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on 8 April 2002
Although the PS2 has had the dubious pleasure of playing host to other 'RPGs' such as Eternal Ring and Evergrace, Shadow Hearts is the one of the first to fall into the traditional turn-based mould used by such games as Suikoden and, of course, Final Fantasy.
This game is slightly darker in tone than most Japanese RPG's, filled with scheming warlocks, man-eating demons and a hero who is possibly just a little unhinged! Shadow Hearts is set in a kind of alternate 1900's setting that brings to mind Cthulhu and Lovecraft - You know the stuff; Vast and ancient evil powers, sanity eroding magic and victorian technology.
The game plunges straight into the story with the sinister Roger Bacon (he is, honest!) slaughtering guards left right and centre as he attempts to abduct a seemingly helpless priest's daughter. Luckily our 'hero', Yuri, is on the same train and not about to let some diabolical Englishman make off with heroine! Yuri does not seem particulary bothered by having his arm ripped off (it just flies up and sticks back on!) nor the horrible little demon that Bacon uses to kill people (he contemptuosly crushes its head!) but merely turns into a huge great demon and rescues the girl - And then proceeds to put his fist through the bad guy's head and leaps off the train! Of course the villain is never finished that easily...
All this in the first 5 minutes!!!
The game follows the traditional pattern of exploring very pretty pre-rendered backdrops, chatting to the locals, buying stuff from shops and being jumped by random fights. The locations are very atmospheric and varied as are the people that inhabit them. It is no suprise to learn that the team who created this game are mostly made up of ex-Squaresoft employees...
The battle system is turn-based and features several innovations, most obvious of which is the Judgement Ring. This involves selecting an action (attack, cast spell etc.) and pressing the button at the correct moment to determine how effective this action is. Depending on how skillful you are, you can regularly pull of multiple critical hits! Another feature is the addition of Sanity Points which decrease as battles go on - When they are depleted the character goes beserk!
The characters are varied and interesting; Aside from the transforming Hero with the troubled past, you get a full cast of oddballs including the afforementioned priest's daughter with her holy magic, a wandering old man who beats up demons (and hurls fire!) and a sexy secret agent (where did she get that mobile phone in the 1900's...?)
All in all, Shadow Hearts is an enjoyable RPG that should keep fans of the genre engrossed for quite a while. If this game has any fault, it is that the designers are a little to fond of using this Judgement Ring in too many situations...
(I would mention the questionable quality of the voice acting, but it is more than made up for by the excellent music!)
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VINE VOICEon 31 March 2005
There aren't many of us out there, linear RPG gamers who prefer storyline to subplot and who prefer straight forward gameplay to the "enjoyment" of getting completely lost, however, no matter what RPG faction you belong to, this game will please.
It is the first RPG to successfully be nuclineated, a cross between nucleated and linear gameplay, with an interactive turn based battle system using the judgement ring, meaning every move is a minigame in itself, the 2D scenery, much like Final Fantasy IX gives a feel of reality, rather than glitchy 3D rendering which most games use and the comedy, yet seriousness behind the storyline gives a feel of excitement throughout.
Though not a multiplayer game in itself, it is definitely a game worthwhile playing with a friend, allowing you to discuss the deep plot, and plan theories as to how it will unwind, developing both characters stories and controversial issues involving the politics leading to the first world war and the arguments of the idealistic world, seen in the eyes of Roger Bacon and the Christian world of medieval England, combining to make one of the most brilliant RPGs I've ever played.
There are no faults with this game, besides those which were not such problems at the time but are now. Unfortunately, this brings the game down, although, respectively, for its now out-of-date engine, it was state of the art.
In the day's when this game was made, (Not actually THAT long ago, but before the extreme of FFX) the engine used was that similar to Dreamcast, superior to the PS one but inferior to that of PS2 and thus has graphics that, although clear, and understated, do not have the effect of games today. When the game was made, no better graphics were available to developers, so this would have been state of the art. It equals the same with voice overs, besides FMVs and graphic free cut scenes, there are no voices. Although this is supposedly a flaw, it allows imagination to build much more complex characters, however, you will find that it may become as apparent as a flaw after the wonder of Shadow Hearts 2: covenant, in which voice overs truly give the game a polished shine. FMVs are too scarce, especially in comparison to game length, not that it is so long and there are too long times between FMVs, but the game is reasonably short and does not use, what I presume is spare space on the disc for brilliant videos. Whether the engine used was wasteful of space or not I don't know, but being a short game, the videos should be more common.
These flaws were not apparent until FFX, a game which broke all barriers of what was previously thought to be the limit of gaming in terms of length and videos, but it had many more flaws that were not related to age, which Shadow Hearts didn't have.
