Shadow Hearts Covenant ReviewCain Dornan
Its 1915. A small squadron of armed German forces are ordered to take control of the stubborn French village, Domremy, an almost untouchable village that has been rumoured to be protected by a powerful winged demon. Imperial German Army officer Karin Koenig leads the small squadron into the quiet village, making their way into the awaiting church atop a small hill. Numerous German military helmets are scattered throughout the green field surrounding the mysterious church, inflicting slight fear into the slowly advancing squadron. Nothing is found upon entering the Church, however, just as the soldiers begin to relax, the large wooden doors to the ancient Church slam shut. Screams and gunfire are heard from outside, followed by an abrupt, eerie silence. Suddenly, a large winged demon bursts through a circular stained-glass window, instantly injecting awe into the awaiting soldiers inside. Despite the desperate attempts by the soldiers to dispose of the horrid creature, the demon easily destroys almost the entire squadron, leaving Karin as the only survivor.
Upon reporting back to her German superiors, she is once again sent back to Domremy, along with the help of a suspicious Cardinal to help dispose of the large, powerful demon. Karin soon discovers that Cardinal Nicholai Conrad is a member of a secret society, and, unsurprisingly, plans to use evil to gain control of the world. Nicholai manages to cast a spell upon the demon, which turns out to be Yuri from the original Shadow Hearts, preventing Yuri from transforming into his numerous powerful beast formations. After discovering the truth about Nicholai, Karin decides to team with the weakened Yuri to discover the truth about the secret society and how to remove the curse that had been placed upon the innocent Yuri.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant is based several years after the original Shadow Hearts. Like any true sequel, Covenant follows on closely from the original. Therefore, in order to be able to successfully understand the ever-growing complicated plot, one must be somewhat familiar with the original Shadow Hearts. Considering that the original Shadow Hearts was far from a popular title amongst Role Playing gamers, this does serve as problem. Dont let this relatively small problem prevent you from playing this game if you have not played the original, however, as it is quite possible to enjoy the storyline despite not being familiar with the entire plot at all times.
Covenant follows a small group of playable misfits, all of whom originate from almost entirely different worlds and have considerably different personalities. Karin, for example, is a relatively quiet German female. Yuri, on the other hand, is a cocky yet mysterious male who loves to show his fighting skills. Finally, Gepetto the puppeteer is a straightforward, wise old man who appears to know everything. Throughout the game you will meet a variety of different, colourful and interesting people who add a unique spark to the storyline, with each character offering a completely unique style.
As mentioned earlier, Shadow Hearts: Covenant is a turn-based role-playing title. For those unaware of this term, this simply means that during battle each team has a chance to perform a move, which is then followed by the opposite team having the opportunity to do the same. In an attempt to keep the battle mechanics interesting, a Judgement Ring, which is essentially a circular roulette wheel, requires the player to tap the X button on the Playstation 2 controller once the cursor is situated in the correct colour. Special areas, known as the Strike Areas, allows you to deal a larger amount of damage, however these areas are rather small and can be a challenge to hit. Pressing the button at the wrong time results in that character missing a turn, allowing the enemy to attack you. This keeps the fighting more interesting than simply selecting the move and allowing the game to randomly decide wether the move hits its target and how powerful it was. Using the Judgement Ring increases in difficulty depending upon the type of move and which character you are using, although it is relatively simple to master. When compared to other titles in the turn-based genre, Covenant manages to keep the fighting system interesting for longer, thanks to the larger amount of interactivity that is involved.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant offers a solid amount of customisation. One example of the customisation is the ability to customise the Judgement Ring to your liking. Depending upon your skill and willingness to take a risk, you can set the rings cursor to travel slower with larger hit areas, although a smaller amount of damage is dealt. On the other hand, you can set the cursor to swing considerably faster, with a larger amount of damage on offer. Various other customisations are also on offer, allowing you to customise the ring to your liking. Further customisation of the Judgement Ring includes the ability to add points to different aspects of the ring, such as larger attack and strike areas.
Staying on the topic of the battle aspects, Covenant offers a large number of unique attacks and spells that remains unique to each individual character. No two characters are capable of perform identical moves, which adds some strategic elements to the game, with specific moves being more effective against certain types of creatures than other moves. Each character offers a growing number of modifications that become available as you progress through the game. In order to upgrade the character, you are required to collect certain objects, which often show no signs of relation to what they enhance. Karin, for example, uses special music sheets to teach herself new fencing moves. Gepetto the puppeteer, likewise, collects cards with images of bodybuilders to earn new dresses for his puppet, which unlocks new moves. Yuri, whos items that he must collect associate appropriately with their function the most, collects the souls of enemies, which allows him to gain new transformation powers.
As with any solid role-playing title, characters earn points and money after each battle. Additional points are awarded to characters that manage to complete an entire round without incurring any damage. These points are used to upgrade the level of each character, ultimately making their moves more powerfully. Money is then used to purchase a range of interesting items, which can be obtained from the numerous, relatively confined towns and cities that you encounter on your quest. Despite the limited area in which you can explore in each town, each individual town is filled with various shops that are filled with unique items and creative shop owners. Shadow Hearts comprises of two discs, offering an extensive lifetime, which lasts around thirty hours, although it is quite possible to squeeze-out more lifetime by exploring the option areas that become available later in the game.
The locale detail, although not quite up to the standards as seen in Square Enixs Final Fantasy series, offers an impressive amount of clear, colourful and believable detail. Buildings and vegetation generally look crisp and clear, further enhanced by the decent lighting effects.
Character detail during the numerous stunningly detailed cutscenes is fantastic. Emotions are clearly displayed on each characters face, which is completed with authentic, wavy hair and realistic eyes. Characters move smooth and believable during these cutscenes, showcasing the amount of time that has been spent ensuring that the world of Shadow Hearts is truly believable, despite its completely fantasy-based storyline and gameplay aspects.
Special effects are usually kept to a minimum, displaying a basic explosion or a flow of ice in a rather basic manner when compared to the solid visuals that are presented through the locales and character detail.
Voice acting, unfortunately, is rather average. Despite each character clearly showing their expressions through the impressively detailed body actions, the voice acting often fails to relay this. Characters will sound bland and boring during an action phase, or occasionally overact a small, insignificant occurrence. Thankfully, voice acting doesnt occur too often in the game, often relying on text to display conversations between characters or provide updates on the storyline.
The music features the classic calm music that often appears in role-playing titles. The music changes appropriately when action sequences are encountered or once you enter a new area. The music is of good quality and relates with the game appropriately.
As with the special effects in the graphics department, the sound effects have also been kept to a basic standard. Footsteps are evident and change slightly depending upon the surface you are running across. Thumps, bumps and explosions that occur during battles are rather basic, with plenty of room for enhancement available.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant is a solid role playing-game that offers numerous unique features, a captivating storyline, solid graphics and rather average sound. The game is colourful and interesting, pitting you through a world where you will meet numerous unique personalities, encounter fascinating creatures and explore imaginative locales. The turn based battle system works effectively, mixing blows, magic and add-ons to create an interesting experience. Midways Shadow Hearts: Covenant is a worthy competitor to Square Enixs popular Final Fantasy series.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.