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Koudelka Logo

The Journey. The Horror. The Will to Survive.
~ Tagline

Koudelka (クーデルカ, Kūderuka) is a console role-playing game for the PlayStation developed by Sacnoth for the Sony PlayStation, and the first game in the series that would become the Shadow Hearts series.

Sacnoth founder and CEO Hiroki Kikuta acted as the game's director, producer, writer and composer, following his wish to create a mature, dark, horror RPG, as he was unsatisfied with what he considered as the disjointed, juvenile, and stagnant nature of the genre.

Set in 1898 Wales, the game follows the mysterious occurrences surrounding the distant Nemeton Monastery and the three protagonists who, by chance, are forced to investigate its dark history.

The gameplay combines a mix of grid-based RPGs with survival horror elments, and exploration of the Nemeton complex to solve puzzles.

The game was released on December 16, 1999 in Japan, June 29, 2000 in North America and September 29, 2000 in Europe.

A Neo Geo Pocket Color port was planned, but quietly shelved following the poor sales of the game.

Console Classics announced a Steam re-release in 2015[1], although with no further news, it is assumed to be cancelled.



The gameplay is split between two styles of play; exploration, and combat.

Controlling the main protagonist, Koudelka Iasant, the player explore the Nemeton Monastary and grounds, controlling a 3D model on pre-rendered backgrounds, with fixed camera angles, via tank-controls, akin to the Resident Evil series.

In this environment, the player is able to see story scenes, pick up items, weapons, and ammo, and engage in puzzle-solving.

Combat is triggered through random enounters, warping the player to a flat grid environment, where they are in control of all three main characters.


With enemies and playable characters positioned on this grid, the combat is turned-based, with the order determined by the Agility stat governing both players and enemies. Each party has access to physical and magical attacks with the ability to inflict status effects, buffs, debuffs, and healing magic, with the player party also able to escape from battle.

After battle the party gains experience points, which can be freely distributed to any stat for any character, and occasionally items, Key items, and weapons.

Weapons and magic will also gain skills points, which increase with use in battle, allowing many benefits such as; multiple hits per turn, wider area of effect, or simply better damage/healing.

The survival horror elements are the limited inventory (although ammo and restorative items stack), and the weapon breakage system. Melee weapons will break after a set amount of use, while guns are limited to the amount of ammo currently stocked.


Koudelka is loosely in the genre of Historical Fiction, wherein actual historical figures and events are referenced and depicted, but with the addition in Koudelka of supernatural elements and secret histories.



The playable cast.

  • Koudelka Iasant - The main protagonist. A young, psychic, Romani gypsy woman who is drawn to the Nemeton Monastery by the cries of a troubled spirit.
  • Edward Plunkett - Secondary protagonist. A young man in search of adventure and riches, who gets caught up in the ongoing events at the monastery.
  • James O' Flaherty - Tertiary protagonist. A Bishop from the Vatican on a quest to retieve a mysterious and dangerous, stolen tome.


Some of the supporting cast.

  • Ogden Hartman - Elderly caretaker of the Nemeton Monastery. Formerly a sailor, he and his wife care for the Monastery, despite the recent appearance of monsters and other unexplained events.
  • Bessy Hartman - Caretaker and wife of Ogden. She cares for her husband deeply, and serves as a cook, although there is something decidely sinister about the couple.
  • Charlotte D'Lota - The ghost of a young girl who was beheaded. She haunts the halls of the complex trying to lure others to her sad fate.
  • Alias - A mysterious thief who pursues the main characters throughout the monastery. He is interested only in his own survival.
  • Elaine Heyworth - A gentle, but forlorn spirit who cries out to Koudelka to save her.
  • Patrick Heyworth - Owner of the Monastery. A scientist with an interest in alchemy, his disappearance coincides with the appearance of the monsters.
  • Roger Bacon - An eccentric who was found sleeping inside a coffin. He claims to be the 12th Century alchemist of the same name, he nonetheless assists the party in their investigation.



Set in 1898 in Aberystwyth, Wales, the game follows the mysterious occurrences surrounding Nemeton Monastery and the three protagonists who, by chance, are forced to investigate its dark history.

After a series of troubling visions, Koudelka Iasant, a young gypsy girl with supernatural powers, arrives at the Monastery. There she meets and rescues Edward Plunkett, an adventurer, and Father James O'Flaherty, a bishop on a holy mission from the Vatican.

During their investigation, the trio encounter as series of troubling events, with both human, and supernatural elements at play; The tragic phantom, Charlotte D'Lota, who haunts the monastary spreading misery and hatred over her unhappy death. The furtive thief, Alias, who lurks in the shadows to ambush the unwary. Roger Bacon - an enigmatic man who claims to be the 13th century philosopher, rendered immortal. And an encounter with bestial Gargoyle, an amalgam of the malignant energies of the monastary.

