European cover art, featuring main protagonist Koudelka.
|Genre(s)||Role-playing video game, survival horror|
Koudelka (Japanese: クーデルカ Hepburn: Kūderuka) is a role-playing video game (RPG) developed for the PlayStation home console. The debut title of Sacnoth, the game was published by SNK in Japan in 1999 and by Infogrames overseas in 2000. Set in the haunted Nemeton Monastery in Wales, the game follows protagonists Koudelka Iasant, Edward Plunkett and Bishop James O'Flaherty as they uncover Nemeton's secrets and confront monsters created from its dark past. Gameplay blends exploration and puzzle elements from survival horror with turn-based battles played out on a grid.
Koudelka was the creation of Hiroki Kikuta, a former employee of Square who formed Sacnoth with former Square staff members in 1998 to develop the game. Kikuta served as director, producer, writer and composer. To create an authentic atmosphere, the staff went on research trips to Wales and all dialogue was performed in English. The traditional turn-based battle system was created without Kikuta's involvement due to staff disputes. Upon release, the game received mixed reviews from critics. Koudelka would form the foundation for Sacnoth's Shadow Hearts series.
In 1898 near Aberystwyth, Wales, gypsy psychic Koudelka Iasant (Vivianna Bateman) is drawn by a spirit's call to Nemeton. Once a Medieval monastery, Nemeton was converted into a mansion and is now infested with monsters. Koudelka breaks into Nemeton, losing her magical pendant in the process, and saves wayward adventurer Edward Plunkett (Michael Bradberry) from a monster attack. The two are given hospitality by the mansion's caretakers Ogden (Gavin Carlton) and Bessy Hartman (Denise White). The food they are given is poison, and Koudelka is forced to cure Edward as she smelled the poison and refused to eat. Koudelka guesses that the Hartmans are used to killing people in this way and that they are hiding something. Exploring Nemeton, the group run into James O'Flaherty (Scott Larson), a Catholic bishop; despite joining them, James refuses to believe the Hartmans are responsible for the deaths as they did not try to poison him. During their explorations, the group encounter the ghost of Charlotte D'lota (Sara Paxton), a young girl who was raised and executed within Nemeton, and are attacked by a surviving intruder named Alias (Rob Brownstein). Through visions and upon discovering human remains and confiscated artifacts, Koudelka learns that Nemeton was used as a prison for dissidents, who were tortured and killed and whose spirits continue to haunt the mansion.
Encountering Alias, they learn that he survived both the Hartmans' attempt to kill him and the mansion's monsters, witnessing the Hartmans brutally murdering anyone who trespassed in the mansion. Admitting he tried to kill them to keep Nemeton's treasures for himself, Edward kills Alias as he is too much of a threat to keep alive. Koudelka discovers a room full of paintings of the destroyed pleasure boat SS Princess Alice, and has visions of Elaine Heyworth (Kim Weild), wife of the current owner Patrick (Keith Barry) and the one who summoned Koudelka to Nemeton. Upon reaching the library, the group find the seemingly-dead Roger Bacon (Brian Kojac), who briefly revives and mentions the Émigré Document. James reveals that he was sent by the Vatican to retrieve the Émigré Document—a book said to contain Celtic druidic rituals for gaining immortality and reviving the dead—after it was stolen by Patrick for unknown reasons; James was asked by the Hartmans to save Patrick from his experiments with the Émigré Document. Koudelka becomes separated from the group when a powerful monster manifests and attacks them. She then discovers the room where Ogden butchered his victims. Koudelka is captured by the insane Ogden, but saved from death when Bessy shoots Ogden. Before shooting herself, Bessy explains that Odgen—who was taken in by Elaine despite being blamed for the Princess Alice disaster—killed intruders as an act of vengeance as Elaine was killed by an thief when he and Patrick were away.
After encountering Bacon and reuniting with the others, Koudelka tells them about the Hartmans, but decides that something else was both driving the Hartmans and spawning the monsters. James reveals that Patrick and he once vied for Elaine's affections, but James' social background meant he could not marry Elaine, joining the Church to ease his pain. Confronted by Charlotte, Koudelka finds letters written by Charlotte's mother that Charlotte never received; learning that her mother loved her, Charlotte passes on. Reuniting with Bacon, they learn that Bacon achieved a form of immortality after learning the Émigré Document's secrets while copying it for the Vatican. Koudelka summons Elaine's spirit, and they learn that Patrick used the Émigré Document to try and resurrect Elaine, but only succeeded in resurrecting her body as a powerful monster which has bee causing the events around the mansion. Elaine asks them to turn her body to ashes so her spirit can be freed. Returning to Bacon, he tells the group how to destroy Elaine's body, which rests in a part of Nemeton converted into a temple. While Patrick prepares an explosive to reach the heart of Patrick's sealed mansion, Koudelka and Edward grow closer over Edward's chosen lifestyle and the hard life Koudelka has faced due to her psychic powers.
