Should I Buy? – Shadow Hearts

Now there’s an obscure one. Just wait till I review Hotel Dusk or Vandal Hearts! This is a PS2 RPG from Japan that was developed by a little studio called Sacnoth, later Nautilus. Pretty much the only thing they ever made were the three Shadow Hearts games and its predecessor Koudelka. They’ve managed to achieve the status of cult classic for a mixture of Lovecraftian horror, offbeat humour and colourful cast of characters.

The first game of the series certainly suffers from its share of flaws. The graphics haven’t aged very well, and the only time you’ll hear voices are in one of the game’s three animated cutscenes or those in-battle grunts and phrases it seems all RPG characters have to spout.

Shadow Hearts puts you in the shoes of the Harmonizer (here spelt Harmonixer) named Yuri. He’s a drifter who gets by on his fists rather than his wits, and is occasionally guided into adventure by a freaky headache inducing voice in his head. He tends not to mind, because it lets him punch monsters and Yuri loves to punch him some monsters. This time it’s telling him to protect the young Alice from the evil warlock, Roger Bacon.

And the rest of the game is spent thwarting the evil schemes of this dapper villain, recruiting the usual ragtag bunch of misfits along the way. I say ‘usual’,  they’re really anything but your typical RPG crew. You’ve got Yuri, the slightly dim and pervy hero who fuses with demon souls, Alice, the Bible wielding ingenue, Zhuzhen, the happy-go-lucky Taoist sage, Margeuritte, the German secret agent, Keith, the French vampire and Halley (shouldn’t that be Harry?) the magical London orhpan.

You guide these characters through various locations Asia and Europe just prior to the outbreak of World War I. You’ll visit a variety of locations but the enemies will always be monstrous. If you read the bestiary, those monsters you’re fighting are really…well, monstrous. One of the nicer ones is a beast that hides in the sewers and drags obese people down to the dark depths to feed on. One of the NICER ones.

What makes the battles in this game unique is the game’s Judgement Ring. Whenever you choose an action, the ring spins and you have to press X when the spinner’s in the highlighted areas to pull off the move. This works fine in battle, but there’s a few variants used outside of battle for no real reason that are just frustrating.

Overall the game’s unique and setting atmosphere along with a sense of macabre humour and its genre savvy characters make this feel really one of a kind. It’s not the most polished or expansive of experiences, but this is certainly one you won’t get in any other series. So if you’re a fan of RPGs (I’m assuming you are to have read this far) then yes. I recommend this. And the sequels too, but those are reviews for another time.

Price: CEX – £18


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Willow Wood
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 13:25:11

    For a mega fanboy of the series, this was certainly a cool and calm review. I really would like to play it. You piqued my interest long ago with your bizarre #AmPlaying tweets. Trust Japan to create something so…’unique’.


  2. jackcalico
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 13:45:31

    Well, I do have my professional integrity (H). Talking of unique Japanese stuff, have you heard of Catherine? That is…certainly different.


    • Willow Wood
      Jul 19, 2011 @ 14:11:15

      Catherine looks INSAAANE. Yeah, I think the trailer came out last year? I remember watching it and then trying to watch it again, because I had NO IDEA what had just happened.


      • jackcalico
        Jul 19, 2011 @ 14:14:30

        Yeah there’s been more trailers since I think. Apparently it’s like a platform-puzzle game that’s half set in dreams. In other words, FUCK YEAH!

  3. Willow Wood
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 14:20:00


  4. Mitch Allan
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 18:00:58

    Aaaah, I cannot wait to play it! It just sounds like my kind of game!
    The setting sounds really interesting as well – I didn’t expect it to be pre-WW1 instead of Generic Medieaval Countryside.
    Also it’s HORROR. With COMEDY. In a JRPG. I am so there.


  5. Trackback: Xbox 360 Reviews Console | XBOX 360 & Stuff
  6. Trackback: Should I Buy? – Shadow Hearts Covenant « buythatgame

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