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Shadow Hearts: Covenant

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And it's from Midway. WTF? Shame on you Squenix, shame on you....



I'm a few hours in and Shadow Hearts is simply outstanding. If you were a fan of Square's old RPGs like FF7 and FF8, this is the game for you. The story and characters are the real draw here, as the tripe that has been popping up in RPGs lately has been thrown out in favor of realistic portrayals. The voice acting is excellent, and cut-scenes are well directed. Don't expect something like Tales of Symphonia where the characters stand around talking with static camera angles, occasionally gesticulating to let you know they mean business. The plot unfolds in a dynamic manner and it's a joy to watch.


The graphics are also good, but technically unimpressive. An RPG doesn't need to push 80 billion bump-mapped polygons at 60 FPS to look good. Shadow Hearts has a somewhat dated graphics engine, but features strong art direction and good camera angles. The camera serves to draw you in and make the dungeons interesting, and it's a huge improvement over the detached, top down view seen in recent RPG's like Star Ocean.


The battle system is also quite fun since you must properly time your button presses to do the best combos. You can also have the CPU do this automatically, but your damage potential will be less. If you're having trouble using a certain character, items can be used to widen the zone that will result in a successful button press. As an added plus, the random encounter rate is low and doesn't frustrate.



If you're looking for a dark, J-RPG with realistic characters, excellent presentation, and a fun battle system, don't hesitate to pick up Shadow Hearts: Covenant. You might also still be able to get a free copy of the first Shadow Hearts if your store has any left. Gamespot and IGN have some good reviews up, although they do spoil the first part of the game.

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