Written by  :  DarkDove (70)
Written on  :  Oct 27, 2003
Rating  :  4.71 Stars4.71 Stars4.71 Stars4.71 Stars4.71 Stars

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A brilliant and extremely underrated RPG.

The Good

For every gamer, there is a game that, despite possible flaws, couldn't be more perfect. This kind of game has everything you could ever want, and it seems like the developers and publishers made it specifically for you. For me, this game is Shadow Hearts. What started out as a bored search for a good turn-based RPG quickly turned into the best thing that ever happened to me in video games.

First of all, any RPG fan out there knows that without a good story, you don't have a worthy RPG. The story in Shadow Hearts is real, yet it's fantasy; it's comedic, yet shrouded in sorrow; it's compelling, yet disturbing. Set in 1913, you control Yuri, a young man who is far from normal. He is what's known as an harmonixer, someone with the ability to transform into various monsters. A disturbing voice penetrates Yuri's mind, instructing him to save a girl who is in grave danger. After the daring rescue, the voice continues to instruct Yuri, and only in an attempt to stop the pain that is brought with the voice, he reluctantly obeys. Little does Yuri know that the mysterious voice is sending him tumbling into a plot to save the world against the evilest of men. Along with the shy girl that he rescues and the rest of the friends he will meet on his journey, Yuri will have to uncover this sinister plot and save the world from complete and utter destruction. Fighting against unimaginable monsters, powerful magicians, and the Japanese army, Yuri and company must fight to win, or risk every life on the face of the planet. Accompanying the brilliant story is a musical score that made me shiver with delight. All of it, from the regular battle music to the individual town music, was a treat and half for me.

Of course, as gripping as the story itself may be, it wouldn't work at all without character development. While Shadow Hearts is easily my favorite game, Yuri is also easily my favorite character...ever. Tearing away from the stereotypical introverted, no nonsense main character with a dark past that he would rather not share, Yuri is refreshingly goofy and arrogant, more of a real person than you might normally expect. This isn't to say he doesn't have his troubles, because he surely does, he just doesn't flaunt them in everyone's face all the time. No matter how worried he may be, no matter how serious he may be, he always projects a cool, laid back feeling. This being said, I would have been perfectly happy if the other characters in the game had absolutely no personality at all, because Yuri would have been enough to keep me entertained throughout the entire game. But Aruze wouldn't have it. They decided to be stubborn and make all the other characters just as unique and lovable as Yuri. From the elderly, wise-cracking adept to the self-centered spy to the bored vampire, every character adds so much to the whole experience that you'll want to thank them just for tagging along.

Well, with such a brilliant story and enchanting characters, the action must surely be lacking, right? Nope. If anything, the action is easily on the same level of quality as the story and characters. What makes the battles so great is the introduction of the "Judgment Ring." Before I bought Shadow Hearts, I had read somewhere that the judgment ring was so irritating that it made battles more of a chore than a part of the game. When I finally played the game, I couldn't believe how wrong this person was, in my opinion. First, let me explain what it is. The judgment ring is a circle that, depending on the action you choose, has a certain amount of shaded areas that you must hit in order to execute that action. A needle type bar will rotate around the circle, and you must hit X when it reaches these shaded areas. For every attack you choose, every magic spell you select, every item you use, and even for opening stuck doors and buying merchandise, you must use the judgment ring. And even though that may sound problematic, take it from me, if you give the game a chance, I believe you'll find the judgment ring to be as much fun as I did. Judgment ring aside, probably one of the most fun things about Shadow Hearts was Yuri's ability of fusion. The enemies you fight, if they're not non-elemental, are one of six element classes: Fire, water, earth, air, light, and dark. When you fight enough enemies of a certain element class, you can fight a new fusion monster, and upon it's defeat, you will have the ability to turn into that monster in battle. Playing as all the different fusion monsters is so much fun, you'll do it every chance you get, whether it's necessary or not.

As if the Judgment Ring wasn't enough to make Shadow Hearts a unique experience, Aruze decided to add SP. SP stands for sanity points. You see, fighting monsters is taxing on the mind, and if you aren't careful, you just might go crazy in the middle of battle. In order to avoid this, you must keep your SP away from zero, or else you will go Berserk. You will lose one SP every turn, so when you get low, you have to use SP recovering items, adding a more strategic element to battle. Losing your sanity isn't the only side effect of fighting monsters though. Don't think that these guys are going to just die and forgive you for killing them. After these monsters are dead, their hatred is collected into what is known as malice, and if all of these monsters' malice gets to be too much, they summon a mysterious man in a fox mask that will avenge his fallen brethren. In order to clear malice, you must visit the "Graveyard." The Graveyard is Yuri's subconscious manifested into a dark and dreary place where fusion monsters are kept, malice is cleared, and where the four masks of war torment Yuri constantly. Sound spooky? Sure, but it is even more amusing than it is spooky. One more interesting concept thrown into the mix is that you can actually look at all your items, equipment, and weapons. In the inventory, you can highlight anything and everything, and by pushing square, you will get a picture of it, a brief description of its history, and its purpose. While this is hardly important, it really is cool.

The Bad

Of course, every great masterpiece has its flaws. Fortunately, Shadow Hearts' flaws are few and really not that important. The second you start the game, you will be greeted with a truly wonderful FMV, even if the graphics are a bit outdated. The graphics aren't the problem though, I hold no grudge against them at all. The problem lies in the fact that there are about three or four FMV's throughout the entire game. To be honest, the game works surprisingly well without them, but the FMV's that were in the game were so fun to watch, I can't imagine how much more this game could have been if it just had a few more.

The other problem lies in the voices. As with the FMV's, voices are extremely scarce, but in this case, I'm obliged to say this is more of a blessing than not. Except for Yuri's and Roger Bacon's voice, which were both mediocre at best, the rest were horrendous. It pains me to say this, but it is the unfortunate truth.

The Bottom Line

Shadow Hearts is the victim of modest marketing. Because of the limited amount of advertising that went into this game, so many people missed out on it. If you took the time to read this review, then take the time to pick this game up wherever you can find it, because it is an experience you won't want to pass up.