With Namco Bandai’s board/card game hybrid Culdcept Saga set to hit North American retail next week for Xbox 360, I recently had the opportunity to fire off some questions about the title in an email interview with the game’s Localization Producer Nobu Taguchi (with a few follow-ups dutifully wrapped up by Namco Bandai PR man Kit Ellis). Read along to learn more about the series’ evolution to the 360, the All-Star team that put together the story, artwork and music, what to look forward to from the game’s Achievements and more.
Matt Litten: If you were explaining Culdcept SAGA to a newcomer to the series, how would you best describe it?
Nobu Taguchi: I would describe Culdcept SAGA as something completely unique, unlike any other video game they had played before and not a part of any traditional video game genre. Essentially, Culdcept SAGA boils down to two basic elements – traditional luck-based board games and strategy-based trading card games, with a few interesting twists. Culdcept SAGA contains elements of both, yet is extremely well balanced so neither element overwhelms the other. Because Culdcept SAGA draws so much from both board and card games, fans of either type of game can find a lot to enjoy here.
ML: Have there been any tweaks – major or minor — to the rules for Culdcept SAGA or has the system stayed the same as the previous games?
NT: The most obvious aspects of the game are fairly similar to other games in the series; however there have been many modifications “under the hood.” Over 100 cards have been added to the game as well as several new maps, and of course, with the inclusion of online play a lot of tweaking and rebalancing was necessary. Essentially, we had a really good framework to start with, and made everything better. To take an analogy from car makers, while the wheels remain the same, everything else has been rebuilt from the ground up. While over 300 cards return from the past game, many of them have been re-imagined by the artists, and the stats and abilities have been changed. And with online play, we needed to balance how to keep people in the games to the very end. Really, every aspect of the game, from the territories on the boards to the crafty A.I. have gotten a tune-up. Fans of the previous game will recognize some of the cards and abilities, but it will be a new game for them still.
ML: What would you say is the greatest advancement Culdcept SAGA makes over its predecessors in the jump up to the Xbox 360?
NT: The single greatest advancement for Culdcept SAGA is most definitely the inclusion of online play over Xbox LIVE. We are so excited to be able to open up the game to the enormous online community, and there is no better feeling than playing with your friends across the country. Along with online play, of course, is the support for voice chat so you can smack talk your friends before you beat down their Red Ogre with your Minotaur.
ML: Typically, physical board and card games have a tendency to drag on for a long time. Is this the case with Culdcept SAGA as well, or has the game been tailored for a quicker pace of play? How long do matches generally last?
NT: In Culdcept SAGA, you have two very different experiences available to you. First off, you can follow the single player adventure, in which you square off against highly skilled A.I. opponents. As you play and learn the story of Culdcept and conquer your foes, you will earn new cards to add to your collection. The matches can have varying lengths, really depending on your skills, your deck, and your goals. From what I have seen, the shortest match in single player finishes in about twenty minutes and can go up from there. We have been playing a lot of matches in the office, and one person in particular (no names!) loves to completely wipe out every enemy creature on the board, so matches against him can go on for awhile. I am less patient, and I want to see what new cards I can earn, so I try to destroy my opponents as quickly as possible by forcing them to land on one or two of my strongholds.
As for online and offline multiplayer matches, you can customize every aspect of the game, including the number of rounds, match goals, timer length, and more. Playing a quick match for 4 players with a timer setting and 15 rounds should take about 30 minutes, which is really the perfect amount of time in my mind.
ML: Yeah, 20-30 minutes sounds like a good range. In case a match goes on longer than expected, though, can game progress be saved mid-match?
Kit Ellis: You cannot save an in-progress multiplayer match. If one of the players has to leave the game, an AI character will take over for him so that the other players can complete the game.
ML: Following the game’s launch, is there any possibility we’ll be seeing downloadable content, like maybe card add-on packs or anything like that?
NT: We made a conscientious decision at the start to not add any new cards for downloadable content. We really wanted to ensure that anyone who bought the game could have the complete library of cards accessible to them based on their skill level. Additionally, since we spent so much time balancing and re-balancing cards for the game, it would make it very difficult to add new cards later on without upsetting the delicate balance we have achieved thus far. As for other add-on packs, we aren’t planning anything currently, but we won’t rule it out!
ML: What can we expect from the game’s Achievements? Standard rewards for progress through the story and online production, or are there some that are a bit more exotic?
NT: There are some standard Achievements for completing parts of the story line, but there are absolutely some more exotic Achievements. Most of the Achievements in the game require you to understand how to craft and utilize your deck for different maps, but they still require a modicum of luck to play into your hand. For instance, my favorite Achievement, the Dragon Lord Achievement, requires that you win a match with EVERY dragon creature in the game deployed. You might have every dragon in your deck, but you still need the luck of the draw and the luck of the die to combine everything in the perfect placements. And you still need to win! If you pull that off, you score 30 Achievement Points and bragging rights that you pulled it off.
ML: Wow, I bet it’ll take players a while to unlock that one! So overall, what’s the total Achievement count come out to?
KE: There are 50 achievements totaling 1000 possible points. The achievements range in value from 5-80 points each.
ML: In browsing through some of the press materials I have here, I read that the game had somewhat of Japanese super-team working on the artwork, music and storyline. Could you elaborate a bit more on whom all helped design these areas of the game?
NT: We had a wonderful team crafting every aspect of the game. The story was written by the award winning author Tow Ubukata, who won the 2003 Sci-Fi award for his story “Mardock Scramble.” Mr. Ubukata also wrote “Chaos Legion”, which was turned into a game, and anime fans may know “Soukyuu no Fafner” (Fafner of the Azure) and “Pilgrim Jager”. In addition, we also had Kenji Ito and Joedown compose a massive soundtrack for the game. The soundtrack is on 4 CDs, and is superb. Mr. Ito has composed music for Romancing SaGa and Final Fantasy series, and most recently contributed music to the score for Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Finally, the card art was drawn to life by a diverse team of really talented artists from across Japan, including some people who worked on cards for Magic: The Gathering. Since we had such a large team of artists, players can expect a variety of styles and approaches to the game’s visual style.
ML: Man, that 4-CD soundtrack sure sounds spectacular. Is that going to be made commercially available for fans to pick up? I know I’d certainly love to get my hands on that..
KE: We don’t have any plans to release the soundtrack on a physical CD, but the entire thing is now available on iTunes. The CDs were released a while ago in Japan, so they should be fairly easy to find if anyone wanted to import them.
ML: Any final thoughts on the game’s development and why you feel Xbox 360 owners should give Culdcept SAGA a go when it ships next week?
KE: Not too much else to add, I’d just like to remind people that there is a demo of the game now available on XBL Marketplace. It lets you check out the single and multiplayer modes, so it should be helpful if people want to try before they buy!
ML: Thanks so much for your time, guys. Can’t wait to play the final game!