The three enter the temple, which is dominated by a giant tree sustaining Elaine's monstrous form, and discover Patrick's body. Using a saint's arm, James destroys the roots of the tree, then starts a fire that begins destroying the temple. Depending on the player's actions, three different endings are unlocked. If Koudelka does not regain the pendant, they are instantly killed when they confront Elaine, resulting in a "Game Over". If she has found the pendant, Koudelka uses it to shield them from Elaine's attack, but they are chased to the mansion's belltower and cornered when Elaine transforms into a more monstrous form. If the party defeats Elaine, they contemplate the situation as the sun rises over the ruined monastery. If Elaine defeats them, James sacrifices himself to destroy Elaine. Koudelka and Edward then escape the collapsing tower. After spending the night together, Edward and Koudelka part ways, although Koudelka is sure they will meet again.
Koudelka was created by Hiroki Kikuta, who had worked as a composer for Japanese game developer Square on the Mana series and Sōkaigi. Kikuta wanted to direct his own game, but the employee structure are Square prevented him from moving beyond his role as a composer. Searching for a means of expanding his development roles, Kikuta was introduced to the then-chairman of SNK, and during their talk Kikuta outlined many pitfalls he felt the role-playing genre was falling into. Quitting Square, he instead formed his own company Sacnoth with other Square employees; established as Sacnoth's CEO and the main creative lead for the game, Kikuta wanted to create an RPG within the horror genre. Koudelka began development in 1998 following the foundation of Sacnoth, with Kikuta acting as producer, director, writer and composer. Kikuta found composing the score the easiest part of development due to mainly working on his own. His concept for the musical elements of Koudelka were created alongside the setting and narrative. The score was arranged by Kikuta and Nick Ingman. Due to there being a smaller amount of music than the average RPG, the score was completed within six months. Rather than having looping tracks like his earlier work with Square, the soundtrack of Koudelka used ambient sounds and short tracks related to cutscenes outside of battle themes. The game also featured influences from church music. The opening vocal theme "Requiem" was performed by Catherine Bott. The ending theme "Ubi Caritas et amor" was performed by the London Oratory School.
While Koudelka used a turn-based combat on a grid and random encounters similar to traditional RPGs, this was not Kikuta's original intention. Kikuta originally planned for a real-time battle system with free movement within the environment, combining mechanics from the simulation and adventure game genres. Interactive environments such as furniture were also planned to play a part in combat. Kikuta wanted to break away from conventions of the RPG genre, but other staff at Sacnoth were reluctant to follow Kikuta's example, carrying over traditional ideas from Square. The game design and battle system was the only area where Kikuta did not have direct influence, which he later regretted. Talking about the battle system design, Itakura said it was designed to be easy so even adults who did not normally play games could see the game's ending, although in hindsight the team could have increased the challenge.
The choice of Aberystwyth as the game's setting was chosen because Kikuta wanted a location facing across from the coast of Ireland. Due to a lack of resources in Japan on British architecture, Kikuta and several members of staff made a research trip to Pembrokeshire to get a look at local scenery and church architecture. The coastal cliffs, ancient ruins and weather conditions the group experienced directly influenced the setting and design of Koudelka. During his research, Kikuta bought over a hundred history books on British history from the Medieval to Victorian eras. His inspirations for the story included The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and its film adaptation, Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder by William Hope Hodgson, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H. P. Lovecraft, and multiple novels by Lord Dunsany. Multiple historical events and figures were incorporated by Kikuta; these included the sinking of the Princess Alice, and fictionalized versions of Lord Dunsany and Roger Bacon. Charlotte's mother was based on Sophia Dorothea of Celle. The story also included references to Celtic, Irish and Welsh mythology and folklore.
