Shadow Hearts - Retro Reflections

I completed Shadow hearts a long time ago and I liked it. Searching for a role playing game on PS2, I’ve decided to play it again and write a review too. It has been a while now, but isn't that what Retro Reflections are all about? Let's go back and visit an old game.

Story: The story is about a young man, Yuri, who saves a girl wanted by two evil wizards in order to complete a ritual that will devastate the world. Yuri falls in love with Alice and decides to protect her at any cost while the final battle takes place in a huge alien construction. All the above reminds me of “Arc:Twilight of the spirits”, which came after Shadow Hearts. The story focuses heavily on love, war, horror and eastern Asia religious themes; it has good plot development and is told through dialogue cut-scenes that never become tiresome.

Characters: There are six playable characters in total but your team may have three at a time and you are allowed to choose only one or two of them. Each character has his/her own appearance, personality and background story and their interaction is well written.  Alice is the standard cute, innocent, lovely female character you find in every Japanese rpg, Margarete is the sexy spy,  Zhuzhen is the old sage, etc. None of the characters is original, nevertheless, I cared about them. The villains are interesting, especially Roger Bacon, who has the deceiving manners of an old gentleman.

Combat: Since this is a Japanese rpg battles are random and turn-based: when you explore a dangerous area after a few seconds you are suddenly taken to a different screen, where your team and some enemies come face to face. Combat is divided in rounds and each character or monster acts once during a round. Dungeons contain infinite opponents and you can level up your team as much as you like. Something to remember is formation: by putting a character at the front line he/she delivers and receives more damage.

Battle choices: While fighting, a character can use a normal attack, special ability or item. He/she can also choose defense or run away (this applies to the whole team). Yuri, for example, has strong punch and kick attacks while Alice strikes with a book, which, obviously, isn’t that effective. Special abilities consume mana and they are essential: Margarete tosses grenades, Zhuzhen shoots fireballs from his staff, etc. Items recover lost health, mana or sanity points (if they reach zero you lose control of a character) and cure various status ailments (poison, paralysis, etc.). Lastly, defense helps a character take less damage.

The Judgment ring: This is a disc with one or more colored sections and a hand that makes a full circle once a character chooses an action. The player must press “x” when the hand is over the colored sections. If, for example, Margarete wants to shoot three times with her pistol, she must make three successful hits; if she misses the first hit, she doesn’t shoot at all. The judgment ring makes the action more interesting and allows you to risk losing a hit for a more potent effect. It can also be affected by the player or enemies.

Fusion: When Yuri has defeated enough creatures of a certain element (six in total: light, dark, fire, water, wind, earth) he can enter a place named “graveyard” and fight a “fusion monster”. If he defeats it for the rest of the game he can transform into that monster during a fight, thus acquiring new abilities and improved statistics (strength, agility, etc). For example, Dragner can freeze enemies in a huge icicle while Baldo attacks them with magical light.

Graphics/Sound: Shadow Hearts’ graphics are not impressive. Locations are small, the scenery shown during battles is rudimentary, monsters are often repeated or look too weird. On the other hand, the color combinations are atmospheric, characters are cool and attractive and the game contains a variety of places without losing its consistency. The last stage in particular is fantastic.

The sound effects and voices are not satisfying, e.g. the firing of Margarete’s pistol is pathetic and when Alice attacks she sounds like she squeaks. However, the music has an eerie quality, elevating the whole experience.

Exploration/puzzles/control: Exploring is easy, except for one occasion where I drew a map to mark the locations of switches that opened specific chests. Puzzles are very limited, for example, Yuri burnt a magical substance to reveal an invisible enemy or used animal statuettes to progress further in a tower.

The control is simple to learn. The main menu allows you to change equipment, enter the graveyard, see your items (the presentation in a scroll-down list is not practical but I liked the pictures and descriptions), save or load (if you are on a save point), etc.

Difficulty: Shadow Hearts is not challenging except for a few boss fights. Once, I encountered a thing that looked like a chicken with a table lamp for a head (!), which hit my team with shockwaves. I solved the problem by unlocking a new fusion monster, which could heal everyone. Grinding generally makes things easier, because characters acquire new abilities by leveling up, e.g. Keith can drain more health from an enemy.

Memorable moment: Fighting the last boss. That thing from outer space looked creepy and dangerous and the music was an amazing tune that resembled church bells ringing. I was using equipment that makes a judgment ring invisible and doubles melee damage. Having memorized the position of the colored sections, I dealt massive pain, especially with Keith carrying a great sword and Yuri becoming Chernobor (a level 3 fusion monster of darkness). Alice could also heal everyone completely with a single spell, so it was a matter of time before I won!

Epilogue: Shadow hearts is not monumental like Final Fantasy; it isn’t technically impressive either. Nevertheless, I consider it one of my most enjoyable PS2 games. Though I finished it for a second time I never regretted those 24 hours I spent on its weird world and exciting characters.

Game / Movie / Hardware / Software Information

Sony PlayStation 2
Single Player
Other Platform(s):

Article by Dimitris
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