Review by Shogain
"I will judge you with my ring."
With the huge amount of RPGs for the PS2, you'd most likely will hear about the Shadow Hearts series. Shadow Hearts: Covenant is a sequel from the previous entry, heralding as the best out of the series.
Story <> *7/10
Starting off after six months from the previous game, World War I has already started and the flames of war is growing even bigger. As the game begins, you are introduced to Karin Koenig, and officer in the German army. She and her squad was sent to Domremy, a small village in Europe. Rumor has it that a devilish demon resides by the church. After encountering the demon, Karin is the only survivor. After reporting to her superior officer, she is sent to Domremy again with Nicolai, a sly cardinal. The devilish being appears yet again inside the church, but soon after being engulfed by the holy mistletoe, he's revealed to be Yuri. With all of his powers taken away, Yuri decides to kick some ass! Err, maybe that wasn't his intention, but anyways, the story folds into a whole different view. The party gets to travel through Europe, Russia and Asia encountering various foes and NPCs.
The first Shadow Hearts had a dark story, and this one is no exception. Even so, the story sheds some light into it with humor. With a silly cast of party members, your going to expect some hilarious cutscenes along the adventure. Whether it be the macho, vampire Joachim being picked on by the spirited princess, Anastasia, or a love quarrel between Yuri and Karin, the chemistry flows well between the characters.
There's also plenty of references from the first Shadow Hearts game. You'll get to meet some of the characters such as Keith and Margaret. Such fanservice is what makes this game great.
Gameplay <> *9/10
Shadow Hearts: Covenant is truly one of those RPGs where it has an engrossing battle system. As soon as you enter a battle, you'll be seeing the occasional turn-based menu interface. Attacking, items, magic, skills, there's plenty of strategy to use. Whenever choosing one of the four attack options, you'll be faced with the Judgement ring before you attack. The Judgement ring is a ring of circle with a spinning arc. You have to correctly press the X button as soon as the spinning arc lands on the hit areas. The hit areas have a brighter orange layout. At the end of these layouts, small red areas are smudged to the edge. These are called strike areas, where you can do additional damage instead of hitting the more larger hit area. As you progress through the game, you'll begin to customize your ring for each of the party members. Whatever the case, you'll be increasing the amount of attacks you can do or increasing the hit areas. Such items will be scattered throughout the game. With various options for your ring, you'll increase your party's strength as you go through the game.
Crest magic is pretty much the magic system of Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Crests are equippable items that grants you more than one magic. Each crest has different spells and also have their own elements. There's a flaw though, as you can only equip certain amount of crests to your characters. But as your characters level up, they'll eventually hold more crests, which means more spells!
Items are also used with the Judgement ring. Hitting the strike area increases the effect of the item by a helpful amount. Skills are pretty much the opposite of magic. Instead of fancy fire attacks, your character does their own unique attacks. Each party member has their own set of skills that are aquired from doing tasks. For example, Anastasia has an album skill, where she can take a picture of her enemy and reveal the enemies weaknesses. Blanca's skills are aquired by fighting various wolves throughout the areas you visit. Defeating them gives you a stamp which powers up Blanca's skills or gives him a new one. Every character gains their skills mostly by doing such things. Some of them lead to sidequests you can finish near the end of the game.
Anyway, with that out of the way, I'll explain the combat system. The combat system is an alternative way of kicking more ass. Initiating combos earns you additional damage to the enemy. You can do various combos by using crest magic, skills or with attacks. Mixing them up with a lot of hits does a lot of damage. For example, you can do a high angle attack which can launch an enemy into the air, use an anti-air spell, then finish them off with another attack. All of these gameplay elements make Shadow Hearts: Covenant a great, fun game.
Walking around town, talking to NPCs, and exploring every area for chests, you won't find any fun materials around here. The dungeons are fairly well done, with plenty of unique puzzles for each individual dungeon. All of them pretty much requires a brain, but they're not difficult to solve. One problem I felt was that the random battle encounters were kind of off to me, and a bit slow. But as you get used to it, you'll find that the battle encounters are in a great pace.
Graphics <> *8/10
The graphics are remarkable for the PS2. The character models are detailed very well, the background fits the various amount of towns shown throughout the game. Everything captures the feel of the setting. In europe, you'll come across towns that were from the very early 1900s, and in Japan, you'll come across familiar japanese settings. The cutscenes are also superb. None of it feels rushed or sluggish. Every cutscene is shown with a hint of intrigue. None of them were pointless, and each captured the personalities of the characters. Finally, the FMVs. The FMVs are awesome to look at, and each appeared in important part of the stories. Each FMVs capture the feel, emotion and the action from the characters. Overall, the graphics are great to look at.
Sound/Music <> *8/10
The music and voice acting are surprisingly well done. The music flows well with the towns, dungeons and overall, the battle. Whether it be the soothing music of Inugami Village, or the hypnotic beats from Idar Flamme, the music breathes life into the game. Another great part is the voice acting. Each character's voice fits them well, and none of them seem to be an amateur. I didn't have any problem with the voices, and I felt that the VA list for the dub was excellent.
Final Word -
Not only are there plenty of RPGs to play other than Shadow Hearts: Covenant, it should still be in your wish to play list. The length is fairly long, combining over 40 hours, and much more if you do the sidequests. It's definitely a gem among the vast RPG library nowadays, and you should definitely try out the first PS2 entry to enjoy the second one more.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/22/09
Game Release: Shadow Hearts: Covenant (US, 09/27/04)
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