When a children’s card game and Monopoly love each other very much…. Updated with score and online test results.
3DS RPGs give plenty of opportunities for the Random Number God to mess with people. Pokemon, Fire Emblem, and Shin Megami Tensei games have all ruined runs because of a 10% chance going against me. I was concerned with Culdcept Revolt, as its core game is pure RNG, but what’s surrounding it is an extremely fun strategy game that’s unlike almost anything else on the system.
The game of Culdcept is a hybrid of light RPG, collectible card games and property control games like Monopoly. Each Cepter (player) has a “book” of 50 cards to work with, comprised of monsters in the four classic elements (wind, earth, fire, water) along with neutral monsters, items and spells. Up to four Cepters are on a board with squares of the elements plus multi-element spaces. On a dice roll, the player moves to a square and if they have a monster, they can play it on that space. With some exceptions there's no restrictions on where monsters can be played, but there is a bonus given if the monster's element matches the square's. Like passing Go, there are some gate squares which give power boosts each time they are passed, along with letting the monsters played defend the square if another Cepter lands on it.
The defense is done by comparing the stats of the monsters, along with any boosts from the item that can be played from the hand. If the defending monster has even one HP after the fight, the square is held. Another post-roll option allows for boosting of the element of the square – or changing it, if there's a monster of a different element – that uses up a magic meter. A successful defense boosts your Cepter's score, and the first person to reach a score (usually 8000, some matches go higher) will be declared the winner. The spell cards can damage, buff or debuff monsters as appropriate as well as force specific dice rolls or draw additional cards, though “decking out” a player (having them use all their cards) just reshuffles them back into the deck. It seems complicated, but the single player mode does a good job of explaining the elements and as one-off effects are revealed the game will explain what's happening quickly before resuming the action.
The single player mode has a bit of storyline attached to it, but it immediately pulls out the one trope I've grown to loathe because of its overuse: amnesia. The self-named character is dropped into a city to search for his memory while trying to escape an autocratic ruler who wants to destroy all the Cepters in the city. There is a group of companions with you, though sadly my favorite of the bunch was removed due to plot convenience, leaving slightly more irritating serial opponents/compatriots in her wake. The storyline is easily skippable if you want to just get to the game, which was certainly true for me after a loss. Thankfullly, there are still rewards if you come up short in the games so you can pick up a few booster packs from the in-game store. A recommended move option is also available for newcomers and I found it surprisingly competent at determining my best move. No-win situations that ensued usually came down to bad draws or dice rolls.
Since Culdcept's cards are meant to be collectible – there's an in-game card counter that maxes over 200 – the cards are the main thing that needs to look good. And Revolt delivers on that front, with appropriately menacing monster designs and a wide variety of creatures. The character sprites and portraits are nice looking, even if I did get confused about one character's gender in story mode. There's a decent soundtrack that ramps up as the score does, hitting peak crescendo as a player pulls into the 90% of a winning score territory.
Although story mode is the thrust of the game, there is support for both local play (two+ copies required) or online battles. Although there are incentives for logging into the online, it was difficult to get an online match in against random players on launch day. Matching with friends is quick, and there wasn't any noticeable lag during the games. The creator of the friend room can set a wide variety of options, including the ability to ban the more broken cards by default. As the game gets out in the wild, it should be easier to get a quick game in. There is also a DLC shop, which promises “free and paid” content.
Although Nintendo originally published Culdcept Revolt in Japan, their 2017 dance card was full enough that NIS America was able to pick this up for the rest of the world. And I’m glad that they did, as it feels like a game that’ll be a cult hit, but won’t be a breakout hit. Hopefully I’m wrong and Revolt rolls a 12 so that we keep getting more games with faster localizations.