Despite all that, though, Koudelka still managed to hold my attention to the end, in no small part for its impressive production values and story. The setting - a creepy, dilapidated castle -effectively dark, moody, and well detailed, with very few drab rooms to explore. There are a fair number of interesting (and at times, downright twisted) characters throughout the adventure, and as mentioned, the character animation and voiceover is surprisingly enthralling, giving it the feel of a well-produced horror film. I was pretty well engrossed in it throughout, and despite my gripes with the gameplay, I'd honestly say it's one of the most impressive horror tales on the original Playstation. No small feat given the sheer amount of competition it had from franchises like Resident Evil, Clock Tower, Dino Crisis and the first Silent Hill.
One significant omission compared to those games, though, was its replay value. As mentioned, the game is relatively short for an RPG, and once you've completed it, there's not really much reason to come back - you don't unlock any new bonus items or hidden things for completing it faster, and while there are two different endings, the only factor determining which you see is whether you win or lose against the final boss. Strangely, though, you get what I consider the more satisfying of the two endings by losing, so if you hit a brick wall against the final boss, well, it's not really worth grinding out levels to see the other one.
For fans of the the Shadow Hearts series, it's interesting to see where the franchise got it's start, and even non-fans can easily easy to be wowed by how much effort was put into telling its story. However, because of internal strife during the design process, the gameplay ended up being very mediocre and dragged the whole experience down. This in turn led to poor critical reviews, lackluster sales and the rest of a planned franchise (following other members of Koudelka's family throughout Europe) being cancelled as Kikuta left the company he founded and the remaining staff took things in a new direction. As such, Koudelka now commands asking prices of over $200 online, ensuring that this one is for only the most die-hard of Shadow Hearts fans and collectors of rare RPGs.
Publisher: SNK, Infogrames
Platform: Playstation 1
Recommended Version: N/A
Tags: JRPG, Historical, Freeform Characters, Brutal Violence, Disturbing Themes, Turn-Based, Random Encounters, Randomized Content, Long Animations, Save Only at Checkpoints, Short Campaign, Cinematic Experience