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Joystiq interview: Namco Bandai stacks the deck with Culdcept Saga

Jason Dobson

By all accounts Omiya Soft's Culdcept franchise has no business being as fun as it is. An admittedly bizarre meshing of board and collectible card game antics, the resulting gameplay potpourri comes across as one big happy accident, but one that has endured since well before the Saturn was pushing up daises. With iterations released in Japan for Sega's final console pair as well as the original PlayStation, North American gamers got their first taste of this unique hybrid in 2003 when NEC released Culdcept for the PlayStation 2 to modest critical acclaim.

Since that time, however, the franchise has faded into obscurity, but will soon be given another chance, this time under the banner of Namco Bandai for the Xbox 360. Culdcept Saga, which has been available for some time in Japan, marks a decidedly different sort of experience for Xbox 360 owners, one usually associated with XBLA downloads rather than a full-on retail release, though even trepidatious players may find the $39.99 price difficult to pass up, especially those looking for something different to play during their FPS downtime.

In advance of the game's early February release we managed to corner Namco Bandai's Nobu Taguchi, who is spearheading Culdcept Saga's localization here in North America. Taguchi was more than willing to set us straight on a number of topics, from the title's multiplayer gameplay to changes made regarding how DLC will be handled...and more.

Check out the full interview after the jump.

Gallery: Culdcept Saga | 11 Photos

So Culdcept Saga looks essentially to be a remake of the PlayStation 2 original, right down to using the same card art as was used in the 2003 release. Do I have this right?

The PS2 version was a very polished game with excellent mechanics within the gameplay system. Since this foundation for the series was so solid, the core game system and general rules have been carried over to Culdcept Saga, albeit, with more balance. Some of the artwork has been carried over, but a lot of it has been changed along with the introduction of new cards which were not in the series before.

In addition to artwork changes, all the cards have been reevaluated for balance, hence, the cards all have a greater sense of strategy and there is no single "winner" style of constructing your Book. The biggest difference is the online function. Being able to challenge others on Xbox Live is a special feature which will take this game beyond the previous version, which lacked online capabilities.

So to go back to the original question - the game shares some similarities with its PS2 predecessor, but we have upgraded every possible aspect of the game and added more functionality to satisfy those who are both familiar with and new to this series.

So for series vets, is online play the chief thing that players can expect that's new?

Online play is a huge feature which will take Saga apart from all the previous entries in the series. Considering that the game is similar to a collectible card game, the core value of being able to challenge a live opponent should be an outstanding element for not only the veterans, but also to newcomers as well.

Beyond online play, there's a laundry list of new features for fans to look forward to: There are new rule criteria which can be placed when challenging people on Live and on a single console. New maps and land attributes have been introduced to give more dynamic depth to the playing field. New cards have been introduced, and all of the cards have been revisited in some sense, and some have been adjusted to balance out the playing field and to add more strategy. New card attributes have been introduced to increase the choices people can make when building their Book. Replay save functions are available for single play mode so that you can evaluate your play.

There are many more minor, yet intriguing areas which have been added (more Book save areas, card voice play, card model viewer, in-game Help guide etc), so it's safe to say that, yes, the game will bring a whole lot of new items for the veterans, and prove to be a very robust game to all the newcomers.

Culdcept Saga's release somewhat echoes that of Sony's own card game title for the PS3 released late last year in Eye of Judgment? How do you think it and your game compare?

I have had opportunity to play the game a number of times and feel that EoJ is a very well made game incorporating similar CCG concepts with an innovative touch using the camera. However, it's fundamentally different from our game in that Culdcept Saga uses the element of chance with its dice rolls to give an even winning opportunity to all types of players. This is important in giving players of all skill levels a shot at success, especially when they venture online.

We don't want any of our players to ever feel overwhelmed or that they don't have a chance to win, but also want more experienced players to feel good about the advanced cards they have amassed and the innovative strategies they have formulated. The Culdcept series has been around for a long time now, so we feel we've come to the perfect balance of these elements with Saga.

