet someone new, you never know what you're going to get--so sometimes you'll find yourself wincing and hurrying to skip the speech when you've made a bad choice. The music in the game ranges from elevator tunes for some towns to pseudo-techno in battles. Most of it is completely forgettable, and most of it also loops badly, skipping or stopping suddenly.
Sudeki can be completed in fewer than 20 hours of play, though you can spend a bit of extra time filling out the side quests and acquiring all the available weapons--if you like. The game may be easy on the eyes, but the clunky battle system strips much of the fun from this title, and the sometimes horrifying voice acting will scare you away from attempting to lose yourself in the story by talking to all the people you encounter. Sudeki is, unfortunately, more style than substance. Those longing for a meaty Xbox action RPG should only consider this game for a rental.