"STAND up or I'll leave you here." - Koudelka

Story: Sometime in the 19th century in Aberyswyth, Wales, Koudelka Iasant is summoned to Nemeton monastery, which has seen many interesting...things. Apparently a ghost had summoned her there, and she's going to find out why. She meets up with another two people in the monastery too, each with their own purpose.

Koudelka is what I'd call a 10-hour gothic horror story spanning four disks long. This is not a calculation error, mind you; the game IS 10 hours long, at average. This is an average of 2 hours per disk. I'm not kidding.

Plot: I loved it.Then again, I'm partial to gothic horror stories, so what would I know?

The number of people you converse with in the story as a whole can be counted on one's fingers (last I recall, I got 7 excluding Koudelka). Sure, the cast list may not very long, but each person you talk to has something interesting to tell you. Everyone has a story of their own; no one is there for filler or cameos.

One thing that sets this story apart from other RPGs is the angst factor: Practically nil. No one sits down on a rock and starts on a one-hour soliloquy about why they came to the monastery, why do they fight, why, why, why, and so on. Sure, they philosophize, but they do it in a realistic way. It's short and sweet, and to the point. Oh, the three main characters also have their disagreements and they aren't afraid to voice it out (hey, they just met, you expect a campfire song?). They argue an awful lot in the beginning of the game, but they do get along well after a long long while.

The story has a lot of strange things going on, which makes the story VERY nice. There's blood, but the way it's used in the story makes me fear big old monasteries now. Heck, some of the imagery there is very disturbing. To me, this is Resident Evil done right (no offense, Deej). Puzzles do not feel out of place here, unlike the "take the four chess plugs and shove them into a hole at the gothic-looking POLICE STATION" look of Resident Evil.

Oh, there are also 3 different endings. This is the first time I had to die at the last boss to get a GOOD ending.

Graphics: I wish Nemeton Monastery existed now so that I could go there and frighten myself to death at the nightmarish images of the place.

Seriously, the backgrounds are that good. The monastery's supposed to be old and gothic-looking, so the buildings are all in shades of grey, black, dark brown, that sort of thing. Seeing that it's in the 19th century too, interior shots of places have a 19th-century feel to them. Exterior locations are just as beautiful, mind you.

The game also has FMV cutscenes. Not one, not two, but TONS. The opening FMV is especially nice and sets the mood, with all the clouds and the pre-dawnnish atmosphere. Pity my dad was such an impatient man and skipped it.

Sound: Music is minimal. It's only played during story sequences and battles. While some hate the battle music, I personally liked it. It's catchy and bouncy, but not in the manner of normal conventional RPGs.

And then we come to VOICE ACTING. Yes, it's THAT GOOD. It's not painful to the ears at least. I still think the worst voice acting was in Resident Evil 1. Really. At least in Koudelka, intonations and emotions are done nicely. If anything, at least they scream right. Yes, they SCREAM right. This is a good thing.

The sound of a gigantic holy sword cutting through your opponent is also very pleasing, if you were wondering.

Gameplay: Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.

The controls in Koudelka are the single MOST FRUSTRATING thing I have ever come across! Just when I thought I would never ever have to press the X button continously while walking along a cabinet, Koudelka comes and does just that. When you have to walk up a box or crates, it refuses to make Koudelka climb up any other way except from a certain hotspot. This isn't so bad at first, but when said box is set so close to the spot in which scene perspectives will change, it's more likely that Koudelka will walk to the next scene than climb up the box.

The worst part is, it goes for the items on the floor too. Once, I didn't notice certain items because they blended too well into the background. Key items are located in drawers which don't look like it can be opened at first glance. You'll have to press the X button until you open the drawer, like what I mentioned above.

Battles take place on an isometric grid, a la FF Tactics and Front Mission 3. While the floor reflects on the location, the floor is also very flat. It doesn't matter anyway, since with a gun, you can shoot right to the other end of the battlefield and your enemy will die if your strength is high enough. Weapons break after a certain amount of uses. I didn't face that problem, thankfully. When you gain a level, you get 4 bonus points to add to your statistics. You can go up to Level 99 if you fight enough, you know.

On the field, the controls are relative to the room's perspective. Meaning if you go right, Koudelka goes right. It was fine for me, except that sometimes you can't get her to face a certain direction because of this. So people complained about Resident Evil's controls, did they? Go try this one out instead and see if you like this one better, ok?

Nitpicks: Let's compare how Resident Evil and Koudelka create a situation in which a monster pounces at you from a cupboard:

RE: Using great camerawork, the zombie pops up from the cupboard behind you and shuffles lazily up to you, moaning, effectively using the element of shock.

Koudelka: "Suddenly, a big monster pops out from the cupboard and attacks!" Appears in bright white text at the bottom of the screen.

This is just about the only part RE wins. That and save points only pop up after boss battles and are very few and far between. Be prepared to play for 3 hours or more to get to a save point. Are ex-Square employees that bad that after they leave the company, they can't even make enough decent save points for a game?

Verdict: The story and graphics are something I highly recommend. However, if you want to *play* the game, do yourself a favour and get a gameshark. You'll need it, believe me.

Grade: C

+ The story and its multiple endings.
+ The battle music (but it's subject to one's taste)
+ Voice acting!
+ The graphics
+ The FMV.

- The inability to solve puzzles yourself.
- Lack of subtitles during conversations.
- The controls.
- Very anticlimactic situations.