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Shadow of Destiny (PlayStation 2) artwork

Shadow of Destiny (PlayStation 2) review

"Dying is never fun. Knowing you're about to die is even less of a joyful prospect. But worst of all perhaps, is knowing you're going to die again and again and again. Such is the fate of Eike Kusch. That's you, in case you were wondering."

Destined to be different

Dying is never fun. Knowing you're about to die is even less of a joyful prospect. But worst of all perhaps, is knowing you're going to die again and again and again. Such is the fate of Eike Kusch. That's you, in case you were wondering. Young, blonde-haired and pony-tailed Eike is the protagonist of this unlikeliest of tales and premises for a PS2 game that I've come across so far. Bless KCET, the Silent Hill people, for this wonderful departure.

The idea is simple and compelling. Eike is fated to die. You are witness to his murder at the onset of the game. A mysterious creature - whose clipped, clichéd homosexual voice annoyed me to no end - named the Homunculus, is able to resurrect Eike in a sort of limbo. The creature will furnish guidance on your mission, which is to play at recreating the past so that it suits you, by venturing back into the world of the living at various junctures. Your most critical tools are your Digi-Pad - the thing that facilitates your era gallivanting - and your journal, which provides you with useful insight. It's quaint time travel, and it's basic detective work, all in the name of avoiding your next appointment with death. Killing your killer isn't good enough - you are fated to die after all. The only hope is for you to dig deep enough along the roots of vengeance so that the reason for your death no longer exists.

The adventure is divided into Chapters. Each time Eike able to avoid death by way of your wiles, a Chapter is completed. However, to begin each new Chapter, Eike will invariably be killed almost instantly in ominous, unavoidable sequences. Back you go to Homunculus to receive further hints and tips before both you and hero are whisked back into the past again to avoid your latest meeting with the maker.

Since merely staying alive during the course of a given Chapter is your only concern, you won't be doing any fighting. That's right! There are no weapons or combat skills to be attained. Instead, you'll need to figure out how to put a cell phone, a frying pan, and an old rope to good use if you want to confound fate's design. The missing combat is akin to going without your underwear - at first you feel naked and lost, but soon you feel more in touch with things than you might have thought possible. The puzzles are rather simple for the most part (without giving away too much, the frying pan puzzle has you slipping the pan under Eike's coat to create a makeshift flak jacket), and that's a good thing. Your mind will be quite busy trying to come to grips with the swirling complexity of time travel that you and Eike find yourselves in the middle of.

There are theories about threads of time and time paradoxes that boggle the mind. Put simply, some believe that there are an infinite number of possible worlds running parallel with one another. If your parents never met in one thread, it's still possible that they met and conceived you in another thread. Time paradoxes are more troublesome to play out in a game setting because the idea suggests that if your parents never met, you will be erased from the present. Admirably, Shadow of Destiny seems to playfully entertain both theories and leaves it up to the player to decide which of the several endings is most satisfactory. And looking into the various endings provides a decent bit of replay value as well.

Shadow of Destiny was a major departure for me. I expected a Silent Hill clone from the screenshots and DVD cover, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. At first it will be jarring and even annoying to see yourself dying over and over simply as part of the course of the proceedings. But that irritation give way to a sort of derisive mirth (''baha, how silly is this constant dying!''), and then, to complete captivation (''the fortune teller said the fated hour is in 8 minutes - have I done what's necessary to dodge death this time?''). Not too many games allow you to meet with juggling clowns in the town square, flirt with mysterious women through the centuries, befriend lonely little girls in cavernous mansions, assist crazed alchemists with dodgy experiments, dangle dangerously from rooftops in the conspiring dark, and battle food poisoning on the rolling city streets - all in one day!

While it's true that Shadow of Destiny's graphics look like they could have been done on the PS1, and the music and sounds aren't outstanding (with the exception of Eike's ultra-cool voice), the overall presentation is crisp and more than competent. There's one graphics-related aspect that is worthy of mention: because the game is played out in the one town, you'll appreciate how the town is rendered quite prettily in different weather and better still, in different ages - from medieval times to the present day.

That being said, this game isn't about pretty graphics. It's about a concept that's brilliant, if not completely conducive to a game setting - Eike's is a hard tale to tell in a 3D survival-ish climate. But KCET have told Shadow of Destiny's singular story just about as well as it could have been told. And that's the highest sort of praise.

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (October 21, 2003)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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