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Shadow Hearts (PlayStation 2) artwork

Shadow Hearts (PlayStation 2) review


"Meet Roger Bacon. An elegant English gentleman, he enjoys tea, crumpets, and cricket. Oh yes, he also enjoys slaying priests who meddle with his plans for world domination. Above all, he is a gentleman though. "



Meet Roger Bacon. An elegant English gentleman, he enjoys tea, crumpets, and cricket. Oh yes, he also enjoys slaying priests who meddle with his plans for world domination. Above all, he is a gentleman though.

Unfortunately, you are not Roger Bacon. You are Yuri, a young and crude man who delights in looking at the posterior of his young companion, Alice. See, it's Alice's father that Roger killed, and he would have killed her too, if it was not for the intervention of Yuri. Of course, we can't blame Yuri for his transgressions; Alice does have a cute frumpy butt, and she also loves to wear a tantalizingly short skirt.

These characters make up the backbone of Shadow Hearts, the best role playing game on the Playstation 2 that no one has ever heard of. Released about a month before Final Fantasy X, it was destined to be lost in its immense shadow. However, collectors will soon be scouring for Shadow Hearts, as it becomes a cult classic like Final Fantasy Tactics before the re-release.

Shadow Hearts makes it mark with story and plot. A dark, macabre tone punctuates gameplay. The opening FMV is stunning, as Yuri attacks Roger on a train. It sets the tone for the rest of the game perfectly, as you trek through the dark locales of China, Hong Kong, Prague, and many other places, all in search of that elusive gentleman, Roger Bacon.

Along the way, you'll meet a cast of characters that will join you. The wise old sage Zhuzhen, the crafty spy Marguerite, the undead count Keith, and the child prodigy Haley all plot vital roles in terms of plot development, and each allows Yuri and Alice to open up much more easily.

Shadow Hearts gameplay is a stark departure from the normal role playing game, however, and it's sure to turn quite a few gamers off. Instead of the normal ''press attack, you attack'', selecting the attack command will cause a ring to pop up. An indicator sweeps around, and you must hit a button while it's in the proper area. The same goes for using items, magic, and even to get discounts at stores. Therefore, having decent reflexes plays a big part in Shadow Hearts.

Don't let this dissuade you. The Judgment Ring (as the game calls it) is fairly easy to master. However, a few specialty rings (most notably the infamous Push Ring) are sure to infuriate some gamers, as they require precise timing or tireless fingers.

Shadow Hearts features one more gameplay twist from the normal role playing game system. Each character has a certain number of sanity points. For each round of combat, you lose one sanity point. They are fully recovered after battle, but if your sanity points drop to 0 while still in battle, you go berserk. While berserk, you can not control your character, and if you survive the fight, any berserk characters do not gain experience. It's in your best interest to eliminate or avoid berserk status, since berserk characters have the tendency to use valuable items...

Outside of system changes, the most noticeable gameplay element of Shadow Hearts is the main character's special ability. Yuri can fuse with elemental monsters, as the cost of some sanity points. The monsters offer vastly improved attack, defense, etc., and also allow Yuri to unleash powerful spells. There's twenty monsters in all, two of which are hidden, and they add a bit of extra ''oomph'' to the normal abilities seen in role playing games.

These fusion monsters are available after you defeat enough enemies in the respective element. For example, defeating twenty wind element enemies will unlock the level one wind monster, fifty will unlock level two, and seventy level three. There's three levels in six different elements. When you level up, it means you have to venture to the Graveyard.

The Graveyard serves many purposes in the game. First and foremost, it's where you clear malice. Malice accumulates when you defeat enemies in the game, as you're tormented by the souls of the defeated. You must clear it by killing a hybrid of the enemies. If you don't, then you're stalked by Fox Face, the physical form of your mental fears.

The Graveyard also serves important story purposes, and as previously mentioned, allows you to acquire stronger fusion monsters. When you level up in the respective element, you must defeat the monster you wish to fuse with in the graveyard. Most of these fights are easy, and unlock a whole world of powers for you.

Graphically, Shadow Hearts is impregnated by darkness. The absence of light is noticeable in almost all areas, and sometimes you might have to adjust the brightness level on your television just to see everything. However, darkness is an extremely welcome diversion from the stereotypical light and colorful worlds of other role playing game, such as Skies of Arcadia and Grandia 2.

The music of Shadow Hearts is also well-suited to the game. Dark in most parts, although with some surprisingly light numbers in odd places. The only qualm with the sound in Shadow Hearts that I have is the voice acting. Simply put, Alice is supposed to be 18 and 19, and she does in combat. However, when she's in inner monologues with herself, she sounds like she's 30. The same goes for all the other characters, who sound much too old. Keith's voice is especially bad; for a lazy vampire, he sounds remarkably awake, and strangely like Gene Wilder's character in Young Frankenstein.

Shadow Hearts is the best game that no one will play. It's already been discontinued by Midway, so if you can find a copy, snatch it. No new ones will be made. You won't regret it, as Shadow Hearts offers dark and gloomy not seen in the powder puff world of role playing games.

Rating: 10/10

sgreenwell's avatar
Community review by sgreenwell (July 15, 2002)

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