Shadow Hearts: Covenant
Game Info
Platform(s)
PS2
Publisher
Midway/Aruze
Developer
Nautilus
Genre
RPG
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Language, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Violence
 
Grade
The Good

• Great graphics
• Change of story theme is nice
• Story is pretty solid
• Judgment Ring adds interactivity to battle

The Bad

• Lots and lots of Ring usage
• A bit too easy and straightforward

 
Grade
A-

Shadow Hearts: Covenant takes the RPG mold and fashions it in a manner that proves to be a fresh angle on the genre. Instead of sci-fi or fantasy themes, the game is set in a dark environment, hinged on the early World War 1 timeline of Europe. Set a short while after the first game, Covenant is set at the onset of the war. The game begins with the German officer Karin Koenig, attempting to take over the village of Domremy only to be fended off by a powerful demon, who is later revealed to be Yuri Hyuga. Karin returns later with help and a curse is placed on Yuri, removing his powers and his ability to transform into various demon forms. This of course, leads into a far larger-scale story involving the Sapientes Gladio, and evil secret society. While most of the story is dark and littered with mysticism, there are silly moments that balance the whole experience out.

While Shadow Hearts: Covenant uses a lot of the standard RPG conventions in its gameplay, it does feature The Judgment Ring, a nice gameplay aspect that includes some interactivity to the turn-based combat. As with most RPGs, players are set about areas, given goals to perform to forward the story and during their travels, find themselves in random battles, where the turn-based combat plays out. When you cast a spell, use an item or just attack, a ring pops up that requires button presses to land attacks or make those attacks more powerful. Over time, players can customize the rings for each character to include more attacks or widen the attack or critical areas. This ring is used in other aspects of the game, but none are more important that the effects it has in combat.

As you progress in the game, you'll gain a set of characters, each with a different set of abilities and even a different means by which to learn new attacks. This uniqueness makes setting up your party more special, but fortunately, you can swap out characters from your combat party outside of battle.

Since battles play out on an open field, you can actually move characters near each other to perform a series of combination attacks. Be warned, though, that your enemies can do the same and even worse, they can attack your characters and push them out of combos if their impact is hard enough.

From a graphics standpoint, Covenant is a rich and beautiful game. The game world is lush and finely detailed and the character models look pretty excellent, especially during the cutscenes. CG rendered sequences are gorgeous, especially the opening sequence which sets a nice tone. Since the game is set in a real historical time, there is a certain "old world" flair to the design, though I'm not too sure on how accurate most of the costumes or locales are. Visual effects add nice touches to the game. If there's any downside to the graphics it is in the fact that some areas tend to be drab, but that can be chalked up to the fact that most of the game world is pulled from early 20th Century locations.

The music for Covenant is suitably effective for the tone and mood that the story evolves. The battle theme is actually pretty nice to hear, which is a plus considering how much time you'll invest into it. Sound effects are dead on but don't really do anything outstanding considering the genre (let's not kid ourselves - RPG effects all come from the same catalog). Since Covenant features a good bit of dialog, it's nice to have some decent voice acting. Most of the voice work is pretty good, and oddly appropriate for some of the odd characters. The voicework for Joachim is pretty damn annoying, but I figure it works for the character. If the voicework has any oddness to it, it's largely due to some "wonky" lines of text that should have been wordsmithed a bit more.

While the overall production of Shadow Hearts: Covenant is pretty solid, there are a few minor issues that some gamers may take to. The game is pretty linear (except later on when the game opens up in the second disc) and story-heavy. For those who found this fault with Final Fantasy X, Covenant will offer more of the same. Also, most of the game is pretty easy, so don't expect a Shin Megami Tensei style challenge as you progress. Finally, I hope you enjoy the Judgment Ring as it's application can grow a bit tiresome after 30-40 hours of gaming. Yes, you can turn it off, but that just makes your attacks weaker, and no good RPGer would do that.

In a genre that's steadily being filled with topnotch titles, it's hard for games like Shadow Hearts: Covenant to stand out on their own. Luckily, the adventure and the Judgment Ring aspect of combat lend themselves to a quality title that's sure to be a nice change of pace for those who love Final Fantasy.

- - Vane

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