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Dual Hearts (PlayStation 2) artwork

Dual Hearts (PlayStation 2) review

"Dual Hearts is one-of-a-kind Zelda and Rare platformer mashup that should not be missed."

When I was a child, one of my favorite books claimed to be able to interpret dreams. I had an overactive imagination, so I liked seeing what my dreams said about me. Though I don’t particularly believe in dream divination anymore, the book still holds a place in my heart. That history could explain why Dual Hearts resonated with me so much.

Dual Hearts is an early PlayStation 2 action-RPG that tells the tale of Rumble, a treasure hunter traveling to the mysterious Sonno Island in search of the Dream Stone. His excavation is interrupted by a meeting with Tumble, a dream creature that is attempting to stop the resurrection of a dark force sealed within the island's temple. As these things often go, Tumble screws up and drops the keys to the temple when he runs into Rumble. Those keys then take up residence within the dreams of the island's denizens.

Despite the interesting set-up, the game's overall story is pretty bland. That’s easily forgiven, though, because the real stars of the show are the dreams that players get to visit. Most of those dreams are self-contained stories that expose the hopes and fears of the people who call the island home. For example, a retired adventurer is forced to relive the death of his comrade, until Rumble steps in and helps him find closure. There are other dreams that spin similarly dramatic yarns, but there’s also plenty of silliness along the way. One dream even finds Rumble exploring a little girl’s favorite picture book where she calls the shots.

Within the dream worlds, Rumble and Tumble undergo some excellent character growth. Rumble starts off as a generic adventurer that only cares about treasure, but he soon learns to appreciate the relationships he’s formed while on the island. In that way, the game almost has a Majora’s Mask vibe. The adventure is personal in nature, rather than merely telling an epic tale about saving the world. It’s pretty cheesy, but it benefits from that familiar JRPG charm.

I love Dual Hearts’ premise, and the good news is that the gameplay is just as good. The design borrows a lot from The Legend of Zelda, with item-based combat, puzzle solving and character progression through the use of items. If it was only a Zelda clone, though, it wouldn’t be that interesting. Fortunately, Dual Hearts also throws in a lot of N64-era platforming elements with Tumble. Rumble can ride Tumble to perform a variety of moves that would feel at home in Banjo-Kazooie, for instance. Some segments feel like they were ripped right out of Rare’s platformer, with Tumble being used to combat enemies in the air and the sea with abilities specifically tailored to him.

The Banjo-Kazooie similarities don’t end with combat, either. The game is a collect-a-thon with dreams containing hundreds of arbitrary items that do everything from increasing max health to opening the equivalent of note doors on the island. While I was able to get through a dream in maybe an hour or two, it’s easy to spend many more looking for the hundreds of collectibles stashed away. For the completionists out there, Dual Hearts could easily go from being a 15-hour game to one that lasts more than 30.

Boss fights are especially fun, since they combine design from both action-adventure games and platformers. With only a few exceptions, bosses require absurd tactics that might feel more at home in a Rare platformer, all while remaining reminiscent of the sword-based combat featured in Zelda games. That fun combination is definitely a highlight. Unfortunately, the great boss design starts to waver at the end. The final boss ends up forcing players through the sort of uninspired slog that showed up all too often in the mediocre platformers of yesteryear.

Aesthetically, the game also stands out. Each dream differs substantially from the one that preceded it, with some of them even jumping into vastly different styles. For example, the aforementioned storybook world has a Yoshi’s Story feel with a world made of cardboard and crayon.

I bought Dual Hearts on a whim. I went in expecting nothing, but came away with a game that was far more charming and fascinating than I ever anticipated. Not only that, but it reignited my long-held passion for dreams and the wonder they can inspire. Dual Hearts is one-of-a-kind Zelda and Rare platformer mashup that should not be missed.


Phazonmasher's avatar
Freelance review by Zachary Walton (August 02, 2015)

Zach Walton likes JRPGs, visual novels, horror games and anything that gives him an excuse to drink.

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joseph_valencia posted August 02, 2015:

I've never heard of this game until now. It turns out it was developed by Matrix Software, the team that made Alundra, another PlayStation action-adventure game with dream walking as a premise. I will have to check this game out some day!
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JoeTheDestroyer posted August 02, 2015:

Own it, played it, loved it. Great review, Phantom. Phazon, stupid autocorrect.
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overdrive posted August 04, 2015:

Yeah, I'm not familiar with this game, but got the Alundra vibe. I might have to look into this one, as that game was one of my favorites on the PS1.

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