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[PS2] Shadow Hearts and Shadow Hearts Covenant


Ultiɱℯciɑ
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The two best RPGs on PS2. End of story

The games got this unique battle style, called Judgment Ring which adds some interesting dynamic : you'll see a circle with different-colored areas and you got to press "X" when the cursor goes over it to attack. Miss one of them, you screw up. There are two endings for both games, and the story is awesome. The characters are interesting, the side-stories are well-developed and there's all sorts of tiny little details that are pretty interesting to look at, like all items, armors and weapons got a picture and a detailed description. There are two other games in the series: Koudelka (PS1) and Shadow Hearts From the New World (PS2), but they aren't so good.
The first one was released in US one week before Final Fantasy X and had some ugly graphics for the time, it was like a PS1 game, but it got a good story and this innovative battle system. The second (Covenant) was IGN's best PS2 game of 2004 (yeah the same year Metal Gear Solid 3 was released). So I really don't have to go into details unless if you guys want a full review XP Oh, yeah. One of the characters is a blond gay vampire wrestler who can turns into a golden glittering bat or a superhero. Yeah.
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Shadow Hearts - Review

There are some games that were obscured by blockbusters released around the same time. This one is a hidden gem among those forgotten ones.

The Story

Everything takes place sometime before World War I, in a time of political tension all over the Europe. Yuri Hyuga is a rude guy who always speaks his mind and loves to get into trouble. Guided by a voice on his head, he gets into a train with the mission to save a girl that's under the custody of the Japanese army and he doesn't even know her. A mysterious gentleman also appears on the trains with the same objective, killing everyone on his path. Then Yuri shows us his special ability: he can turn himself into a monster. Even after all his efforts, he loses but manages to run away with the girl with him.

After a hard start, Yuri introduces himself to the young woman, called Alice, who always got some supernatural powers. And then both find themselves running away from the Japanese Army, the mysterious man -who got some sort of interest on the girl- and from a dangerous warlock called Dehuai. This Dehuai is also imprisoning the Four Gods and got something against the hero. What's their objectives? What sort of special powers Alice is hidding? Who is Roger Bacon?

That's all I can say without spoiling anything, the story is complex and full of twists. And then everything looks like to reach an ending point, some bigger problems unfolds.

There are also many side-stories, specially the player party: besides Alice and Yuri we have the Chinese sage Zhuzhen Liu; Margarete Gertrude Zelle, a famous (and non-fictional) spy; the elegant vampire Keith Valentine and Harley Brancket, the street-wise kid with psychic powers. It's a weird group, but nothing too out of the ordinary (just wait to see Covenant)

The non-playable characters are also interesting: from Lieutenant Colonel Kawashima and her assistent Kato, Dehuai's followers and Albert Simon, everyone got a time in the sun. Even the minor characters like LiLi and master Xifa got some good stories too.

There are two endings: the "good" and the "bad", the difference is what happens after the credits, but this small parts makes all the different

The Game

The exploration is pretty ordinary: we got a 3D character moving around a pre-rendered 2D background, with hidden items both in chests, shinning spots or a questing mark over Yuri's head. This game's main feature is the battle system.

It's a revolutionary fighting system. It looks like your everyday one: a turn-based one alright. But there's two unique features: the Judgment Ring and the SP. This Judgment Ring also appears at some mini-games and at the shopping screen: it's a circle with colored areas with a rotating needle which moves clockwise. When the needle is over a colored area, the player must input the action command (X) to confirm the attack. For example, to attack all the characters got three areas with red ones (the critical attack areas). If you get the three areas, the character is going to attack three times, but if you miss one, all the following ones are going to miss. You also use the Judgment Ring to perform magic and to use items.

Posted Image

The other aspect is the SP, or "Sanity Points". Each turn the character loses a single point (when Yuri turns into a monster he loses a good amount of it to transform). When it reaches zero the character enters into berserker mode, with a different music and erratic actions. It can be prevented by using items or defeating the enemies. Of course the SP also raises during the level up, so it might be a good idea to level up all the characters.

At the end of the battle the SP is completely restored and the party receives items and the souls of the defeated enemies. These souls can be used to level up Yuri's transformation and when he defeat a fusion monster inside his soul (which, by the way, is a Graveyard) he can equip and turn into it, being able to equip three different fusions. But everything got a price: Yuri also builds up the negative energy born from the desire for vengeance of his defeated enemies, a thing called "Malice" and at a certain point the Grim Reaper appears at a random battle and Yuri must fight it alone (which usually means certain death). To stop it from happening, Yuri can see how much Malice he got according to his talisman and then enter the Graveyard to fight a monster which is the embodiment of all the Malice so far. Defeat it and the Reaper won't come...Until the Malice fills up again.

At the shops the player can have fidelity cards and use it to have discount. How? Just win a Judgment Ring, of course. It can also be used to raise the selling price.

Graphics

They're not that great. The models and backgrounds are just a little better than the Playstation 1 games. Unfortunately the game was released in 2001, just a few weeks before Final Fantasy X, and this was a disaster.

Even so, the designs are creative, the places are quite close to the real thing and the monsters looks like they come from a Silent Hill or Parasite Eve game. Yuri's fusions are also cool, except one of them (which becomes real kick-ass at the sequel)

The Sound

The game only have voice the fights, during some scenes and at the videos. Most of the time the conversations got speech bubbles to enhance the reactions and emotions (like the "Tales of" series). To compare it to Final Fantasy X is inevitable.

But this game shines at the soundtrack. The composers are Yoshitaka Hirota (from Final Fantasy VI, VII and VIII, Live a Live, Chrono Trigger, Parasite Eve and Chrono Cross before this one) and Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross and Xenogears). The music is wonderful, I just love hearing "Alice", "Icaro - Song of Spirits" and "N.D.E. - Near Death Experience" over and over.

