While playing through this game, I began to wonder how the original creators pitched Culdcept. You must have some masterful charisma in order to sell the idea of marrying a Monopoly-like board game to a collectible card game set in a crazy fantasy anime land without looking like a lunatic. But the idea must have paid off since the Culdcept series is actually quite popular back in its homeland of Japan: While not a massive franchise, it’s enjoyed a decent number of fans since the release of the first game in the series way back in 1997 for the Saturn. And while the fans aren’t as numerous in the West (a fact that contributed to Culdcept Saga in 2008 being the last Culdcept title we’d see until Culdcept Revolt), it’s earned something of a cult following. I’ll freely admit that I’m a complete and utter newcomer to the series, having missed the previous releases. However, Culdcept Revolt represents a good opportunity to see what this odd concept of a franchise has to offer, so let’s draw these cards, roll those dice, and check it out.
Culdcept Revolt’s story follows the exploits of a young man named Allen (though he can be renamed), who is suffering some kind of amnesia; he can’t recall anything from his past, can’t recall any details about the world at large, and apparently forgot how to put a shirt on. He awakens to find himself in a city currently held under the iron fist of the Count Kraniss and to be in the company of the local rebel forces, the Free Bats. It turns out that he and the rest of the rag-tag rebel force are beings known as Cepters. A Cepter is kind of like a wizard, except their power lies in the drawing of mystical cards, and the battles between two or more Cepters require the participant to enter what is kind of like a pocket dimension. The main point to worry about is that the Count seems to be cracking down on any Cepters who haven’t sworn allegiance to him and is brutally wiping out every last one from the city. Even worse, he’s sealed the only way in and out of said city and is clearly planning something behind the scenes. The Free Bats are a little bit divided on what course of action to take; some argue they should just kill the Count and put an end to the problem at its source, while others believe it’d be a much safer bet to just flee the city and not look back. Allen, having no memory of why he was in the city to begin with, isn’t exactly sure where he stands on this whole matter. More pressingly, as the pieces of his memory start to return, it’s clear that this whole situation isn’t as simple as it appears to be.
I think it’s fair to say that the story in Culdcept Revolt isn’t exactly amazing, with the characters and narrative following pretty well-trodden archetypes that you’ve probably seen before. That being said, I think calling it boring would be a bit harsh: There is an effort to give some personality to the characters on-screen, the minute to minute writing is actually pretty decent, and they do get a few good lines in every once in a while. While the game is ultimately more interested in the actual battles, it’s a neat addition to know what kind of world the gameplay is taking place in and to contextualise the action. In short, while it’s not the star of the show, the game’s story is perfectly enjoyable and will most likely keep your attention as you go from battle to battle.
Speaking of battles, let’s sink our teeth into the main meat of the title, the gameplay. This is where Culdcept really stands out and shines. A match can support up to four players taking turns on a single board, all striving to be the first to score a certain number of points that also act as your main currency. Depending on what cards you have available, you can cast spells to hinder your enemy, cast spells to improve your own efforts, or summon monsters to gain control over tiles on the board; the latter of which is especially important, since the best way to victory is to gain control of the board and force your enemy to pay up their points when they land on tiles you control, which is very similar to Monopoly. You can also wrestle control of tiles away from your enemy via attacking with your own monsters, which plays out in pretty neat animations. Control of the board is important since the ultimate goal of every match is to accumulate a certain level of value across the board (ie, how much you’ve spent controlling and upgrading the tiles under your control), which can be lost and gained in quick succession. All of this is dictated by the deck you assembled before the match began, thus requiring a little forward thinking.
The gameplay in Culdcept Revolt is, to put it simply, really good fun. A match will start off slowly, with all the participants steadily carving up different sections of the board while trying to gather up the cards necessary to put whatever plan you have into effect. As the game goes on, however, things quickly start getting pretty tense: Most of the board will be completely covered in hard to defeat monsters, every roll of the dice risks landing you onto a huge toll, using the wrong card at the wrong moment could risk upsetting your position, and each lap around the board increases the overall resources in play, bringing the match one step closer to its conclusion. Gameplay also remains fresh and interesting from match to match because each of the game’s boards are hugely different: On a basic level, what element (of fire, water, wind and earth) the tiles are will affect the strength of the monsters on it, and many boards come with multiple routes and choices of paths, allowing you to choose to avoid your enemies’ areas or risk expanding your own. However, the game also has a hugely different selection of unique tiles, including tiles that act as every element, teleport you to other parts of the board, and even give you a random free spell card that wasn’t in your deck.
And this is only just talking about the board, the cards themselves are another really big positive for the game. The closest thing that comes to mind when I think about the cards is actually Magic: The Gathering in terms of the varied effects that each card can have. Cards will have quite specific effects (destroy X type of creature or increase a monster’s power under X conditions) but have just enough wiggle room that you can fit them quite easily into a multitude of different decks. Much like M:TG, one of the most fun parts of the game is trying to figure out how to best incorporate a new card into your deck or even forming a completely new one based on a new card’s power. I’ll admit that there is a slight problem in that some cards are just objectively better than others (a lot of your starting cards will begin to look pretty lacklustre to the cards you unlock as you move along), but the game makes an effort so that there are at least a few situations where your early cards can still be useful.