It is truly amazing game, and the reality behind it is subtle and clever, though the fact a world and history that we know, has a much more dark and twisted hidden side. Side quests are, although simple, extremely storyline altering making the additional gameplay, a lot more important. This is certainly not minded as the battling is fun and the game, easy in comparison to others. The focus of this game is the storyline, so gripping, that money will be spent on the sequel before it's even had a chance to burn a hole in your pocket!
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on 7 April 2002
I am well into this game as I write this review and am finding it to be like a good book - hard to put down. It's not the best game I've played lookswise and it's not always clear to see items, treasure chests etc but that is soon forgotten as the story unfolds. Each stage relates to the next and it is feasible that the story could unfold in that way. The fight system is easy to master and like nothing I've used before, although I'm told Vagrant Story's is similar to a certain extent. The character's are excellent, even down to one being a sufferer of seasickness - it makes him human and therefore interesting.
Items are able to be bought and sold and there are details of what each item does in the shop menus and the use menus.
There are side games and challenges which can be done to gain other items if it's wanted and the characters can also be fitted with podometers while walking around towns etc to gain other items through how many steps they've taken.
A nice twist to the game is the ability to gain monsters to help the main character Yuri (his name can be changed at the start) by going into a graveyard and checking headstones after the required amount of soul energy has been accumulated. If beaten they can be equipped and used in battle. While in the graveyard the malice that the main character has built up can be released by fighting it. The severity of the monster depends on what colour the malice meter is and once beaten Yuri gets given an item for his inventory.
I am a very keen role playing gamer and this is definitely up there with the best of the role playing games I've played. Maybe not for the look of it but definitely for the story line. Whoever wrote it should think about writing mythological stories too. Good stuff.
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on 6 February 2004
After hearing mixed opinions on this title I decided to take the plunge and give it a go. I wasn't too sure what to expect, but I was not disappointed.
Graphics -
The graphics in this game are somewhat mediocre. The backgrounds are static which fans of the Playstation Final Fantasy and Resident Evil games would recognize. Personally I thought a 3D world would've been much more dynamic as sometimes it was difficult to see what was going on with the characters. That said the graphics in battle are fully 3D which makes for some great battle scenes. If the whole game's graphics were done in the style of the battles it would've been a very graphically impressive game. The detail on Yuri's fusion monsters is very nice too.
That said the FMVs are absolutely stunning. The introduction scene really sets the mood and gets you into the game while quickly introducing three important characters. I can't fault these at all.
The sound effects are superb in this game. The monsters have a genuine deformed appearance to them, and the sounds they make go with this perfectly, from the squelch of a zombie's feet to the child-like battle cries of a doll. Genuinely stomach-churning in places.
The voices aren't too bad, but aren't that great either. Roger Bacon in particular has a very stereotypical British accent. The acting itself is decent enough, though the dialogue is laughable in places! Luckily the English voices are only heard in FMVs as the battles mostly consist of the original Japanese voices (which sound much better in my opinion).
The music sets the scene nice enough, again especially in the introduction. There are not many memorable songs in this game, but one or two should stick with you.
Unlike most RPGs this game sets itself in this world during the early 1900s before the First World War. I quite enjoyed this idea. For one there are plenty of places for you to recognize in Asia and Europe. You play a Harmonixer called Yuri who can fusion himself to demons. He is lead to a train where he meets Alice and a man who calls himself Roger Bacon. From there the story rapidly unfolds and reaches a great climax. I won't say more incase of spoilers, but the story was a lot of fun and highly enjoyable. My only problem was that one or two of the playable characters didn't get nearly as much back-story as they could've.
Game Play-
Those who have played The Legend of Dragoon may recognize the Battle System. Rather then just mashing the "attack" command like many RPGs you actually have to concentrate and time your attacks to a Sonar-like "Judgment Ring". This makes the battles very involving and stops them from being such bore like the simple "Attack" command. Even items and spells require the skill of the Judgment Ring, attacks, spells and items doing more damage if you get them in the "red" zone, which is dangerously close to a "miss". Also you can buy equipable items to prevent status ailments early on which is a fantastic idea as there is nothing more annoying than being Petrified with no protection against it.
The game itself is quite easy. There are a few bosses that you may get stuck on but overall they're fun battles, which is what's important in my opinion. The random battles don't attack you every two steps either, it's not rare to walk through seven or eight rooms and not receive a single one. This makes doing the trickier parts of the game that much more enjoyable without the interference of these battles.
Overall this game should appeal to hardcore RPG players and newcomers to the genre alike.
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on 27 February 2005
. . . much like my other favourite RPGs, such as Vagrant Story. Firstly, the things to throw of the shallow gamers:
No, the game does not have great graphics. They are purely functional and extremely dated in terms of PS2 graphics by now. That said, they work fine and are dark enough for the game overall.
