Culdcept Revolt | Principal Platforms: Nintendo 3DS | Developer: Omiya Soft, JAMSWORKS Co. Ltd. | Publisher: Nintendo, NIS America | Genre: Card Game, Strategy | Year: 2016
Culdcept is a game that I’ve wanted to play since the days of the Sega Saturn. It’s a series that has largely been exclusive to Japan, yet despite the odd dabble in the West, it’s only with this Nintendo 3DS release that the concept has finally found its way to Europe.
And it’s a concept that’s not entirely unfamiliar to fans of niche video gaming. Imports like Gaia Master Kessen!: Seikiou Densetsu have built digital board games like Monopoly before, and there’s an eerily similar scenario included in Samurai Warriors 2 of all things.
Like those smaller examples, Omiya Soft only borrows the basics from Monopoly as it searches for a greater whole. The action in Culdcept is viewed from an isometric perspective as players traverse a digital map of various tiles. But even as they plonk down creatures to capture territory and ultimately bankrupt the opponents who stop on those lands, the war is being decided by cards that each “Cepter” draws from their personalized decks.
As most people will be quick to point out, the other property that Culdcept most resembles is the über CCG itself, Magic: the Gathering. Seeing as the creatures you play have power and toughness values, as well as their own personalized abilities and keywords, the influence isn’t difficult to spot. It’s true that Culdcept borrows a lot in this sense, though what it does with those elements is create something that feels entirely fresh, and you can be sure that the fun continues many hours into this handheld revision.
With a new international market for the game comes a lot of clueless newbies, and so it’s commendable to see how far the developers have gone to make things more intuitive. Almost every menu and every in-game decision is backed by help snippets that seek to demystify the initially weird concept. The welcoming tutorial is extremely long, and you’ll find an intelligent unlocking system that drip-feeds you everything from advanced keywords and tiles, to entirely new areas of the main menu. This process will be a godsend to anyone new to the series, but for those who already have experience, Culdcept Revolt’s slow introduction is going to be frustrating because none of it can be skipped.
Also disappointing is how players can’t inspect each other’s visible cards. One of the primary ways of avoiding an opponent’s toll is to expropriate their territory using invading creatures. Each player gets the opportunity to equip items during these battles to improve their chances of winning, and since there are so many cards in play at any one time, being successful is hard whilst you’re still learning. A certain amount of memorization is needed for global effects and other boosts anyway, so requiring players to look up cards on their phones isn’t helpful.
For the most part new players will receive plenty of advice to guide them through turns, and a wonderful suite of game length settings and auto-skip tools ensure things don’t bog down once you’re comfortable with the basics. Indeed, from my prior experience of bumbling through an import copy of Culdcept Second, I was amazed at how much quicker Culdcept Revolt plays. It’s a superb improvement that suits the new handheld format perfectly as now you can dip into a session on the go without fear of it soaking up hours of your time.
Not that this will save your free time in the long run, though, because the amount of gameplay hours in this tiny cartridge is truly astonishing. Culdcept Revolt is a game of very addictive qualities, as you wade through single player quests and multiplayer sessions to accumulate the gold needed to buy card packs full of brand new creatures, items, and spells. There is a huge variety of maps and AI opponents to add to your sessions, and the superb range of deckbuilding tools, including filters and customizable spell book covers, will keep you tinkering for a long time.
Culdcept Revolt has good features that modern card games often neglect. Rewarding players with currency for completing offline or online multiplayer games is noteworthy as it means players aren’t dependent on grinding quests in order to expand their range of deckbuilding options. The randomized nature of card packs will still necessitate many hours of play to complete playsets, mind, though the ability to download daily gifts helps that process along nicely.
The cards themselves are also lovely to look at, and whilst a lot of them are borrowed from previous titles in the series, their (mostly) hi-res appearance and gorgeous artwork hold up wonderfully. Of particular note is the use of stereoscopic 3D, which seems to work very nicely in this game. The prominence of the main board is especially attractive when the 3DS slider is turned up, and the same goes for whenever creatures fight in battle; their glittering frames taking up the entire screen in a wanton clash of thunderbolts and claw swipes.
Deckbuilding is a lot of fun. There’s an expansive card pool to work with, and it’s also one that feels meticulously balanced. Whilst certain cards might be more situational than others, there’s not a single one that feels useless, as the various costs and restrictions often mean players have a lot to think about before deploying them.
The moment when your own combo clicks is satisfying. Sometimes it’s as easy as combining creatures of a synergetic colour together in the same book. Other times it’s by creating an elaborate combo born of persistent enchantments or repeatable ‘Secret Arts’, and sometimes it’s found by forcing opponents onto your own lucrative territories.
And if the default card list isn’t quite burning your witch, then why not build your own? In a new feature for the series, Culdcept Revolt introduces Evo cards that you can customize and enhance using crafting parts purchased with in-game currency. There are numerous varieties of card that you can create, even if they are a tad overpowered in some cases, – many online player lobbies don’t allow them – but the extra layer of customization is sure to attract players who insist on achieving perfection.
However, there is one major failing of Culdcept Revolt and it’s found in the utterly turgid story to the lengthy single player campaign. It’s another brain-dead JRPG tale full of moralising, stupid characters, and immersion-breaking plot contrivances. Your central avatar is suffering from amnesia (because of course), as he arrives in a pious dimension where a violent count is busy oppressing the populace with an army of wizards and hired thugs. It’s a journey featuring plenty of lissome females, repetitive cutscenes, and several trips through portals to talk to procrastinating gods.
Poor video game translations are a hot topic these days, and I’m certain any critical linguists out there would have a field day analysing the shortcomings of this dialogue. “If I don’t get my memories back, I can’t move forward”, says the player character at one point, presumably unsure if he’s considering an uncertain future living on the run, or a potentially concerning Q4 at his next business meeting.
There are tired instances of characters saying “I can’t forgive you” (a common JRPG sound bite), and a few uses of the phrase “dumbass” to help give the script that authentic 1993 flavour that card gamers are so clearly clamouring for these days …
The side quests fare the worst when it comes to exchanges like these. They’re actually quite reminiscent of Valkyria Chronicles; full of jarring tonal shifts and momentum-sucking asides that waste your time. After fighting an allied NPC in one of them, where the sole purpose of the fight was to avoid listening to one of his sermons (“You’ll make God sad if you reject him like that”), I started skipping the side quest cutscenes entirely.
The achievement notifications aren’t safe either. Here’s one I recreated using the exact same paragraph spacing that the game uses:
“You have obtained
a new achievement.
This Land is My Land
Your record has been recorded
in this achievement.
Try to aim for even better results!”
Making sense of what is actually being said here is the real achievement.
Dodgy wording aside, Culdcept Revolt remains a generous game. Every session is filled with tantalizing decisions. Knowing when to invade, and when to deploy your best cards is an art that takes considerable practice. Your chosen spell book might wreck foes in 1v1 duels, but can it survive the rigours of a 4-player free-for-all? Or a 2v2 session with competing teams? Then there are match variants and layout changes that encourage even more nuanced deckbuilding that will keep players thinking long after they’ve turned off their console.
For fans of board/card games or even those who just enjoy something that feels very different, Culdcept Revolt is an essential experience. It’s a game that pairs complexity with ease of play very well, and even if the sometimes unforgiving depth warrants a try-before-you-buy approach, there are many hours of play here to make the investment worthwhile.