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Analoge avatar 7:45 AM on 05.25.2009  (server time)
Object Obscura: Shadow Hearts Covenant

[In the spirit of new people trying to fit in and be cool, I have decided to announce a new, semi-regular segment of my bloggy bloggy blog. In it, I will tell you about cool games that you probably haven't heard of.]

Shadow Hearts Covenant

Today, I would like to tell you about an awesome and, for the most part, overlooked RPG that came out for the PS2 called Shadow Hearts Covenant. Now, when you hear that title, I'm sure you're thinking you're in for a faux badass, one-winged wankfest (and the fact that it was produced by Midway, of all people, doesn't help things), but hear me out. This game is one of the quirkiest, funniest, and most truly original games I've ever played.

At first glance, this is a typical JRPG. It has all the trappings: Loner main character that can change into different monsters, tough chick/love interest with a rapier, and the term "Fusion System"; but once you get into a battle, you'll see that the battle system is different from other JRPG's, and not in a convoluted, Unlimited Saga kind of way. Whatever action you choose, a ring comes up. a line starts going around the ring and you must press X to stop the line on the right part of the ring (for attacks, a large green area for a regular hit and a small red area for critical). You can customize your ring by finding certain items in treasure chests and around the world that enlarge your green or red areas, or by finding the Ring Soul, a spirit that shows up in random corners of the world and gives you an item to add a new hit area to a character's attack ring (the ring soul takes his job very seriously, and it always results in hilarious dialog from Yuri (the shapeshifting protagonist) and other characters who either don't go along with his spiel or straight out make fun of him).

But the battle system is not the only thing that's different from generic JRPG's. Each character has a unique system of gaining new moves and making old ones more powerful. For example, to improve Yuri's different forms, you must go to a save point and choose "graveyard" from a menu. This is a strange world inside of Yuri, that you use to spend the soul points that you get from defeating enemies. These are used to unlock new forms and new moves for existing forms. This is pretty deep system, and while not all of the forms available (there are many) will be useful to you, it gives you a pretty wide berth to customize. Next is Blanca, the white wolf. To upgrade Blanca, you have to find wolves (either in dungeons or in towns) and initiate the "Wolf Bout", a worldwide tournament for wolves. Once you've found a wolf you haven't fought before, a small scene will begin where Blanca and the other wolf talk a little trash (the only opportunity you get to hear Blanca say anything besides "Awroo!"), then they fight, and if you win the other wolf stamps your Wolf Bout card with his paw, and you get a new move. For Gepetto, the puppetmaster with a living puppet girl, you get new moves (actually, different elemental versions of the same move) by getting new outfits for your puppet girl. Now the best part! To get the new outfits you have to find stud cards, which are these trading cards of burly dudes with different jobs, like Mr. Sommelier who wears nothing except for a big grin and a bottle of wine that he's holding very strategically. The item description includes descriptions of each stud, including little blurbs by the studs themselves that are too funny for words. So, what do I do with these cards, you ask? Well, you give them to a gay guy in exchange for a child's dress, of course! This might need a bit more explanation. Se, there's these two guys who have a wagon and travel around the world named Pierre and Gerrard. These are the most ridiculously gay characters that have ever appeared in a video game. They show up in every town you go to and make hilarious passes at Yuri, which he awkwardly avoids. Pierre buys and sells items (the ring comes into play here as well, as you can get a bigger and bigger discount for hitting spots on the ring that get smaller and smaller), and Gerard is a fashion designer and tailor who, oddly enough, has a penchant bordering on fanatacism for (you guessed it) stud cards!

There are other characters who, sadly are not as interesting or useful as the handful I've already mentioned, but I've saved the best for last. His name is Joachim. He's a vampire/professional wrestler/superhero, and I have a total man crush on him. He uses a system called "Joachythms", which imitate biorythms in that from battle to battle you have a chance for Joachim to turn into either a golden bat, which has very little HP and defense, and can't use any of Joachim's awesome special attacks, but does have phenomenal attack power, Invisible Joachim, who has regular attack power but can't be hit, or Grand Pappillion (Joachim's superhero alter-ego with an awesome theme song) who has higher attack power than Joachim and wears a cool butterfly mask. Speaking of special attacks, Joachim learns new ones by finding his mentor, the famous wandering pro wrestler, The Great Gamma and defeating him in increasingly difficult battles. As far as weapons go, Joachim uses huge blunt objects, such as lockers and giant frozen tuna, which he finds in various places throughout the world. When he finds these mundane objects, he makes up an awesome backstory out of thin air, such as turning a giant pipe into a makeshift home for kittens, then picks it up and comments on how valiant and noble the pipe is as he walks away with a tear in his eye.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that the whole game is set during WWI? No, well this game, with it's relatively generic JRPG plotline, including giant crab monsters and steampunk-esque robots, it's typical JRPG badguys (one of which is Grigory Rasputin!!!), and it's ridiculous plot about a man who can fuse souls with dead people is set in WWI-era Europe, Russia, and Japan. It makes for a really great fusion of real world settings and fantasy settings that you don't see very often in RPGs. Another one of the best parts of Shadowhearts 2 is that you don't need to have played the first Shadowhearts. In fact, every time backstory is necessary, it's given to us by Yuri in a series of cutscenes which I assume are meant to represent Yuri's actual memories of the events. This includes Yuri's narration played over poorly drawn crayon drawings of what Yuri is explaning, accompanied by a small box in the bottom right corner where the original cutscene from the first Shadowhearts is played. It's done quite well.

Needless to say, if you like RPGs I can't reccomend Shadow Hearts Covenant to you enough, and you can probably still find it at Gamestop. Enough said.

Marcel, the largest sommelier in the world.
“After 200 pushups, I can taste the full-bodied effort,” says the wine analyst popular with amateur tasters.

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