Malik (4/20/04)

Shadow Hearts

From Midway

This review originally was presented on lazy.GEEKS (5/29/03)

Well, this one goes out to all those who think I complain a lot. So Today I shall tell you all about a game that actually made me quite happy. Also, here a game I think that most people would have overlooked. Well, as I mentioned in my FF2 vs. FFX comparison, Shadow Hearts came out only a week or two before FFX, so it was greatly overlooked; even more than the pathetic Pokemon rip-off of Jade Cocoon 2 (which came out only a few days apart from S.H.).


Shadow Hearts, unlike most RPGs, takes place on Earth in a real time period (not the future) and not in a medieval setting. The story opens around WWI (an era overlooked by even most war games) in Eurasia. I should mention at this time that SH is an indirrect sequel to the almost unheard of game, Kaudelka, which came out originally for the playstation. You play Yuri, a young man who's father is/was Japanese (is he still alive? You'll have to play to find out) and mother was Russian, who is being guided through life by an unkown voice only he can hear. For those of you who know little of WWI (read some books, people. U.S. education usually overlooks WWI, but it doesn't mean we should all forget it), Japan and Russia did not have the best of feelings for each other (in other words, you play a guy who doesn't belong anywhere). A few months prior to the game starting, a priest from Enlgand is brutally murdered and his daughter goes missing.  Fast-forward...One day on a train ride through Japan, Alice, who you learn is the daughter of the priest, and is an exorcist by trade, is attacked my Roger Bacon. Those who played Kaudelka should recall Roger Bacon was a crazy old man in that game, and in S.H. he's an even crazier psychopath of an old man. After he uses some dark magic to annihilate a series of Japanese soldiers, he confronts Alice. That is when you step in. Using some dark powers of your own, such as the power to fuse your body with that of a demon (like how one summons a dragon in the Breath of Fire series), you stall Roger long enough to save Alice. Long story short, without revealing any important surprises, you begin a quest with Alice, along with a team of unique and wacky sidekicks, through Europe and Asia, on how to stop the insane and (as you learn soon enough) immortal Mr. Bacon. This trip also involves the hero learning about how to control his powers and to discover the truth behind his past. 

Game Play

Well, the best place to begin is the game play. This game has a great classic RPG feel to its controls with a few innovative (and at times, crappy) twists. These new elements include your fusing with demons (very cool), and trips to a dark and twisted graveyard in your soul to expel the malice that builds within the spirit world as you slay vengeful creatures of darkness. These expulsions of malice are at times annoying since they means you have to keep going back and forth from reality to the graveyard as you slay enemies (and you slay many), but it isn't too distracting from the game. If you let your malice meter fill too high, you will be confronted by a mysterious figure who wears a fox mask. So what? Well, when the malice meter is first introduced, the reaper, also known as fox face, arrives to kick your sorry ass in one of those all too common "you automatically lose" fights seen in far too many RPGs. Anyways, if this sounds confusing, it is until you play for a little bit; the story is too deep for me to explain, and this is tied directly into the story. As for another innovative twist to S.H., there is the one bad point of the game;

The Judgment Ring...aka the wheel, to keep it simple. The Judgment ring is a spinner, like on the board game Life (but a needle moves around the wheel, not the wheel around a needle). A needle on a wheel spins and you must click the button when it is in a safe area. When do you do this, you ask. All the time. You do it when you attack (better weapons have bigger safe areas, and thus you hit more easily), when you use an item in battle (weak items like potions require no skill to use, but complex items that give nice bonuses are a pain in the arse), when you try to solve puzzles, and even when you...well you get it; all the time. This was the one point of Shadow Hearts that almost made me not buy the game. However, there is hope...once you play for about an hour, the wheel becomes second nature and you don't even have to think about it. The only time it becomes an issue is when enemies hit you with certain status ailments (it's like being blinded in most games...the needle speeds up, so it's harder to attack...just hope you don't get the invisible safe area ailment too often), but you can find some easily obtained items that will slow down the wheel or enlarge the safe it's a two-way street. Also, status problems that affect the wheel tend to only last for a few rounds. Needless to say, you will get over the wheel if you play for just an hour...I mean if I, Malik, the bitchiest person about video games that may have ever lived, can get over it, than you can too.

The rest of the gameplay is like any traditional RPG (with 3D graphics); you fight random battles (you little wusses who cry at the thought of random battles can first go screw yourselves, and second don't buy this game because it is too damned good for you), you gain traditional levels (experience points lead to gaining a bunch of stats every so often), you get money from monsters, you buy new gear, you have a cast of psychologically messed up, fun, and wacky characters who join you and Alice, and you have a good time for 30-50 hours. Sound good? Good.


Now to the part that all of the wusses who hate random battles will like; the visuals. The graphics are truly top notch. They are not as technologically superior as FFX, but they fit the mood of the game and look good none-the-less. The special effects, like ones you get from magic spells look really nice and realistic. Fire looks like fire, not some pixilated mess, and so on. The characters move fluid when in action (Zhuzhen, the resident wacky old man/sage looks a lot more like he knows kung fu than Keanu ever did), and still look nice when lounging around. Cut-scenes look like they should; dark, disturbing, and beautiful (like they should in a game like this). Anyways, I hate basing reviews on eye-candy, so let me just say this; for those who need their eye-candy, look no further. 


As for the audio; the music is nice and sets the mood. It sounds well orchestrated, as if the music team put some thought into it, and still matches the tone of the game; it's not overly happy and is mostly dark and eerie (being chased by a psycho killer in WWI era Eurasia will not put you in a cheerful mood, now would it?)...too bad FFX failed at this...yet you all bought FFX instead of SH...for shame.

Anyways, I wanted to keep this review fairly short, and I failed, so I will stop here. Play the game, give it an hour (so you'll get over the damned wheel of doom) and you'll either be hooked, or you should avoid RPGs. Anyways, as for all of you self proclaimed RPG fans who ignored this game so you could get FFX, there is still time to redeem yourself. I see this game for sale at hella good prices every time I hit the mall, so get it already. As for a score, I'd say 9.25/10...if the wheel did not exist, 9.75/10.