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Cidolfas's RPG Reviews: Shadow Hearts (PS2)

You Are: Yuri Hyuga, a Russian-Japanese Harmonixer who can fuse with monsters. He's joined by Alice Elliott, a demure British girl; Liu Zhuzhen, a Chinese exorcist; Margarete G. Zelle, an international spy with fishnet stockings; Keith Valentine, a 300-year-old fencing vampire; and Halley Brancket, a London street rat.

Your Goal Is: To stay sane and follow the voice in your head, which tells you to protect Alice from baddies like Shanghai sorceror Dehuai or British alchemist Roger Bacon.

General System: RPG Classic: Walk around, talk to people, buy and sell stuff, get into random battles. The world map is just that - a map, and you just choose your destination... however, the first half of the game is extremely linear and you won't have much choice of where to go (it's similar to FFX in that regard, except that you can't return anywhere you missed this time round). There's also the addition of the Judgment Ring: a little marker spins around a ring, and you have to hit the button at specific points. Everything requires a judgment ring: turning handles, playing lotteries, pushing doors... it makes it just a bit more interesting, but it gets old really quickly. Another cool twist is the Malice gauge; as you kill enemies, their malice fills it up, and when it's full the Grim Reaper comes after you; you have to regularly journey into Yuri's subconscious to calm the Malice.

Battle System: Besides your regular stats, every character has SP (Sanity Points), which decrease every turn they take, after which they go Berserk. In long battles you have to keep healing SP to keep your characters accessible. The Judgment Ring rears its head here too - every attack, spell, and item requires it, and enemies can affect it by shrinking it, speeding it up, or even making it invisible. Yuri's Fusion monsters make for some variety, but I stuck with the same two or three the whole way through.

Graphics: For a PS2 game, surprisingly awful. The models look like they were made by some kid using Poser; there's very little expression or animation. And really... prerendered backgrounds on a next-generation game? Yeesh. The monsters are utterly, well, monstrous; there isn't a single one that isn't the product of a diseased imagination. Overall the game is a bit too dark for my liking; it seems like it's always night-time.

Music: Some nice tracks, but nothing to write home about.

Story: Setting it in 19th-century Real World is an interesting twist, but they really could have done much more with it. (Last I checked Shanghai didn't have two streets and 15 inhabitants.) Other than Yuri, the other characters are one-sided and almost nonexistent in the story for most of the game. What little voice acting exists is horrible. The content is a bit edgier than your standard fare, so you might find it a bit more entertaining, but it's also a lot more macabre than usual as well.

Challenge: Easy/Medium

Length: About 45 hours

My Thoughts: This game just falls short in too many levels. To start with, there are some really unforgivable errors in the script (like leaving in actual code snippets!). The battles, while a bit more interesting than plain old "hit A until monsters die", starts getting annoying halfway through. The story is interesting but not really engaging, mainly because the characters (while original and potentially intriguing) are barely used. Things were generally just too hard to see. They stuffed a whole bunch of sidequests into the last ten hours and the first ten are way too linear (not in a good way, like FF7, because it did have a "journey" feel to it rather than a "story" feel). This game could probably have been a lot better if it had a big Square-Enix budget. Kind of a shame.

Overall Rating: 5.5/10

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