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Shadow Hearts: Covenant (PlayStation 2) artwork

Shadow Hearts: Covenant (PlayStation 2) review

"The Shadow Hearts series has been gaining ground in the world of video games lately, mainly with the latest addition of Shadow Hearts: From the New World. I remember I had never even heard of Shadow Hearts a few years ago, until a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of it. I recieved Shadow Hearts: Covenant as a Christmas gift from a friend in 2004, and not knowing what to expect, I played it. I was very glad I decided to try it, as Shadow Hearts: Covenant is easily one of the best RPGs f..."

The Shadow Hearts series has been gaining ground in the world of video games lately, mainly with the latest addition of Shadow Hearts: From the New World. I remember I had never even heard of Shadow Hearts a few years ago, until a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of it. I recieved Shadow Hearts: Covenant as a Christmas gift from a friend in 2004, and not knowing what to expect, I played it. I was very glad I decided to try it, as Shadow Hearts: Covenant is easily one of the best RPGs for the Playstation 2, and is probably one of the most overlooked games for the Playstation 2.

The story for Shadow Hearts: Covenant takes place after the first Shadow Hearts game. It takes place a couple of years after the events of Shadow Hearts. The main character from the first game, Yuri Hyuga, is back as the main character again. He picks up his life in a small town called Domremy, in which he's protecting. I can't really go into too much detail without spoiling the major events in the first game, but for a sequel, the game transacts pretty well, explaining things from the first game. The story starts out pretty good, and stays ontrack for the majority of the game.

The graphics are surely a step up from the first Shadow Hearts game. The character models are much better this time around, and are pretty well done. While the characters may seem a bit jaggy at first, the end result is great. Environments are also a lot better this time around. That's not to say that the first one didn't have good environments, because it did since they fit in with the theme of the game, but Shadow Hearts: Covenant brings forth a mixture of colorful environments and damp, darkish places. You could be in a busy town for a moment, and then the next, you're running through jail halls.

The soundtrack is probably the only thing that wasn't improved upon in Shadow Hearts: Covenant. The frist game had such a brilliant soundtrack with its dark based themes and chanting themes, it was just so great since it fit in perfectly with the theme of the game. While Shadow Hearts: Covenant does have some chanting themes and darkish themes, there's only a handful of them, and they don't seem as well composed as they were in the first game. But even still, the soundtrack can still hold its own ground.

Shadow Hearts: Covenant also has voice acting, which the first game barely hard. The voice acting is pretty good overall, and the VAs really pour out the emotions when needed. However, the one thing that bugged me about this is that sometimes the words that the characters speak don't match up to the actual sentence. You'll notice this right away at the beginning of the game if you have subtitles on. This isn't exactly a big wreck, since it doesn't mislead you in anyway. It's just a few minor words mixed around a bit.

There's no doubt that the Shadow Hearts series is well known for its battle system, the Judgment Ring. Battles are turn based, and whenever you choose to do an action, the Judgment Ring appears. Once it does, a sweeping bar will start up, and you'll notice different colored areas in the ring. The orange areas represent Hit areas, and the red areas represent Strike areas. Basically, all you have to do is either stop the sweeping bar over either the Hit or Strike area. You do this depending on how many hit/strike areas each characters ring has. However, if you miss a hit/strike area, your turn ends and you'll get off as many attacks as to how many hit areas you hit. For example, if you hit only one hit area, your character will only attack once. It's a simple battle system to learn, but at the same time, it makes you pay attention to the game instead of just mashing X to quickly win the battle. This is a brilliant idea, and I'm glad that the first Shadow Hearts game picked up on this.

However, what makes the Ring more interesting this time around is the ability to customize the ring. Instead of having the same amount of hit areas, you're able to change many things with the Ring. For example, once you find the appropriate item, you're able to actually increase the number of times you can attack. You can also change more things around such as adding status effects to your attacks, or changing your ring type. This allows you to make the ring as you want it. You can even use a Practice Ring which allows you to miss a hit area, and still have the sweeping bar keep going. Excellent idea for sure.

However, your Ring can be messed around with during battles. Sometimes, an enemy will inflict you with not a status effect to harm you directly, but a status effect to harm your Ring. Some enemies are able to make your Ring go faster, or go at random speeds. They can also even make your Ring have fake hit areas, throwing you off guard. While it may be annoying, this just adds in another factor to how important keeping your Ring safe is.

During battles, you'll also notice a stat called SP. This stands for Sanity Points. Throughout the game, you'll encounter demonish enemies and just plain evil enemies period. After every turn, you lose 1 SP (except for Yuri, depending on if he's in a fusion, but more on that in a minute) and once your SP reaches 0, your character will go into a Berserk mode, and they'll attack without your consent and use up random items. In order to heal SP, you need to use Pure Leaves. I also thought this was a great aspect to the game since you need to pay attention to more than just the enemies on the screen.

The main character, Yuri, is able to fuse into different kinds of demons. Each fusion costs a number of SP points this turn, which in the end gives Yuri a lot more SP than the other characters in the game. In order to power up fusions, you need to visit his "Graveyard" and spent your Soul Points into the numerous fusion tablets in his Graveyard. Leveling up each fusion raises their stats, as well as gives them new skills. Yuri's fusions however can be a bit overpowering.

Also something new to Shadow Hearts: Covenant is the Crest system. Instead of just learning magic by leveling up, or learning magic by buying it, you find Crests throughout the game which contain certain spells. Once you equip a Crest, you're able to use the magic contained in those crests during battles. Each Crest has a level limit, and each character (minus Yuri and another character) has a limit to how many they can equip. While it leaves open a wide customization option, it prevents you from completely overpowering your characters, and keeps the games difficulty on a fair balance.

Along with those Crests, each character has their own unique skill they can use during battles. Like how Yuri has his fusions, Karin has her sword techniques, Gepetto has his doll techniques, and so on. You have to do certain tasks to learn more skills for each character instead of just leveling up, learning more skills. This was a brilliant way of making you work to power up your characters in certain aspects.

The random encounters in the game are just perfect. You often don't get into fights one after another, but you don't go into a large gap without a random encounter. The battles themselves can be pretty long, though, and can often sometimes leave you trying to remember where to go in a current dungeon, or what you were looking for in the first place.

There are plenty of sidequests for you to do in the game, and you can probably spend around 45-60 hours trying to complete everything in the game. Each character has their own sidequest, which allow them to either learn more powerful skills or obtain more powerful weapons. These sidequests can be a bit challenging because a couple of them require planning ahead of time, but that's just what makes the game so great: everything isn't handed to you. They make you work for your rewards.

All in all, Shadow Hearts: Covenant is easily one of the best RPGs for the Playstation 2, alongside with the first game and Digital Devil Saga, and is probably one of the most overlooked games available for the Playstation 2. This is truly a must play for any RPG fan, or for anyone looking for a new, extensive battle system. This game doesn't disappoint, and is worthy of the Shadow Hearts title.

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Community review by peterl90 (June 09, 2007)

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