My only other problem with this game was the Harmonixer monsters you could morph into. Save for the few special, secret ones like Amon and Seraphic Radiance, once you've unlocked the first level of monsters, the rest are just higher-powered rehashes of them, both graphically and behaviourally. This not only means that obtaining them becomes less fun, but that you never use the earlier ones ever again (except for helping you obtain the high-level monsters' hidden abilities, which you won't get unless you've played it.) It's one area I hope is improved on in the sequel.
Bear in mind that these are two extremely minor flaws. Shadow Hearts is a thoroughly quirky, original, enjoyable RPG. Sure, the battle look and feel resembles Final Fantasy, but it's more complicated than that. The judgement ring is an excellent touch and means you have to actually develop some skill with it rather than just clicking attack, even when your characters are well advance. It makes random battles far more engaging than in FF.
I mentioned original. Sure, people trying to take over the world doesn't sound so original, but that occurs in the first part of the game, is thwarted . . . and the plot then spirals much deeper than that, touching on Chinese mysticism, political affairs, religious dogma, sorcery, blasphemy, and with some very dark, very profound setpieces in it. The secret Doll House, for example, is unsettling and the events revolving around the orphanage are, in parts, horrific.
I sincerely wish I'd played the original Koudelka, but you don't need to to be able to appreciate the nuances of this game. It kept me more engaged than the most recent Final Fantasies and I can't wait for the sequel to arrive in the UK. Poor student though I am, it'll be at the top of my priority list to buy.
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on 8 August 2003
Well, i bought this game through reading reviews and being badgered by some friends who had already played and completed it. I must admit i was a little dubious at first, but once i started playing i could'nt stop!
This game is very dark and tends to focus around demons, vampires and the like ( the hero can transform into monsters).
To counteract this i suppose is the female lead, little Alice Elliot, who you feel at times is a little too good.
The battle system is brilliant! You can choose to attack, use magic and items and of course defend, but instead of that being it you have to stop the marker in the "Judgement Reel" at the right times to make that action successful. If you miss or dont stop it on the marks, the attacks/magics are weaker or miss.
The cinamatics are lovely, especially the introductory sequence, i found myself waiting for the next one.
The music is very dark and oriental and fits the bill perfectly.
There are no voice acting though (except in the cinematics) so during a long converstion your having to relentlessly press the X button to keep the conversation moving.
All in all i loved this game and even though i have completed it i wont sell it. I can play it over and over again!
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on 18 April 2005
Since Squaresoft emalgamated with Enix, there has been a distinct lack of good RPGs. Fortunately, the trend changed with a surprise RPG coming from Midway, perhaps the least likely company to release an RPG.
The story follows a young man named Yuri, who, being guided by some spirit, ends up on a train with a man, Roger Bacon who is attempting to kidnap the herorine, Alice. Deciding to journey together, they realise that Bacon's ambitions are far more sinister than expected, and end up travelling together in order to stop him. Obviously, there are many twists, and instead of giving it all away, i'll just assure you that the storyline is up to scratch.
So whats the game like. The most innovative feature is the inclusion of the judgement ring. As the spinner rotates, you must tap the button at the correct time to unleash the attack, sounds difficult, but really isn't at all. Nice, new and original. Secondly, it is the malice feature. As you battle, you need to quiet the malice growing in you, by going to the graveyard and quieting the malice. This can be a bit annoying if you leave it too long, things get dangerous, and you can only visit the graveyard at the save point. A little silly, but its OK. Third is Yuri's ability to morph into monsters. This is quick, simple, and works well. A nice touch.
Graphically, it feels a bit dated now. However, the FMV is still particulally impressive. Only a few cutscenes, but very good quality ones at that. The graphics for the fighting however, still feel better that Covenant, recently released on the PS2.
The sound, is pretty good. Brooding and foreboding at times, but the voice acting is terrible, as it is with almost every RPG that has ever been released. Not necessarily a criticism of the game, but of RPGs in general.
What hinders this game? For an RPG, its pretty short. 25 hours, shorter than FF7, not as much to do even. However, at the price you can now get this game for, it is well worth picking up a copy and playing through. Its still a great game.
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on 17 March 2004
As RPGs go, there aren't really that many out, compared with other genres, which is why it's always a shame when an RPG gets lost. Shadow Hearts originally came out just before FFX, and got a little lost in the hype.
Shadow Hearts is, very loosely, a sequel to a playstation game called Koudelka. Koudelka had some issues, notably a very lacklustre battle system and no music. It also had a vastly different style of play. Where Koudelka tried to be an RPG Resi Evil (even down to colour-coded doors and keys), Shadow Hearts is much more a traditional RPG.