Conclusion

If you don't care about the visuals and want to experience a great story, an interesting battle system with many hours of fun, that's your game. But if you're those types who workships graphics, it's your loss.

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Review translated (sorry my poor grammar skills +_+)

Shadow Hearts Covenant

After being mostly forgotten but with some good reviews, Sacnoth/Nautilus released Shadow Heart's sequel four years later. The result? An immediate success, being IGN's PS2 game of the year in 2004 (same as Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater) while collecting many awards and praise from many sites and magazines.

The Story

World War I is scaling with great speed through Europe, with the German Empire forces trying to invade a small French village Domremy without any results, being pushed back at every single attempt. The young Lieutenant Karin Koenig is the sole survivor of one of the massacres and reports to her superiors what they found: there's a demon at the town's church, which defeats all invaders with ease. So the Germans contact the Vatican and soon a inquisitor called Nicolai arrives to exorcise the creature with an artifact called "Holy Mistletoe". But soon is clear (for the player, at least) that the "Demon of Domremy" is no one else but our fellow harmonixer from the first game, Yuri, and soon things gets really ugly, involving a group of black arts workshipers called Sapientes Gladio who wants to lead the world into the new century with iron first.

Using two DVDs as medium, the game takes place both in Europe, Eurasia and Japan with a big rooster: besides Yuri (which, by the way, is the same as always) and Karin, we also got Gepetto the puppeteer and his beloved Cornelia; Blanca the fierce white wolf; Joachim Valentine, Keith's brother, a WRESTLER vampire with a secret super-hero identity; Lucia the sexy Italian tarot reader; the princess Anastasia Romanov from Russia and Kurando Inugami, a ronin who acts as a bodyguard for the Kawashima family.

The villains are also pretty cool: Nicolai and his followers like Lenny Curtis and Veronica Vera got some interesting development and good scenes. There's also many supporting characters, some of them are returning from the first game. You don't need to have played the first game to understand, but it's an even richer and complete experience if you do.

There are lots of side-quests that also helps on the story, like extra fusions, duel arenas and many collectibles to enhance the characters. Some are ridiculous and utterly absurd like the Man's Festival, but some are quite tame.

Again, there are two endings, the "good" and the "bad" and this time they are completely different. There's a New Game + and Theater Mode where the player can watch both endings after accomplishing them.

The Game

They got the first game formula and refined it. The Judgment Ring is bigger, there are now many options to customize it like extra striking zones, status effects and even auto-ring. There's also a combo system where the characters build up a sequence with increasing damage until all of them executed their attack or there's some input error.

There's also the magic Crests, that while equipped provides the character some new magic to use, being able to remove and change them as any regular equipment. Only Yuri and Kurando can't equip them, but there's the Demon Fusion so it's not a big deal.

Also there's no Malice to summon the grim reaper and stuff, but the Sanity Points are back.

The Graphics

The difference between Shadow Hearts Covenant and it's predecessor is huge. The backgrounds are pre-rendered too but they got a higher quality. The CGs and regular game models are up to pair to any Square-Enix game for the PS2.

Each characters got a myriad of details, with many facial expressions and movement, nicely done textures and great hair and cloth animation. The monsters are more impressive, specially Yuri's fusion: greater the level, less humanoid it is, with various sizes and cool designs. A great deal of blood and gore was toned down, but the story is still strong and not for the weak of heart. All the designs are very creative and all characters are unique. Each weapon got their own looks end effects too and every single item got it's on artwork and description.

The Sound

The very same team from the previous game is back: Yoshitaka Hirota and Yasunori Mitsuda, and this time they are joined by Kenji Ito (Romancing SaGa and Mana series from Square). The new Icaro variations (Icaro Again and the piano arrange) are wonderful; the battle music are awesome, specially "Vicious 1915 ~Battle In Europe", "Glint of Light ~Mid-Boss in Europe" and "Astaroth: Battle with the Fallen Angel". The other pieces are incredible too, like "Evil Gate Opener", "Alice - Piano Arrange", "The Fate ~Cluster Amaryllis", "The 3 Karma ~Decisive Battle" and the lovely "Getsurenka - Love Moon Flower".

The voice actors are very good, with the unknown (but good) Joe Cappelletti as Yuri delivering a great variety of emotions at the right times. By the way, the American acting is just as good as the Japanese one this time. Only at a certain point Anastasia's voice actress, Stephanie Sheh, gets a little too excited and her lines quite don't match the subtitles but that's not a major problem.

There's more?

In Japan they released a Director's Cut version with a couple new weapons, a new side-quest for the main party and another featuring the villains, some new scenes and a very important scene as re-made as a full CG. Unfortunatelly the chances of having this one translated are...Well, nil.

Conclusion

Shadow Hearts Convenant is one of the very best RPGs on PS2 and one of the essential titles that any RPG fan should play. The innovative battle system from the first game was kept and is even better now, one of the most beautiful graphics for the PS2, a great soundtrack and one of the most beautiful stories in any RPG.

The first class cast makes the game even more interesting, you're bond to love while having fun with the fast-paced battles and an addictive story.

Bellow: the new CG from the Director's Cut translated (MASSIVE HORRIFYING SPOILERS. Don't watch if you haven't played any of both games!)

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  • 5 months later...

people really should play this when they get the chance. Its an amazing rpg espescially 2 i beat them both but 2 was more enjoyable. the first one was still fun as well its a must play. Had a deep story and ending... overall for any rpg fan who likes darker story and elements you need to try this out.

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  • 5 months later...

Hmmmm.... From the new world is the worst? But I really think that it is the best Shadow Hearts game.... I really like the storyline and the game play. But whatever.. Shadow Hearts really IS a game that all RPG fans should try.

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