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Review - Shadow Hearts

Started by Nightcrawler, August 02, 2010, 01:50:29 PM

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It's been a long while since I've been physically able and have had time to play through a game. It's been pleasant to have the luxury again. I believe the last game I finished was Koudelka. So, I picked Shadow Hearts to continue in this original series of games.

Shadow Hearts is refreshingly original for the JRPG genre. The alternate reality based on our own world history concept, combined with monsters and magic, made for a very interesting setting and atmosphere for a game. The opening scenes were very captivating and made it seem like this was going to be one heck of a ride. However, as the game progressed, it always seemed to just fall short from being stellar in many areas. It wasn't able to live up to the opening sequences. As I played, it seemed like it was just begging to be a great game, but always ended up falling short. It would introduce some gameplay elements, story elements, characters, etc. and just not expand or give enough of any. I will get into a few details on this below.


The center of any good storytelling book, movie, or game is in the characters. Shdadow Hearts had an interesting bunch. The characters were certainly unique enough, but their relationships with one another was never really developed enough. It was more like they decided to throw together some of the most different people they could think of, but then not bother to explore the human interaction and relationship strife that results between their differences. There were certainly some moments in the game that did this, but I found myself wishing there had been more.

Furthermore, not enough depth was given for individual character development. In fact, some of the best character development was in the side quests at the end of the game resulting in several cut scenes and character interactions. They definitely should have been part of the main game. The relationship between Yuri and Alice also came off forced. Towards, the end of the game, they loved each other and had a very strong sacrificial bond. However, it just kind of happened all at once 75% through. The first 25% of their relationship was good, but then it just dropped off and I didn't feel it grow for the next 50% of the game.

Another case where what they had was good, but there just wasn't enough of it.


I liked the music style of the game when vocals were used for some haunting melodies. There were also plenty of 'creepy' melodies and sound effects. Just listen to the battle victory tune. It's probably unlike any other game you know. Unfortunately, there weren't really that many different pieces of music and many weren't stand out in any way, such as the town music and several dungeons.

It had potential, but there weren't enough unique pieces and too many forgettable ones. There weren't many instances where the music was conveying emotion or feeling to the scenes aside from the creepy/haunting type.


The graphics were OK. I enjoy the 3D characters on 2D pre-rendered backgrounds. The 2D artistic flair to the graphics work for me. The monsters were creepy and disgusting just like they were in Koudelka. I am concerned for the mental well being of the person who created them!! I'd say they really were monsters. A few were so creepy/deranged that I didn't even want to look at them.


The story was solid. The main plot was fairly simple. However, there were many, many smaller sub-plots/details. It was actually a bit difficult to wrap your head around the whole thing. The whole concept of souls, malice, fusions etc. was deep and there were many minor tie ins with the events of Koudelka. There were many events that happened throughout the game's time line, dating back many years , that all play a small part to enhance the detail and thought given to the story. However, the game focuses primarily on an event from 15 years ago and the same event occurring again.

I appreciated being introduced to the major bad guy immediately and the game kept it that way. No secret bigger boss revealed halfway through or near the end (other than summoned gods). The game was clearly divided into two halfs with big events occurring in between. Actually, the mid-game scenes were probably some of the best in the game. It could have been two separate games had each half been fleshed out and expanded upon.

The story was solid and due to the alternative history atmosphere the game had, I never got that deja vu feeling and it kept fresh and original for the most part.


It was a bit rough around the edges and another thing where it had some interesting concepts, but fell flat with them.

The whole judgment ring system seemed like a gimmick. It was one thing to use it for battles. It was another thing to use it for shopping discounts, opening doors, lotteries, and various other game points. It was overused and it wasn't that great of an idea to begin with.

Status effects were annoying in this game. There were many. Instant Death, Petrification, Paralysis, Poison, all the annoying ones are there. The new judgment ring brought about many new status effects that just effect it.  Blind was the worst. You can't use an item, cast a spell, attack, or anything easily. Boy was I happy when I finally got items near the end of the game to nullify them all.

The whole graveyard/fusion system was pretty nice. The game did a decent job of having some uses for several of them. However, I still only ended up using a few of them regularly.

Take a few of those annoyances out and the fun factor would have gone much higher. Much of it wasn't bad in concept, just fell a little flat.


Overall, despite the things I've mentioned here,  the game was fun and kept my interest throughout. In fact, it made me excited to jump into the second game where many of the minor gripes I have were supposedly addressed. The dark, quirky, original style of this series keeps me coming back! I'd recommend a play through just because it's so different. - The central hub of the ROM hacking community.


I like the review alot, and have nothing to add to the first, but the second game is an all time favorite of mine. Many of the problems were fixed, or addressed, and as usual Yuri remains a great character, whom I care about more than almost any other character of fiction, in nearly any medium. He's truly what drove me to love the series as a whole, of course the dark setting and quirky humor didn't hurt at all. My only gripe with the second game is the pacing, which like the first starts out awesome, gets dull and repetitive, and then kicks into overdrive in the last 25% of the game. Some of the design choices struck me as odd in this department as well, the most offending example being the start of the second disk. Other then some minor gripes though, the game was amazing, and had everything a sequel should have, nothing it shouldn't and it didn't crap all over the first game's story.

The 3rd game in the series is another story all together. I really didn't like it, the system was great, and the music was entertaining. It looked good, but the characters were sub-par for the most part, and even though the interaction between characters is somewhat expanded, I really couldn't have cared less. Add to that some uninteresting villains, predictable plot twist, and the replacement of Yuri with a 16 year old blond's sad. Damn you XSEED!

As much as I hate to say it, your comment about the game falling just short, is how I see the series. Even though as a whole it's one of my favorite series, the games just seem to fall short in one area or another, just out of the reach of being really, truly great games. SH:C is the best game in the series, I am sure someone could argue that if they wanted, but I see it that way. Even then, it's just out of the pantheon of great, but as a whole it was a great gaming experience, and the dark story, and elements won me over.

Edit: One thing I wanted to add, if the introduction of real world historical figures into the game world, sometimes it's simply astounding how awesome that was. It makes for some really cool moments, when you either see, talk to a person, or go to a place pulled directly out of histories pages.
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