The characters were designed by Yūji Iwahara, while Matsuzo Itakura acted as art director. According to Kikuta, Iwahara created over 100 character sketches for the game. The visuals were inspired by the work of Bob Carlos Clarke, Jan Saudek and Holly Warburton. The character of Koudelka was among the first elements of the game to be created by Kikuta, with Iwahara's first character drafts being created in March 1998. Koudelka's given name was taken from photographer Josef Koudelka, as Kikuta liked its mysterious sound and lack of any specified ethnic origin. Kikuta's wish for a character who had suffered loneliness resulted in her background as an exiled gypsy. Koudelka's design needed multiple redrafts so her design could be carried over directly into the game, which had severe polygon and memory restrictions. The design of Nemeton, which was handled by Itakura, was intended to compress the variety of a typical RPG world map into a limited exploration space, in addition to allowing detailed backgrounds within the console's hardware limitations. Nemeton's blend of architectural styles, ranging from its origins as a monastery with Gothic architecture inspired by St Davids to contemporary additions. Koudelka's CGI model was created collaboratively by Sacnoth and a company founded by Nobuji Watanabe. Kikuta chose Watanabe due to his passion for creating good work, and during their work the model went through multiple redrafts, with Kikuta ultimately making personal adjustments.
The game featured English voice work for all characters, including in Japan where dialogue featured Japanese subtitles. In order to create an authentic atmosphere, Kikuta decided to use advanced motion capture technology to put realistic physical mannerisms into the character models during cutscenes. Kikuta's decision to use motion capture, which he described as "epoch-making", was part of his attempt to move away from RPG conventions by adding a sense of drama. Due to the story's nature, it was necessary to capture up to four people in each scene, a feat impossible using the technology available in Japan. Through contacts with staff from Sōkaigi, Kikuta contacted FutureLight, a special effects company based in Santa Monica. Intrigued by Kikuta's concept, FutureLight agreed to help record the cutscenes. In a later interview, Kikuta claimed that the techniques used for motion capture sessions were on a competitive level with the techniques used by Hollywood studios at the time.
The game's cast, who provided both motion capture and the character voices, were chosen from a hundred different actors who auditioned for the roles, among them a twelve-year-old Sara Paxton as Charlotte. Vivianna Bateman, the actress who played Koudelka, was chosen so she could give her character a cool and "unique" air. Edward's actor Michael Bradberry acted as the mood maker during recording. The motion capture sessions, which featured the actors voicing the characters acting out cutscenes, took place in January 1998 at FutureLight's Santa Monica studios. The motion capture and animation process was handled collaboratively between FutureLight and Sacnoth staff, with Kikuta acted as an executive producer for the sessions. The director was David Waldman, who had a career in video production and was chosen partially due to his fluency in Japanese. Rehearsals took place in a nearby hotel under Kikuta's supervision. The recording sessions took place in a converted sound studio. Due to the studio not being fully soundproofed, recording needed to halt due to exterior noises such as planes flying overhead. Equipment around the sound stage were used as props for the actors so the immersion would not be broken in-game.
Koudelka was first announced in September 1999, along with its publsher SNK. As part of the promotional campaign, a music CD and promotional poster were offered as pre-order bonuses. The game was released in Japan on December 16, 1999. The game was first announced for a Western release by Electronic Arts. It was later announced that Infogrames would publish the title in both North America and Europe. The game released overseas in the year 2000: on June 29 in North America, and September 29 in Europe. In addition to the PlayStation version, Sacnoth were also reportedly developing a version for the Neo Geo Pocket Color. Publisher Console Classics has also announced plans in 2015 to port Koudelka to Microsoft Windows via Steam, although nothing further has been announced.
A manga adaptation, written and illustrated by Iwahara, was published during 1999 by Kadokawa Shoten, eventually releasing in three volumes between November 1999 and September 2000. A novlization titled Koudelka - The Mansion's Scream was written by Nahoko Korekata and published by ASCII Media Works in February 2000 as part of the Famitsu Bunko imprint. An audio drama based on the game's story, featuring Japanese actors in the characters' roles and musical exerts, was released in November 1999.
The game received "mixed" reviews according to the review aggregation website GameRankings. In Japan, Famitsu gave it a score of one eight, one six, and two sevens for a total of 28 out of 40.
Power Unlimited gave it a score of 6 out of 10, praising the cutscenes, but criticizing the combat sections and calling Kikuta's music "a disaster". Although GameSpot's review of Koudelka yielded similar sentiments on the game's cutscenes and combat, it praised the soundtrack as being "simply amazing".
Following the release of Koudelka, Kikuta resigned as CEO of Sacnoth, going on to found his own music label. Following the release of Koudelka, Sacnoth began development on Shadow Hearts, a role-playing game for the PlayStation 2, the debut entry in the Shadow Hearts series. The Shadow Hearts series is set in the same reality as Koudelka, taking place after the game's bad ending. Sacnoth would produce two further Shadow Hearts titles, Covenant and From the New World, before closing in 2007.
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