One of the most pleasant parts of the game was just how easy all of this was for a total newbie like myself to actually pick up. The game has an EXTREMELY well paced tutorial tied to the story mode that makes absolutely certain that you grasp the core concepts of the game before it starts to teach you the more particular parts of it. Likewise, the single-player makes a point of being steady to introduce new elements to you, which gives you plenty of time to master the new elements as they come. The game might be ‘easy to learn, hard to master,’ but it’s careful enough to make sure you actually do master it. This makes Culdcept Revolt a very good jumping on point if you’ve never actually played any of the previous titles before.
Another positive I have to give the game is its presentation. The story mode characters have absolutely gorgeous artwork courtesy of Kinu Nishimura, who has previously worked on the Street Fighter games and the more recent Code of Princess. While their archetypes are a little familiar, the characters themselves look super good in their designs, which helps to give the game a little more flair. Likewise, the actual gameplay has its fair share of flair and pop, with combat between monsters having a good collection of unique animations to help provide some variety to the encounters. And naturally, each of the cards has its own piece of artwork, with a great and varied amount of illustrations coming from a pretty extensive list of artists. If I had to nitpick, the artwork on some of the cards, while still well executed, can be a little bland and predictable, but that’s definitely a nitpick on what is otherwise a slick and fully realised presentation.
This all being said, the game has its share of negative points. It’s worth noting that a single match can last anywhere between 25 minutes up to an hour, or even beyond, depending on what kind of match it is turning out to be. This is not too much of an issue when playing against an AI since you can simply suspend the game and come back to it later, but this does mean you’re going to have to set aside at least a decent level of time when you take your battles online. To be fair, I think the game does have an excellent sense of pacing in a match, and any short length of time would mean that decks built to blitz the enemy would become perhaps unfairly strong. But there’s no getting around that a single match can be quite a commitment of time, which can also make losing a match feel a lot more punishing (though the game actually gives out decent rewards just for sticking with it until the end, so it’s not a complete loss).
Another negative that I think is worth bringing up is that you can suffer some serious burnout from extended sessions with the game. This is definitely connected to each match having a fairly lengthy run time, but I think the issues also come from the fact that any board game would feel repetitive if played repeatedly one after the other. This doesn’t hurt the game too much because its mobile nature means that you’ll most likely be playing it in short bursts in any case, but this probably isn’t the game to get if you’re looking for a title that you can really have an extended time with in a single sitting.
A final point that should be considered is that the game, like any other board game in existence, does have an element of randomness to it. It’s possible to be in the lead for a huge part of the game, only for a bad dice roll to suddenly force you right into your opponent’s toughest monster, and suddenly they’ve taken the lead from you. This does mean that, like many games, there is an element of luck to the proceedings since the right (or wrong) card or roll of the dice can make or break you. To the game’s credit, this is pretty par for the course for most board and card games and can end up creating some pretty memorable moments because of how unlikely they were to occur. I think that the presence of these elements doesn’t take too much away from the experience since the game actually gives you a fair number of tools to at least try and avoid the absolute worst of it, but if you were already not a huge fan of this system with an RNG element to it, then Culdcept Revolt isn’t going to do anything to convince you otherwise.
The game also comes with a multiplayer function, but I was unfortunately not able to test the feature. But if the battles against the AI are as fun as they are, I can only imagine that the already excellent gameplay is only improved by facing an opponent that can make more nuanced strategies. Another function that I was unfortunately unable to take a look at what was simply called the ‘online shop.’ The use of an online shop likely suggests that you’ll be able to spend real-life money on card packs, though it’s impossible to tell from this point how this will affect the game. As long as you can still gain the same kinds of cards from the normal in-game shop, though, I don’t really see this having too negative an effect. It’ll be slightly more of an issue if this online shop allows you to get exclusive cards that aren’t available in normal packs, but hopefully such an issue won’t come to pass.
Even with those problems, Culdcept Revolt is almost certainly a title that I would recommend. Its gameplay is satisfying and oddly addicting, and I can’t really think of another game like it that isn’t already part of the Culdcept franchise. One of the biggest feathers in Culdcept Revolt’s hat is that it’s perfectly approachable to newcomers, as well as the fact that you get a pretty extensive amount of content for the asking price. If you’re curious and want to see what the series is all about, then dive on in. If you’re already a fan of board games or card games (or both), then Culdcept Revolt is almost certainly a game you should be checking out.
Developer: Omiya Soft
Publisher: Nintendo, NIS America
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release date: 3rd October 2017 (US), 6th October 2017 (EU)