Shadow Hearts
PlayStation 2
Reviewed: 06/26/2006

Shadow Hearts is a unique RPG whose superb story, mature themes, and great battle system make it an excellant addition to an RPG collection.

Shadow Hearts‘ story focuses on Yuri and Alice. Yuri is a man who has the power to transform into demonic creatures, and Alice is a woman hunted by those who want to use her powers. The story is much different from the average RPG story. It is set in the early 1900s, in a pre-World War I alternate history. It features incredibly dark themes, a morbid sense of humor, and engaging characters. The story is certainly a high point of the game, as it manages to stay entertaining throughout. The plot also manages to discuss some topics that aren’t frequently brought up in games, but to list them here would be to spoil the game.

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Come on, who doesn’t get a perfect?

Shadow Hearts‘ combat centers around the “Judgement Ring,” a circle that appears every time a character attacks, uses an item, or casts magic. It allows players to time their button presses to achieve more attacks and better damage by hitting a red zone at the end of each hit zone on the ring. The Judgement Ring helps to make interesting what would otherwise have been a very standard battle system.

This ring also becomes involved in some out-of-battle interaction, which makes the gameplay system even more interesting. That said, players who don’t enjoy time-based button presses in their RPGs should look elsewhere, as it is a huge part of Shadow Hearts.

Another large part of the game is Yuri’s ability to fuse into demonic creatures. As the game progresses and players defeat more monsters, the souls of the defeated gather in a sort of alternate reality graveyard that Yuri can access. These souls then gather into fusion monsters that Yuri can fight and defeat to gain their powers. However, as Yuri becomes stronger, the monsters build up malice against him, and soon players have to defeat the malice’s manifestation or else the results could be dire. This allows for a great amount of character development with Yuri, along with all the other characters.

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Yuri suddenly realized the problem his addiction had become.

In fact, it is the characters in Shadow Hearts that truly make the game great. The game manages to make all the characters truly unique, and players will soon care for each and every one of them. Few games can claim to have truly engaging characters, and this is one of them. Yuri especially stands out due to the extreme amount of development his character undergoes.

Graphically, Shadow Hearts is average. The characters themselves look great, but many of the backgrounds are dull or very blurred. There are a few high quality CG sequences, but other than that few things stand out graphically.

The soundtrack of Shadow Hearts is fairly good. The music catches the dark mood of the game quite well, and there are a few tracks that really stand out. Sound effects are quite good too. The voice acting could certainly be better, but it is featured so few times that it never becomes a problem.

Shadow Hearts is in the small class of games that manages to remain interesting and involving throughout. The characters are fantastic, the story is superb, and the battle system is incredible. It’s a game that any RPG fan who doesn’t mind the “mature themes” should possess.

-Joseph Wartick

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Excellent
Story Excellent
Graphics Average
Sound/Music Very Good
Replay Value Good
The Verdict: 8