Retro RPG Spotlight / Koudelka

The PlayStation was instrumental to the glory days of the RPG. Just think about all the classics that we enjoyed on that system. I’m sure you can mention quite a few, can’t you? From the storied Final Fantasy VII to the magnificent Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, the PlayStation RPG library is massive, and it contains many titles that I still enjoy today. Some of said games were precursors to more successful next-gen iterations, like this one: Koudelka.

Koudelka is a prequel to the Shadow Hearts universe showcased on the PlayStation 2. You are thrust into the shoes of one Koudelka Iasant, set in the year of 1898. She is a mysterious, enigmatic beauty who meets up with two strangers in Nementon Abbey. Said strangers go by Edward Plunkett and James O’Flaherty. All three of the characters have met up in the abbey for their own personal reasons. The abbey is said to house many different mysterious secrets and something of a dark past. That’s to be expected, isn’t it?

More than just an RPG, Koudelka mixes survival horror elements with beloved RPG ones, but most unfortunately the biggest shared element is the control scheme–it moves just like an early Resident Evil. While it contains some gorgeous CG cut scenes, the plot advances at a snail’s pace. If you are patient and you want to brave all of that, then you will find a rich storyline riddled with secrets, intrigue, and some of the most complex character development seen in an RPG.

Battles are played out on a battle grid, akin to strategy-RPG giants Disgaea and Final Fantasy Tactics. Of note is the fact that there are no towns or overworlds. Players will be wandering the abbey for the entire game, which essentially makes it a glorified grindfest.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of Koudelka is the fact that all of the dialogue contained within is voiced. Listening to each character speak is incredibly realistic, and it begs the question “Why aren’t more games voiced with this kind of care and quality?”. Of course, it needed something to save it from its dismal graphics. Yes, sadly, the graphics leave much to be desired. You can’t expect much for an RPG of its time, but looking back on it now I remember I was hardly impressed upon first seeing it released.

Koudelka is nowhere near a great game. That’s for sure. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it regardless of its slow pace, horrible graphics, and absence of towns and places to explore. It’s an intriguing notion to see how the popular Shadow Hearts franchise got its start, and an outstanding example of magnificent English localization. You always have to remember your roots, and Koudelka is a great example of evolution making progress.