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Shadow Hearts (PlayStation 2) artwork

Shadow Hearts (PlayStation 2) review

"Shadow Hearts is a shining gem in the collection of RPG's everywhere. This December-2001 release was unfortunately overshadowed by the releases of other popular games. Sacnoth was not a big name at the time and it got little attention. The most notable reason this masterpiece of gaming was ignored is because of the release of Final Fantasy X, which was released at practically the same time. Shadow Hearts is an unsung hero in the RPG world. After the high of Square's own gem in the form of an RPG..."

Shadow Hearts is a shining gem in the collection of RPG's everywhere. This December-2001 release was unfortunately overshadowed by the releases of other popular games. Sacnoth was not a big name at the time and it got little attention. The most notable reason this masterpiece of gaming was ignored is because of the release of Final Fantasy X, which was released at practically the same time. Shadow Hearts is an unsung hero in the RPG world. After the high of Square's own gem in the form of an RPG, people started paying attention to this game's wonderful new battle system, epic storyline, and fascinating cast of characters.

The game starts out with a newspaper clipping which details the brutal murder of a traveling priest in Rouen, France - 1913. His daughter, Alice, was almost kidnapped a month later on a train to a Chinese town. That's where our hero, Yuri, met up with her. They begin to travel and meet the cast of characters you'll fall in love with. They will travel many months across a lot of Asia and most of Europe. You will see the game's depictions of many real places like Prague and Shanghai. You will be assaulted with dark, witty, and very mature humor, which only makes the game more enjoyable. While traveling, they will attempt to thwart the many dark sorcerers, like Dehuai, in their plans to use Alice for rituals that would give them power.

Yuri is a Harmonixer - a person who can fuse with the souls of powerful monsters. He lost his parents at an early age - his father was killed by trying to stop the evil sorcerer, Dehuai, and his mother was killed shortly after. Yuri is constantly attacked by a mysterious voice that tells him what to do, where to go, and who to protect. That voice tells Yuri to go and save Alice from another evil sorcerer, and that's when they meet. Alice is a powerful healer whose father was killed in an attempt to get to her. She is hunted by many people who seek her power for their own ambition, so Yuri must protect her. The party eventually decides to fight these evil forces instead of running away. Dehuai was never killed and seeks to attempt the same evil plans before Yuri's father stopped him. He seeks to kidnap Alice and will do anything necessary, so the party will make a fight of it. The story is steeped in dark and mysterious plots which will surprise many. Not everything is what it seems! Those who you might think as bishops are mere pawns in this many layered and intricate plot.

The people over at Sacnoth made aspects of Shadow Hearts rival those in the popular Final Fantasy games. This is how a love story should be! They did everything right with this one and Square could learn from them. The development of all the characters was not too rushed; you weren't bored of anyone by the end of the game. The characters are lovable in their own ways - from the wise and lovable Zhuzhen, to the obnoxious yet sensitive and caring Yuri, you'll grow to love all of these characters. The relationship between Yuri and Alice wasn't obvious in the beginning of the game and was built up in a believable way. Though they weren't crazy about each other at first, they were nothing but loving towards each other by the end. This crazy cast of characters will have you delighted throughout the game and will always keep you entertained.

The Judgment Ring system is a new and exciting addition to the rather dry turn-based battle system. The Judgment Ring is implemented instead of just pushing "attack" and hoping you get a critical hit. When you attack, cast a spell, use an item, or do anything in battle, the Judgment Ring will come up. It's a ring with colored spaces on it and a line which sweeps across the ring. Usually it only spins once. You have to press the attack button over those colored spaces to do an attack. When you use a physical attack, there are three colored spaces and you have to land hits on all three spaces to do a full attack; if you only land it on two, then you'll only attack two out of three hits. The same goes for spells, except that they only hit once. In addition to these spaces, at the end of almost every attack, spell, or item is a much tinier, and differently colored space. If you manage to hit these, you'll get what's called a "perfect". Perfects make attacks and spells do more damage, and they make items that heal you more effective. The Judgment Ring makes battles exciting and more difficult. You won't fall asleep during long battles because you'll always be on your toes! The Judgment Ring is utilized even outside of battle: you need to complete some difficult rings for game events and even for discounts at shops. You won't like this if you don't have very good reactions, but this adds the element of skill into the equation and adds some excitement to those dry battles where all you do is watch what happens.

