Release Date: 9/27/2004
Also Available On: PS2 Exclusive
The Good: Engaging story, ring system fully immerses the player in the combat, fun and frequent boss fights, memorable characters, crest magic allows everyone to use magic
The Bad: Random battles are really annoying, maze like levels are down right frustrating, poor pacing, spotty voice acting, some level grinding is required to finish the final boss, acquiring abilities by fighting certain people and talking means you end up missing them
Shadow Hearts is a JRPG that is all about politics and religion, of course what JRPG isn't? Covenant has a very interesting story with memorable characters, however the pacing is a bit off. You play as Yuri, a young man stricken with a curse called the Mistletoe. This locks out his inner powers inside his heart and you are trying to find a cure for it. Along the way you meet many people with various abilities for combat. The story is a bit involved and complicated, but it is interesting. I could try to explain it, but it would take nearly 3-4 paragraphs just to do that.
Some scenes can be a bit weird and kinky
Let's start with the combat. Shadow Hearts uses a ring system where a needle spins around a ring and you press X when it falls in the yellow and red areas. Each character has different sized hit areas and different amounts. You want to try to get it in the red which is a strike zone which does extra damage, but it can be hard because some character's strike zones are small 2 pixel slivers. You can acquire expansions for these areas and you can customize your ring. Once you get good you can increase the amount of hit areas, but they become smaller. This ring is used for everything from items, special attacks, and magic. In Shadow Hearts you can do combos with characters by watching your battle turns at the top. Use a four player combo and you can do massive damage and special combo magic attacks. One thing I really like in this game is that you aren't stuck with specific characters that only do magic. Everyone can do it because you use magic crests which have different magic attacks that are both offensive and defensive. Some character just have more MP than others. This means your heavy hitter can also cast Raise Up without compromising anything.
Covenant is mainly comprised of boss battles. They are very frequent, but are the most fun in the game. Each is different, some are weak to combos, special attacks only, some are just weak to physical damage. However, the ring system makes you solely responsible for whether or not attacks hit or miss. If you don't focus and miss part of the ring you don't attack. This also makes the combat more engaging because you aren't just flipping through menus. Yuri has an ability to switch between fusion forms which are elementals. This allows you to target a weakness on the fly. However, everybody has SP which are sanity points and deplete with each turn. When you run out characters go berserk and JRPG players know that is not a good thing. You have to use Pure items to restore these points, but this only becomes an issue early in the game. Once you level up enough you get enough SP that it won't run out before a boss battle is over.
Blanca's Wolf Bout side quest isn't worth finishing
The amount of grinding in the game is minimal. Since you mostly fight bosses you get globs of XP all the time, so just from bosses alone you can get to level 40. There are random battles but they aren't as frequent as most JRPGs, but they still exist. Random battles are the single thing that keep me away from these games. It is lazy game design and just needs to end. There are puzzles in the game which can be kind of challenging, but the mazes are frustrating. Running around trying different combos on different floors is just a nightmare. Partner this with random battles and you are bound to toss your controller a few times.
There are side quests, but they are pretty weak and not really worth it. You usually just get items for it or armor, but these armors can be bought later on, usually just after the next boss fight or two. A lot of the character's abilities have to be learned from fighting people in the game or finding them which I found irritating. I'd rather just learn them from leveling up. Karin's sword arts are found by talking to certain people so if you miss them then your special attacks will always be weak, not fun. Besides all that this is a more tolerable JRPG, even people like me who hate them will enjoy this game.
Early on Karin acquires her first powerful weapon
The graphics at the time were good, and there is a nice art style here. The CGI cut scenes are nice, but there aren't enough of them. The voice acting is spotty where a couple of characters sound good, but the rest sound like cheesy high school students in a play. That is usually expected in English versions of JRPGs, especially back then. I would play this game for the story and fun boss fights. Skip all the side quest crap and just finish the story. There's nothing worth while in spending 20 extra hours for some items.