"Whoever said turn-based combat games are boringÖ well, was probably right for the most part. Shadow Hearts: Covenant, however, pummels your head and your reflexes in a manner I havenít seen since Legend Of Dragoon. While Covenantís judgment ring doesnít have the same insane sense of timing as the fore-mentioned game it is still enough to make you actually sit up, focus and curse at yourself when you miss. The ring consists of yellow hit bars, small red strike bars, and a spinning clock hand that..."
Whoever said turn-based combat games are boringÖ well, was probably right for the most part. Shadow Hearts: Covenant, however, pummels your head and your reflexes in a manner I havenít seen since Legend Of Dragoon. While Covenantís judgment ring doesnít have the same insane sense of timing as the fore-mentioned game it is still enough to make you actually sit up, focus and curse at yourself when you miss. The ring consists of yellow hit bars, small red strike bars, and a spinning clock hand that must be stopped at exactly the right moment with the x button else your attack, magic and even items will fail. There are also certain places where the ring comes into affect, such as the lottery and ultimate weapons. While the judgment ring is perhaps the driving factor behind what keeps the game enthralling, it isnít what makes it stand apart from all others.
The content: Several things, in my opinion, work in a role-playing game. Summons, hidden/secret content, free-roaming ability, a decent amount of characters, a driving story and so on. The list is rather large anymore, but needless to say I think Covenant has all of them. While I didnít think that a game so packed with all the things that make other role-playing games intriguing would have worked, Shadow Hearts proves different. Each character has their own special ability upgradeable by items that one can seek out all over Europe and Japan, along with Ultimate weapons and armor towards the end. There are countless amounts of mini-games like the treasure box, the lottery and the Man Festival (That is so disturbing that Iím not even getting into it, not to mention the Stud CardsÖ youíll see.) I would say you could beat the game and still miss about 50% of everything it has to offer.
The summons: There are, surprisingly, two kinds. One is by two of your main characters Yuri and Kurando. These are called ďfusionĒ and in a sense your character morphs into the creature instead of calling them to the battlefield, but the aspect is the same. They each wield different elements, magic and stats. While Yuri has the ability to morph into nine total (Two of them you have to find all on your own) Kurando only has two, one of which you donít get till almost the very end. Anastasia performs the others, and in a sense they are more like the copy option in Final Fantasy. Anastasia has the ability to ďscanĒ any enemy by taking a picture of it, but she will keep certain creatures and put them in her scrapbook to call upon anytime. They perform only one attack, and then disappear from the battlefield.
The secrets: As I said before, you could miss a good 50% of this game without even trying. There are so many hidden things in this game it makes X-2 look like an Easter egg hunt. The stud cards, the Nieblungs, the tarot cards. All of these and so many more have to be found, pointed out in a hint book or stumbled upon without even the slightest clue on where to find them. It almost treads on the path of annoyance, but itís still an interesting tactic to keep you that much more involved in the game.
The free roaming: Perhaps one of the most irritating things in a game has become so abundantly simple in this one I almost feel like Iím cheating. I donít like to waste my time, and I donít like to discover that Iíve missed something in the first town when Iím almost at the end of the game. Especially when every few steps some monster decides he is going to be the one to cast you into the abyss. (Yes, Iím picking on dawn of souls there.) And while I would rather give a little effort in moving to the places I need to be, there is something comforting about picking a spot on the world map and hitting one button to get there, especially in a game packed so full of content your are going back and forth so much it makes your teeth rattle. Donít get me wrong, you do have the ability to run around like a crazy, but unlike X-2 one spot doesnít meld into the other so if you leave you find yourself back at the world map every time.
Iím not going to get into the rest of the content; I feel Iíve pushed my ďthis game is packingĒ argument well enough. While I wonít drone on about the graphics for too long, I will say this. The CGIís are gorgeous, though few and far between, the monsters are extremely creative and sometimes a bit frightening (there are times when the camera angles from the feet of your character to the head of the beast, making it look ominously immense) and the character rendering is above par. But all in all, it made the games graphics only average. It didnít have the technical sound or the lush pixels Shining Tears did.
I may be a sap, or a weirdo but there is something captivating about a story line that takes history or modern day and adds such an obscure element you are wondering for days, weeks or months afterwards if that could really happen. Weíre all familiar with World War 1 and 2, or at least we should be, else the schools arenít doing a good job. This is where Covenant takes place. Not in some distant, fabricated land with an evil tyrant and mythological beasts. It molds history with fantasy, even taking some prominent figures of our very real past and giving them roles, such as Anastasia and Rasputin. My historyís not what it used to be, but Iím sure there are more. While at times it does make reference to the original Shadow Hearts, it isnít enough to leave you in the dark. Plus there are flashbacks and explanations given as well. The man driving force behind the plot is Yuri and his impending doom from the Mistletoeís curse. (And no I didnít give anything away, it happens in the first five minutes.) And there is something endearing about a character pushing through his personal problems to do what is right. Other characters play off Yuri rather well, but I wonít go into all of them. Anastasiaís young and innocent nature is charming, plus itís always amusing to find out what kind of trouble sheís going to get into and Corneliaís antics with Ghepetto are fun to watch (Mainly her patting him on the back when his HP is low.) The most charismatic and humorous character, though, has to be Joachim. His over dramatic nature and movie announcer voice still cracks me up when I think about it. In a dark game, he reminds you not to take everything so seriously. While the story may seem a bit clichť at the beginning, good guy destroying the bad guy to save the world, the further you get into it you discover that isnít the case. In an effort not to give anything thing away I will just say this: This game will keep you guessing until the very end. Youíre never quite sure who the final battle is going to be with, each character has a dismal past that you have to shed light on and youíre never really sure where Yuriís fate truly lies. Heís a likeable character and that was enough for me to keep me playing even when my eyes were red.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant is a good game, all in all, it may even be bordering on great. And while itís not ground breaking or trend setting, itís familiar. It takes everything Iíve come to love in a role-playing game and combined into a 2-disc epic. If you are looking for a new style, or new twist on an old classic you are not going to find it here, but if you are dying to turn on your PS2 in order to enjoy a sort of remembrance with a different story, Shadow Hearts: Covenant is a sanctuary in a sometimes dismal mass of copy cats.
Graphics: While theyíre not mind blowing, the certainly could have done a lot worse with them. The monsters are enough to take your breath away, along with certain settings in Japan.
Game Play: There is enough here to keep you running around for hours upon hours. And itís done in such a way as to where you wonít get burned out or bored, except for the Man Festival. A 100 floors of this crap?
Fun Factor: The mini-games exist, but they lack the intricacy of blitz ball or chocobo raising. However, the judgment ring makes every battle interesting (and sometimes innerving.)
Replay Value: This is the one low thing. While it may be interesting to play through again because you missed somethingóand believe me you willóif you have a hint book there is really no reason to start over, except for the alternate endings, but even that hangs on one simple decision, made towards the very end. You can save, change your choices and beat the game again.
Sound: The voice-overs are above par, the score is well fitted and the tiny details (footsteps, doors closing etc.) are apparent without being overabundant. However there were a few things missing-such as a deeper, more overwhelming sound with certain magic spells and the monsters lacked any kind of doom impending laugh or growl, like the lickers for example.
Overall Rating: 8.0/10
Community review by True (April 29, 2005)
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