Along with the Judgment Ring making battles a bit more difficult, there is the collection of Malice you need to worry about. Every single time you defeat an enemy, you collect a certain amount of Malice. This happens because of an amulet that Alice carries. Four demons which Yuri defeated in the past have taken the shape of four masks. They use the amulets enchantment to their benefit and make monsters haunt Yuri. Once the amulet is full of Malice, the dreaded Fox Face - who is basically the Grim Reaper - will come for Yuri's soul. You'll have to run away from him in battle if this happens and go clear the Malice by visiting a twisted Graveyard that was created in Yuri's dreams. This adds an element of great frustration, as you'll be interrupted at the worst times! If you forget to clear the Malice before a particularly long dungeon, you'll be screwed by the time you get to the middle of it. The four masks will taunt Yuri every time he goes to the graveyard to clear the Malice.

There is a benefit to collecting these souls of monsters. Each monster belongs to a specific class: Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, Light, and Dark. By your powers combined....*cough*. Anyway, when you kill an enemy, you collect soul charge specific to their class. Collect enough charge to gain even more fusion monsters! You have to make a trip to the twisted graveyard once you collect enough charge. The gravestones have symbols on them instead of names. The symbols are signs of the elemental classes. When you have enough soul charge, the gravestones will glow. There are three levels of Fusion in the game. The level three fusions are the hardest to get, and you'll have to find specific stones in addition to the charge. You'll spend a good portion of the game mastering all of the fusion monsters.

Another little addition is the Ranking system. The Rank has 99 spots on it - all of them names of monsters in the game. You start at Rank 99 and you need to work your way down to 01 - the most powerful enemy in the game. Almost every action you do counts towards your rank. How often you hit in battle, how often you get perfects, the distance you've traveled in the game, how many battles you've entered, how many times you've gone unconscious and berserk, and even how successful you are at receiving discounts when shopping. The worse your statistics are, the slower you'll go up a rank and reach the first spot.

The graphics are not impressive, but by no means bland. They fit the dark and insanely twisted theme perfectly. The graphics are similar to a PS1 game - not something good for those of you into the pretty scenery thing. The horrifying scenery depicts the insanity of everything that's going on in the game extremely well. Blood spattered "laboratories", haunted mansions with old, creaky stairs and possessed animal heads as monuments; twisted forms of the monsters that attack you in the dead of night - some with an extra arm, some are mutated creations that used to be human. The graphics stick to the traditional - or "old-school" - style of this type of horror game. The dark, demonic world in Shadow Hearts is perfectly represented by the Graveyard that has come alive in Yuri's dream, the "Grim Reaper" that is Fox Face, and the sick, mutated lumps of flesh that used to be called human.

The only problem was that they didn't put a lot of blood in the game. There were rooms with more blood than any one human has, but there was no spraying blood after someone got sliced with a sword; no decapitations. I think they could have added these things in and kicked up the graphics a bit. Another little thing I found annoying was that the more powerful monsters at the end were just slightly altered versions of ones in the beginning. Fighting the same things over and over got a little dry after awhile.

There isn't a lot of voice acting, and most of it could have been done better. The characters only have voices in battle and in the very few cinematic scenes. Their voices are represented well in battle, but it seems like they tried to hard in the scenes. Zhuzhen is an old man, but they make him sound ancient and barely hanging on the thread of life in the movie scenes. The art in some of the scenes is beautiful enough to make up for some of the bad voice acting.

The music was perfectly atmospheric! When you're in the Asian part of the game, you will hear the large variety of oriental instruments and type of music. You'll hear some Cane Flutes, Tambourines, and the occasional well-placed Gongs. When you finally make the trip over to Europe, the mood changes; even the battle music changes. It becomes more of that Romantic period of Classical. It doesn't beat the catchy sound of the oriental music, but it's more atmospheric and well placed.

The game wouldn't normally be difficult, but with the additions of the Judgment Ring, Malice, and the Rank system which will make you want to do well makes this all the more difficult. The mazes and dungeons aren't to hard to figure out and battles are relatively easy if you know what you're doing. It's not too easy but not too hard - somewhere in the middle. The game isn't long by any means. It's only about 40 hours in length, and that's with all of the extra stuff. It's of decent length, so you don't have to worry about it only being a 20 hour game.

Shadow Hearts is one of those games that everyone likes. It's also extremely underrated because it's not made by Square or another big-name company. I'm proud to say I picked this game up when I first heard about it (which was after I played Final Fantasy X...) and I've been playing it from time to time ever since. This is why I recommend you should buy it. Now, you won't find a used copy for under $40 and a new one will fetch you at least $100 because the discs are so rare; not many of them were made at the time. You will be going back to play it, and the fact that there is treasure extremely well hidden (you basically have to know it's there already) and there is a New Game+ option won't help you put it down. If you've got the money to spend on this epic RPG, I recommend you do so.

mgtonvac55's avatar
Community review by mgtonvac55 (August 21, 2007)

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