Having said that, it is rated Mature for a reason; well, actually several. For one, it IS a horror RPG, NOT fantasy, so the monster designs/story can be very disturbing (Cannabalistic demon town covered in blood, anyone?). Two, it features adult undertones between characters (including the rather camp accupuncturist). Three, as has been pointed out, yes, some of the monsters do have very strange ways of attacking (There are also monsters that almost look like naked women. Don't buy it for those, though. They're possibly one of the more disturbing monsters.)
Remember that 'loose' sequel? There is some mention of the original game; Koudelka is in it for about 5 minutes, as is the abbey location. Thats it though, so there's no need to actually play Koudelka.
Ok, back to Shadow Hearts. Any other review will mention the Judgement Ring system. Yes, it is a new-ish idea, if taken a little too far, and wait til you need to pull off someones best spell before saying how easy/difficult it is (Try using Yuris best fusion spell...). It would, to be honest, have been nice to turn off the ring sometimes.. boss battles can get a little repetetive. There's also the sanity point system in place; be careful of what you expect from your characters, or they may go beserk and start indiscriminately using your best items/their best spells. Yuri's Fusion/Malice thing can be a little boring, sadly.
The characters are well thought out and designed, and no-one really should annoy you too much. Margueritte is rather amusing, at the least, even if Yuri is a sexist git (Hey, a game where the main character has character flaws that are GENUINE flaws!). Alice is ye catholique schoolgirle, complete with bible. Keith is .. Keith. Zhuzhen is the most amusing old grumpy git you've ever met. Haley is a too smart for his own good street rat. Plus, the least stereotypical game villain ever, Roger Bacon.
There are the usual Ultimate Armour/Weapon sidequests, plus 2 hidden fusions for Yuri, plus a lottery game which will allow you to get items you can't othewise get. The above mentioned accupuncturist is a weapons upgrade guy, but he gets very expensive. One thing: He can increase the size of the hit areas on your attack ring OR your weapon strength. Upgrading strength decreases hit area, so choose between the 2 carefully. Yuris Fusions are also 'optional' although completing the game without gaining any of them may be quite a challenge. Also, actually getting the fusions is never really difficult. Clearing malice ISN'T optional. Check the Talisman at every save point. You do not want to meet Fox Face/ the reaper. There's an alternate ending, and about 30-50 hours gameplay, depending. You'll never have to run round and level up to face a boss, so that cuts a chunk out. There're a couple of optional dungeons, also.
The graphics are good enough. They don't need to be perfect.
Musics good enough; some places will leave you feeling a little spooked, the (non-demon-infested) towns have happy but not cheesy music.
There is no character customisation, so don't expect it; characters have specific jobs, as per FF4 and 6.
The main reason to play this game is the story, and the story is awesome. Set in an alternate 1914, genuine historical events are hinted at alongside the more fantastic elements. Don't expect much happiness; locations include a home for orphans of the early 1900's style, an insane asylum, a burnt out abbey, a haunted house, a vampires castle, a town of human-eating-demons.. Without giving away too much story, a man calling himself Roger Bacon decides he needs Alice to summon the end of the world. Your job is to stop him, and many of his side-plans too. Bits take place in China and Europe; the chinese section fetures the army trying to kill you in the mistaken belief you brutally murdered some soldiers. Yuri's backstory is central to the plot, so try to find as much of it as you can.
All in all, a much better game than the almost formulaic FFX, and one that deserves more fame.
Watch for the next Shadow Hearts, rumoured to be in production now!
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on 31 July 2008
Although a new series,this is a pseudo sequel to the brilliant Koudelka on the original Playstation,a sequel in as much as Koudelka pops up about half way through,You play Yuri Hyuga a Harmonixer,capable of transforming into a number of beasts each with elemental powers,your goal is to stop an evil sorceror called Dehuai although his demise half way through the game leads to a great plot twist.
The combat is done using the Judgement Ring,you have to stop the spinning needle in zones as it spins,the power you do is based on your precision,they have step zones and critical zones,it's used for everything including item usage but it never gets boring,
The graphics are dated now looking only a bit like a hi-res playstation game but they're suitably atmospheric and the monster design is great,a tradition used in all SH games and Koudelka,
Overall a very good and unique RPG which if it has any flaws are/were ironed out in it's fantastic sequel(s).
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on 14 November 2013
I honestly don't know how people have missed this game as it is extremely unique and enjoyable.
Using a unique ring system this RPG I believe goes beyond the norm of the genre, and uses historical events as a back drop to the game itself while throwing in a occult, demonic and mystical twist.

Following Yuri, a young man with demonic powers, he discovers that someone is trying to remake the world and with the help of some more unique characters he picks up a very interesting and enjoyable story, though managing to keep a dark edge along with humor to that story.
The only downside I would say to this was that there are hardly any voices in the game, apart from those in the few cut scenes in the game and the mysterious voice that leads Yuri through the story, but once you get into it you wont really be all that bothered with it as it has some nice background music which offsets the lack of voice acting nicely.
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