Aside from gameplay details between the two games, we're happy to see others enter the genre and have success. It's clear that gamers are always looking for new experiences, especially with a social slant, so hopefully people will take to what we have created so we can continue to grow and innovate within the genre and see more games of this type in the future.

I keep coming back to Culdcept's multiplayer, but it is obviously going to be a big draw for this game. Will the game support multiple local players in an online match? For example, if a pair of players is in the same room, will they be able to both join and play with two other players located elsewhere?

In order to make the gameplay fair for all people, the game does not feature local player + online match support. The issue which we anticipated is that some players may want to increase their odds of winning online by playing with more than one in-game characters. This would make the game unfair to those who are playing on their own, as it would be possible for the offending player to collude and tip the scales of balance in their favor. Of course, not all players will break the rules like this to win, but we want to deter this kind of activity as much as possible.

Will Culdcept Saga offer players the option of wagering cards in their decks during online matches?

Yes. The game features a card bet feature which can be established at the initial match creation screen. You can set a number of cards to wager in the match, and whoever wins will acquire that set amount of cards from the person who placed last. We decided not to make it so that you can specify which cards to wager since, if card selection was enabled, it would be safe to assume that there will be quite an argument between players on which cards are essentially equal to which card, thus making it harder to start matches.

By making it random, it alleviates such negotiations and also adds an unseen "excitement" element in seeing which cards would be acquired or lost. Yet, even if you win or lose, since you can get cards at the end of a match, it should balance out well in that it won't leave many hard feelings after an online match - or at least, hopefully so!

And will players be able to trade cards or Books online?

Although trading cards cannot be done online, players can instead "share" the Books they constructed by storing their data on a Memory Unit and bringing it over to another Xbox 360 unit. Players can also share other data such as pre-set rules, and AI characters.

Speaking of cards, I know that there are going to be about 500 or so cards in the game already, but tabletop card games have shown us that after time players are going to eventually work through and build strategies around this initial set, and begin to want more. Are there plans to expand upon Culdcept Saga's card portfolio with DLC?

Currently, we have no immediate plans of creating additional cards for download. The issue which was presented was that having DLC would equate to an uneven playing field for those who decide not to opt for such perks. Hence, instead of reducing the amount of cards and keeping the rest for downloadable content down the road, the entire list of cards has been included so that no one would have to go through additional costs to "juice" their Books. Keeping everything in check and fair to let strategy take more precedent over those who just buy expansions was a key factor in establishing our stance on this matter.

What about other DLC plans? Is there anything you can talk about? New boards perhaps?

We do not have any current plans for DLC, but it's something we'll be evaluating once the game is released. There's nothing on the table for the time being, but we'll be watching user reaction to the game very carefully.

We've read however that Culdcept Saga's character customization will be hinged on purchasing items over the Xbox Live Marketplace. It seems like this is the sort of thing that could have easily been included in the game from day one rather than asking players to spend more money after the fact.

Actually, we took a change in direction and have decided against including customizable download avatar parts. Since we are not having any DLC for cards, it just didn't make sense to include downloadable content for these other areas of the game.

On the other hand, we do have 70 parts to customize your character with, along with 6 different character sets and different hair styles and skin tones. This should prove to be a robust selection to build your own character with. Also, customization is not only reflected on board, but also in the single player campaign cut scenes as well. Some of these parts are pretty challenging to acquire, so we'd prefer to let our players flaunt their hard-earned accomplishments than just download them.

Finally, will Culdcept Saga support online tournaments? It might be a good way to garner added interest in this game given its unique draw.

That is an interesting thought, and something that I am sure we will be looking into in the future, but for the time being, we have no immediate plans to host special tournaments. On the other hand, by setting specific criteria for certain matches, each player can plan to host their own special tournament, so in essence the flexibility of conducting a tournament is in the game.

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