So this week I finally finished up a game I’ve been playing for about six months, a fantasy RPG called Shadow Hearts. This game is relatively ancient by video game standards (it came out in 2001), but what can I say — I only play one game at a time and I have a stack of games eight inches high waiting for me. Once I’m done playing those, I can upgrade my PlayStation 2 to whatever is out at that point — probably the PlayStation 6. But I digress.
Shadow Hearts is a mostly conventional RPG, with the usual turn-based combat, dungeon crawls, and wandering monsters, but it features a “Judgment Ring” feature that adds an element of hand/eye coordination to the mechanics; rather than your attack or spell succeeding or failing based on some behind-the-scenes random chicanery, like Kino, the player is presented with a disk that consists of a sweeping hand and one or more target sectors. You have to press the targeting button on the controller while the hand is sweeping through the targeting sector for your selected action to occur. Usually, the closer you let the hand get to the end of the sector, the more powerful your action (more damage, more healing, a critical hit, etc.) So you can either play it safe and press the button in the middle of the sector, or you can get greedy and try to hit it at the very last second, risking a miss. I found this to be a pretty cool feature, actually — it required attention, but was much less annoying than the feature in some games where you have to mash certain key combinations to perform an attack.
The storyline is highly linear (even more so than usual), and involves an alternate history of Europe from just before the First World War. An EXTREMELY alternate history. For instance (leaving aside the usual assortment of monsters, vampires, demons, gods, etc.), in this version of history, they had cellular phones in 1913, and everyone talks like a character from a grade B 1980s teen movie, and Catholic priests could get married and have kids. I know it’s absurd to let stuff like that bug you when you’re busy trashing critters that look like upside-down dogs with arms coming out of their heads, but still. Let’s just say that if you’re expecting a Final Fantasy-class storyline, you’re likely to be disappointed. (Interestingly, though, the Big Bad’s motivation for his actions turns out to be rather more complex than you might expect. But I’ll leave that to the player to discover.)
Speaking of the monsters, I would highly recommend reviewing the “Library” from time to time, just to read the descriptions of the monsters you’ve killed. These usually include a blurb about where the monsters came from, which are often both absurd and highly amusing, along the lines of, “This is the ghost of a monk who slept with turtles; he wanders the monastery looking for soup”.
Anyway, I did enjoy this game, and have the sequel lined up as my next one. I’ll probably finish that some time in 2010. In the meantime, although it’s hard to rate video games according to my usual scale (how soon they would put my wife to sleep), I would estimate that if this were a movie, she would have spent the first 30 minutes wondering out loud why the heroine wanders around in a super-micro-mini-skirt with thigh-high stockings, and then fallen asleep.
And don’t forget, this is the last week to vote in the Scene of the Month poll for June!