Many years before these events, Elaine Heyworth, former belovèd of James, and wife to his friend Patrick Heyworth, was murdered in her home by a band of thieves.

Out of sheer grief, Patrick pursued dark means to bring her back from the dead, and sought the forbidden text - the Émigré Document - reputed to have to the power to do so.

He and his servants, husband-and-wife, Ogden and Bessy Hartman, moved into the Nemeton Monastery to pursue his endevour. With many human sacrifices he managed to bring his wife's corpse back to life, except she was an inhuman monster, with her tormented soul seperated from her body, and crying out for help.

It was Elaine's tormented soul that Koudelka had heard, drawing her to the monastary. After fighting their way through monsters, Koudelka, Edward and James eventually uncover this, and determine to put a stop to it.

With advice from Roger, they set monastary ablaze, and make their way to the Church, where Elaine resides.

There are three endings to Koudelka;

  • The Worst Ending - If the player has not found Koudelka's Pendant, Elaine blasts the party with a corrosive power that melts the flesh from their bones, resulting in a non-standard Game Over.
  • The Good Ending - The party find the pendant and defeat Elaine in their final battle. Elaine's soul appears to reunite with her body, but she plummets to her death in the fire below.
  • The Bad Ending - The party find the pendant, but lose to Elaine in their final battle. James sacrifices himself to kill Elaine and allows Koudelka and Edward to flee from the burning building.

Given the events seen and referenced in Shadow Hearts, the Bad Ending is considered the canonical ending.


Early Production[]

In 1997, Hiroki Kikuta, best known as a composer for Seiken Densetsu 2 and Seiken Densetsu 3, established his own company, Sacnoth with funding from SNK Playmore. Unhappy with what he considered as the disjointed, juvenile, and stagnant nature of most RPGs, Kikuta had intended to take the genre in a whole new direction.

St David's Cathedral

Kikuta read over 100 books on a variety of topics, but found himself drawn to the the Neo-gothic feel of the late 19th century - a crossover in the time of scientific inventions, but a heavy interest in the supernatural. Kikuta wanted to explore the theme of the uneasy coexistence of magic and science.

The narrative of project that would become Koudelka was conceived over three months of research. Due to staff limitations, and the length of development time, it was decided early on that the events of the story would take place over the course of a single night, and in a singular location.

Aberystwyth was chosen because Kikuta wanted a location across the sea from Ireland.

Due to a lack of Japanese resources on British architecture, Kikuta and several staff members made a research trip to Pembrokeshire to see local scenery and church architecture. The region's coastal cliffs, ancient ruins and weather conditions influenced Koudelka's setting and design.

To help cement the visual look of the monastery they wanted to create, the development team visited St. David's Cathedral. Though they did not copy the layout of the cathedral complex, they repoduced various decorative features and individual room layouts for Koudelka.

Works from Saudek, Clarke, and Warburton.

Other visuals were heavily influenced by the works of Bob Carlos Clarke, Jan Saudek and Holly Warburton.

A big influence on tone was Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder, a series of occult detective novels, in which the eponymous Carnacki would solve mysteries that would have genuine supernatural elements, or a deception by entirely human agents who merely wished people to believe it was supernatural.

With additional interests in the darker side of medieval history, the proto-science of alchemy, and with the works of HP Lovecraft, it was decided to incorporate these elements into Koudelka, and set it during the end of the 19th century.

Real elements of history were combined with the fiction to give the story the darker feel they wanted.

For the gameplay, Kikuta had wanted to develop an action-based battle system, citing Resident Evil, and survival horror as a source of inspiration. However, his employees were adamant about releasing something closer to the kind of JRPGs that Square had been making at the time, resulting in a compromise - exploration would take place on pre-rendered backgrounds, while random encounters would occur on a separate battle map with a turn-based battle system.

Later Production[]

Early Character concepts for Koudelka

Yuji Iwahara was the main character designer for the project, and modelled Koudelka after both Natalie Portman in her role in Léon: The Professional and Winona Ryder in Alien Resurrection - to give the character an air of confidence, but also a sense of vulnerability. Her background as an exiled gypsy came about as Kikuta wanted to explore a lonely, and isolated character, which fed into her design.

As modelling constraints were an issue, Koudelka design was simplified, as the Playstion tech had severe polygon and memory restrictions. The CGI model was created by artist Nobuji Watanabe, which itself went through multiple redrafts, with Kikuta suggesting adjustments.

Cutscene Production[]

As part of the desire to push boundaries of what he hadn't seen before in JRPGs, Kikuta was interested in using mocap to allow the more expressive movements to help facilitate the drama - as well as drastically cut down on the work of hand animating over an hour's worth of cutscenes.


