Date: 2005 March 10 18:12
Posted by Azure
We’ve got something a little bit special here at Otaku News, a review of the PS2 RPG Shadow Hearts 2: Covenant. The question is; is the game worth your hard earned cash (pounds, dollars, zenii or otherwise)? Read on to find out.
Shadow Hearts 2 is a sequel to a game released somewhat quietly in 2001. The team, which made the game, were former square soft employees. You’ll probably be forgiven for not remembering it since Shadow Hearts seemed to disappear very quietly back into the ether. Thankfully though, Shadow Hearts 2 is a lot more noticeable, and extremely enjoyable. The story is set one year after the original but thoughtfully the major events of the previous title are covered by flashback throughout the game.
Shadow Hearts 2 is set to the backdrop of World War 1, and the game opens with a creepy yet dramatic rendered cut scene. Karin a young officer is sent into a church with a priest named Nicolai to investigate reports of a demon. Things switch to in game graphics with cut scenes being dubbed into English. Fortunately the cast is strong, a bad dub could have easy ruined the tension. The scripting is also decent, although I did wonder when the protagonists faced a boss named "Andre" whether the writers were quite aware of what everything the characters said could mean in British English.
The opening scenes with Karin and Nicolai, guide the player through the basic game system. The development teams background at Squaresoft shows through as the 3D exploration areas feel very much like those found in Final Fantasy X. The game is also very plot heavy with the dungeons and towns interspersed with generous amount of cut scene. Graphically there’s still a lot of Squaresoft in there, the character designs of the lead characters owe a lot to Square style and the unusual costumes look very odd compared to the period clothes that the NPCs wear. SH2 does have it’s own feel though, perhaps it’s the use of a real settings makes things feel a little bit more realistic. Otaku News readers will almost certainly see a few places they know well, although like anime such as Hellsing, I don’t imagine that the research has been absolutely exhaustive.
The battles are random and turn based but much more interactive then traditional RPGs, thanks to the judgement ring system. Rather than just selecting attacks some player interaction is required to pull them off. As they are selected on the menu, a ring comes up with a long arm, the player then needs to hit the X button as this arm travels over the coloured areas to perform the attacks. This ‘judgement ring’ can be customised by finding power ups and altering the size and number of coloured areas. This ring appears for all attacks, as well as item use and even in the shops (as a bartering system). The ring can be left on automatic, but it’s much more fun to get involved in the battles. SH2 also has it’s equivalent of summons. The lead character Yuri has the ability to morph into various creatures, rather than a one round attack they have a variety of powers unique to each form and the effect doesn’t disperse after one round (rather like FFXs Aeon system). New forms are unlocked by going into Yuri’s soul; this can be done at any save point or map screen via menu. Yuri is then transported into a rather chilling area full of altars that he can charge by collecting souls via battle. This whole part may be cosmetic but it adds a good deal of atmosphere to the proceedings. The combo system is also rather interesting. If characters are in close proximity to each other they can string their attacks together for greater damage. There’s no tedious moving the characters about square by square like in a tactical RPG though, characters can be moved together by ordering them near each other or they can be knocked together by enemy attack.
The one thing I didn’t like about battle is the SP system; SP takes damage when you are hit by certain moves or if you are defending. The trouble is if you forget to replenish your SP and it runs out your character goes berserk. I didn’t know this when I faced the first boss, this meant all my characters went crazy and started hitting each other. Amazingly they did hit the boss some of the time and I got through on fluke!
Dungeons are thankfully not over long. Rather than a few extremely big areas the development team have chosen to keep the dungeons fairly small and include a lot of them. The save points are also sensibly placed meaning that if you mess up you won’t have far to go. They do get a little repetitive by the end of disk one; which usually involved getting lost then finding some sort of barrier, then going back to the start to find the key item (then all the way back to the dungeon heart).
Although thankfully there is some variety and some truly brain aching logic puzzles to solve. It’s also possible to revisit older dungeons in order to power up and look for hidden items.
SH2 is jam packed with detail, like any good RPG it has plenty of side quests and hidden items. It’s well made and like any good game has kept me coming back for more. SH2 has a strong story and likable characters it’s well made and challenging. Thankfully Shadow Hearts has depth and won’t be finished in a hurry, highly recommended.