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Shadow Hearts (PlayStation 2) artwork

Shadow Hearts (PlayStation 2) review

"There are certain people I know that scan the Internet and store shelves in hopes of finding a hip kind of game. "

There are certain people I know that scan the Internet and store shelves in hopes of finding a hip kind of game.

An. . . artistic, oddball, maybe incredibly unique kind of game - who also snatch up anything that they've heard was underground on some forum or from a salesman at the local electronics hole-in-the-wall. It's a questionable method from the way I see it, but that doesn't mean they're always off the mark, no; a decent amount of the time, they'll cough up an awesome title.

Thing of it is, not every gamer has that sort of "hardXcore" connection, and as it goes, a lot of gamers will end up missing out on a fantastic experience. In this case, the title is Shadow Hearts, one that has gone unnoticed by a disappointing amount of the culture.

Pop it into the system if you're lucky enough to find a copy completely intact, and there's a good chance that you won't have the wind knocked out of you. For its time, it was definitely no sort of award winning beauty, which means that going past its opening screen in this day and age, especially for the first time, will be wholly unremarkable. It's not so much that the environments you'll travel are pre-rendered backdrops, but the fact that they're basic in construction. There's not much in the way of clarity and all but a few of the locations are muddy and mundane, two qualities that are like to turn folk away.

Feeling less than ready to tackle Shadow Hearts?

I know what you mean. Being an appreciator of graphical achievement or, at least some kind of artistic scope myself, warning you is a duty I feel like I've got to perform in order to stay true to it all. In all honesty, approaching this topic with a very broad view, there is no single redeeming quality about the visuals present here. It's not solely the environments, if that's what you're thinking about now, the bad esthetics fall onto the lap of the character models as well, blocky and in terms of design, uninspiring enough for me to go out of my way to mention.

A snapshot of a terribly fuzzy and drearily blue, supposed street in Prague that's decorated with the seldom glow of a streetlamp and a stereotypically flimsy preacher's daughter who's palette barely differentiates itself from the color the town itself. . . well, that's a tragedy.

Which brings me to something else, a presence, one that's there throughout the experience in its entirety: personality. More importantly: redemption for all other wrongs.

In the case of Shadow Hearts,’ stereotypically-anything’ somehow manages to translate itself, roughly, into 'entertaining' and 'charming'. A pugilist hero protects a fragile priestess, who are in turn harassed and eventually befriended by archetypes that range from a caustically seductive American spy to the likes of an annoying little British gamin and his trusty slingshot. Really, who thinks this shit up time after time again? I know what you mean; I asked the same question at first. Then another question came into my mind, and I wondered: ‘Who in the hell makes it work so damned well?’

It's actually as if the cast and their battle-system counterpart have been married and. . . are happy, oddly enough. If you strip all of Shadow Hearts’ combat novelties away, you don't have much more than the genre standard turn based mechanic, and while not enough to possibly be the revolution that a few certain people I know have claimed it to be, there's an aspect to the way your avatars act out their commands that's interesting and frustrating, yet genuinely addictive: The Judgment Ring.

The bastard (I say that with love) shows its face whether you're about to deliver some punishment with an attack or a spell; on the field screen, trying to win at the lottery or open a gate so that you can keep on with your adventure.

Depending on the pre-determined (although sometimes questionable) difficulty of the task, a slightly tilted ring appears on the screen with a few purposely placed slices of vibrant color on its face; then it's up to you and your expert timing (or complete lack of, for some) to finish the job. Your job, is a rotating watch hand that makes its way around the loop, waiting for you to signal that it's passed over a ‘strike zone’ with the press of the X button. Miss one of those? I’m sure you’ll see it enough on your own, so I’ll leave it up to you to figure out. The nice thing is, that it never gets to the point of being a controller throwing issue - unless you happen to be faced with one of the game's very powerful bosses.

Powerful bosses, what to do. . .

As usual, a surefire way to waylay the enemies' attempt to make you stop playing, is to hunker down into your seat and spend some time power-leveling, which is unfortunately say, only mildly less aggravating than in Sony's Legend of Dragoon. Random fights are monotonous and many, and yield a pathetically small amount of experience. It’s good then, that the game provides you with a distraction to make you seem like you’re doing some of the actual work and not surrendering to the usual ‘leave it at that’ command entry.

You can also be thankful that it’s not only about the experience points you earn. Every adversary in the game contains a soul of a certain element: Earth, Water, Wind, Light, Darkness, Fire. Now at first, the effects of collecting these won't be apparent, but with enough investigation and story progression, you'll begin to see the fruits of your labor and be confident against the most devastating of all challengers. Why am I being ambiguous? Well, the box is, too - and I don't want to spoil the fun.

After piecing all of Shadow Hearts' more curious parts together, you're still left playing a traditional RPG. What shines, is that the story unfolds so well and in the confines of two separate acts. The way it’s built up and leaves you hanging, you’re sure to be infused with a drive to press forward to the 20-or-so hour mark. You’ll see twists you haven’t seen before and better; characters approaching situations in unique, comedic and undeniably lovable ways.

Shadow Hearts does little exceptionally, for sure; but through infectious dialogue and event pacing, a quirky soundtrack and line-up of characters, pulls through to be an exceptional little charmer that would be shameful to have never enjoyed the company of.

carcinogen_crush's avatar
Community review by carcinogen_crush (July 06, 2007)

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