Following an experiment in Japan, he and hs team were pleased with the results, but the technology in Japan at the time only allowed for the capture of a single actor at a given time. Telling his frustrations to a former colleague at Square, they directed him to Future Light - a Santa Monica based SFX studio who had pioneered the world's first real-time tetherless mocap system, which had limited use in the 1998 American Godzilla, but more importantly could simultaneously mocap multiple actors in a single scene, and also record their dialogue.

Kikuta contacted the studio, who expressed interest in the project. Due to the technical requirements of the footage needing to be recorded in Santa Monica, it was decided to use actors who lived locally. Over 100 actors responsed to the casting call.

Vivianna Batthika was eventually cast as the main lead, Koudelka, who had impressed Kikuta with her cool and unique attitude. Mickaël Bradberry was cast as Edward, and served as a "mood-maker", helping lift the mood when things were troubled on the set.

Recording a scene

Rehearsals took place in the function room of a nearby hotel, while the performances were recorded in a converted sound studio that was formerly a warehouse. The recording sessions took place over four days, but due to the building's lack of soundproofing, recording was frequently halted due to exterior noise.

Bare-bones sets and props were created from random equipment found in the studio to provide the actors space and objects to interact with.

While Kikuta was present on set, he left directing duties to David Walding - he would liase with him in Japanese, but allowed him to direct the scenes to allow for more naturalistic English performances and dialogue. It was also decided that the Japanese version would retain the English voices, but with subtitles.


As a composer, Kikuta found composing the score the easiest part of development. The soundscape and compositions were designed to reflect the mysterious and moody setting.

Assisted by Nick Ingman, the opening theme "Requiem" was performed by soprano Catherine Bott. The ending theme "Ubi Caritas Et Amor" was taken from Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens by French organist Maurice Duruflé, and performed by the London Oratory School Schola.


CD Drama[]

Drama CD Cover

Main article: Koudelka Drama CD''

Published by "Pony Canyon", Nov 17, 1999, the game was adapted for a brief six-part radio drama. It loosely follows the plot of the game, but makes many alterations to fit the short running time.


"The Mansion's Scream"

Written in January 2000, "Koudelka - The Mansion's Scream" is a novelization of the main story, written by Japanese author "Nahoko Korekata".

  • Publisher: Ascii
  • Label: Famitsu Bunko
  • ISBN: 4-7572-0665-8




Main article: Koudelka Manga

Koudelka Issue #1

A manga sidestory, written and illustrated by Yuji Iwahara, was published in Kadokawa Shoten's Monthly Ace Next.

Set six months after the events of the game, it follows Koudelka as she is pursued by a mysterious organisation who seek to use the power of the Émigré Manuscript for their own dark purposes.

While written as a sequel, and considered as such by Kikuta at the time, it is no longer considered canonical.

Unrealised Sequels[]

While nothing was ever formally developed, Hiroki Kikuta had several ideas for follow-ups should the game have been a success.

Set shortly after the events of the manga, Koudelka 2 would be set in 1900, and seen Koudelka visiting the Exposition Universelle in Paris, 1900, drawn by mysterious goings-on at one of the temporary pavilions there. Her investigation would eventually lead her to exploring the newly excavated Paris Métro subway system, and Parisian catacombs which would have become haunted by monsters and spirits, disturbed from the disruption.

Koudelka 3 would be set in Chicago 1973, and featured Koudelka's grandson, Rodmell Koudelka*, the thirty-something anthropologist son of her daughter, Amelia Koudelka - who would also feature.

Rodmell was to have worked for the University of Chicago. The premise of the story would be a spate of mysterious murders committed by soldiers returning from Vietnam, either possessed by evil spirits.

Roger Bacon would also have made a return, wearing a modern suit, and assiting Rodmell in putting a stop to the evil spirits.

Koudelka 4 would again have followed Rodmell, in 1984 on a trip to Japan, where he would visit the Asuka stones, and try to remove a powerful curse on one of his professor friends, placed on him by an evil onmyōji.

Shadow Hearts[]

SH - US Box Art1.jpg

Koudelka is the precursor to Sacnoth's Shadow Hearts series, which exists in the stange position of being side-games and semi-sequels to Koudelka.

The events that occur in the Koudelka have repercussions across the series, despite only being directly referenced in Shadow Hearts, but the games take place in the same universe and feature various locales and characters from Sacnoth's debut work.


Dutch magazine Power Unlimited gave the game a score of 6.0 out of 10, praising the cutscenes, but criticizing the combat sections and calling Kikuta's music "a disaster".



Development Screenshots[]