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March 24, 2005
Shadow Hearts: Covenant - Review
Release Date Distributor Developer Players Rating Difficulty
10/3/2005Red AntAruze1M15+Medium
Save Size Sound Format Vibration 60Hz Mode 50Hz Border Widescreen
61KBDolby PLIIYesNoSmallNo

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One of the many cut scenes.
From my days playing PSone one series has towered above the rest, Final Fantasy. For me nothing else comes close, great characters, outstanding stories and stunning cut scenes have made each FF a classic. Now here comes a new challenger into a ring that has had many casualties, but this cocky young challenger does not seem intimidated by the champ. Is this new game all talk? Nope. Midway have tacked their name onto another quality game, but is it a Final Fantasy killer?

From the outset I must make it clear that I have never played the original Shadow Hearts, which was released a few years back now, and never really took off. So for me this is a completely new story, a story which unlike most Final Fantasy games is a direct continuation from the original. Does this matter? No not one bit as there are a few flashbacks during the game to fill you in on the previous happenings. The game picks up six months after the original, World War I is in full swing tearing apart Europe. We then get introduced to Karin, who is leading her squad into a village called Domremy. It does not take long for Karin’s squad to get annihilated by a winged demon. The demon in fact turns out to be the star of the show Yuri Hyuga, (also the original games lead character). The German army call in the services of a slightly weird minister named Nicholai to take this demon down, which succeeds in doing thanks to a Holy Mistletoe which strips Yuri of using his Demon morphing ability. To Karin’s surprise Nicholai was not working for the German army at all, he is a member of a clan called the Sapientes Gladio, which then destroy the entire village. Seeing this Karin decides to join forces with Yuri to find out whom these guys are and what they are up to. Plus help regain Yuri’s demon morphing ability.

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Going into battle.
Along the way Karin and Yuri team up with some of the coolest characters in all of gaming. First up you find an old puppeteer named Gepetto who does not mind the odd quiet drink. Then we find Joachim who aspires to be the greatest pro wrestler in the world sounds a bit like Buzz Lightyear and turns into a bat. Plus along the way you come across five more characters who will aid you on your quest. All the characters in this game are superb, except maybe Blanca, a wolf that is a bit too similar to Red XIII from Final Fantasy VII.

This game is a classic turn based RPG that is very similar to the Final Fantasy series, but has a few more tricks up its sleeve. The best of these tricks is the Judgment Ring, this Ring comes up onscreen every time you wish to land an attack, use an item or perform a combo attack. It consists of a number of zones with the player having to press the X button each time the cursor passes through a zone. Do this correctly and you will land your attack, miss and your attack may be greatly reduced or not count at all. It does take quite a bit of getting used to, especially for Final Fantasy veterans who are used to pressing the attack or magic buttons then sitting back and watching what happens. Once figured out it turns out to be a great feature as it keeps you much more involved in the action. Another cool feature is the ability to do combo attacks, each character has their turn and then are prompted to press a certain face button to continue the combo, successfully linking all four characters together does some serious damage to your opponents and makes quicker work of the boss characters.

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Graphics are quite nice...
The rest of the gameplay is much more standard fare including many RPG norms like random battles, questing for rare items, battling bosses, solving puzzles, buying and selling items and oh yeah finding pictures of naked men with which you trade to a dress maker for dresses that give you more magic classes to use. Traveling in this game is very linear, similar to Final Fantasy X, though you can travel back to any place you have been at regular intervals.

As in most console RPG’s this one is a single player only affair. The ability for a friend to join in on your quest would have been cool but it does not really hurt the game. For me, I don’t really mind as RPG’s are one genre that work well as single player games.

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Charging up...
There are a few problems with this game, but most of them are just your normal RPG’s annoyances. One is the random battles, now I know they are necessary in leveling up, but the frequency at which they happen is this game gets really annoying. Every couple of seconds you are thrust back into another battle, this is particularly annoying when you are trying to solve a puzzle but get interrupted every few seconds for another battle. Another flaw is in its pre occupation with the Final Fantasy games. From the screen shattering at the beginning of a battle to the victory music at the end of each battle they have crossed the line from having respect for the classic series to straight out copying it. The game does not really need to copy Final Fantasy as much as it does; it is strong enough to stand on its own two feet.

The graphics in this game are pretty good for an RPG but are not quite as good as Final Fantasy X. That is not a huge flaw as that game looked great, but it is now three plus years old, and by today’s standard the graphics are a touch rough. One standout in the visuals has to be the cut scenes; they are simply great and stand up well to any other cut scenes on the PS2.

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Hey look, aliens.
The music does its job throughout Shadow Hearts: Covenant. The battle tunes are pretty catchy and the music changes to each different area that you visit effectively. The voice acting is high quality as well and can be quite funny. Though with many RPG’s there are some dodgy moments in the scripting due to the game getting a Japanese conversion. Overall they do a solid job.

For any RPG fan out there you can’t go wrong with Shadow Hears: Covenant. It has a great story, fantastic likable characters and a great unique battle system. On the other hand if you hate RPG’s this probably won't change your mind. For the rest of us RPG fans though this two disc adventure will provide well over 40 hours of fantastic gameplay. It took Final Fantasy the distance but loses a close decision after the 12 rounds. One of the best RPG’s on the Playstation 2 and a must have for fans of the genre.

Review By: Graham Darko

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GRAPHICSGood, but not as solid as some other games being released lately.
SOUNDThe music and voice acting hold up quite well and do a solid job.
GAMEPLAYPure RPG goodness with a fantastic battle system. Great stuff.
VALUETwo discs with over 40 hour’s gameplay. Can’t complain about that.
OVERALLShadow Hearts: Covenant is one of the best RPG’s games ever made. If you like a good story and a bit of an adventure this comes highly recommended.

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