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Shadow Heart avatar 9:50 AM on 02.11.2014  (server time)
Shadow Hearts: A Niche JRPG Series That Kept the Flame Alive For Genre Fans

Let me make my first blog post on destructoid by saying....

I agree with Jim Sterling

I have been playing RPG's of both tabletop flavor and video game flavor since I was a young nerdling. I never proclaimed to have a preference for either as I grew up in the era when both varieties of RPGdom had there heyday, and for a time, particularly in the late 90's when they both shared the stage equally. I give to you two fine and well known examples of that:

Baldur's Gate and Final Fantasy VII

Both of the games are considered to be some of the very best in class, and more than well known to the destructoid and broader gaming audience as a whole. But what about some of those unsung heroes that followed these titans of RPG goody goodness? For the JRPG crowd....there was plenty to choose from coming from the ps1 generation and into the ps2 era, but one such title really came as a welcome surprise for me and many fans.

Shadow Hearts

This was a real breathe of gothic, goofy, quirky, and occasionally fetid air (and I say that with all the dorky otakuness I can muster. 

I was initially turned off by the seemingly wacky characters and designs that seemed to clash with the really sincere and earnestly dark gothic art and atmosphere this game was going for as it was set, loosely, in an alternative version of our own real world history (with significant historical liberties I might add). But I found, and seemingly many others who gave this early PS2 gem a chance, a world you could easily get lost in, in so much as an JRPG of it's vintage could do.

Here is a short video overview giving you a taste of the overall game play for this old school gem. It really does have a rich atmosphere for something dating back to the early 2000's on ps2.

Turn Based Mechanics Aren't Evil! (But I did Enjoy This Fresh Take on Them.)

And I still do for that matter! 

This game introduced a turn based battle mechanic that I continually found engaging and rewarding through all 3 games of this series. They called it the "Judgement Ring" and it annoyed me at first, but then when I got the hang of it, I found it to be one of my favorite implementations of turn based mechanics in quite some time. 

Basically it is a timing turn based battle system where a ring would appear after you select an action, and there will be one, two, three, or more "wedges of varying size that you need to hit in order to either land a strike or to complete a larger attack or "spell". The very tiny end tail end slices of each of these wedges could be hit for maximum damage or impact, and the more powerful the attack, the smaller the wedge and strike zone become. This can be mitigated and altered depending upon equipment and item buffs, along with leveling up as per your typical JRPG. 

The speed in which the cursor moves over the ring can also be adjusted through these equipment and item changes, in addition to spells or consumable items that can also alter timings to your advantage. This can also work in the reverse as status effects and ailments can also hinder you by greatly shrinking the wedges of the ring or making the cursor spin so fast as to make hitting anything far more difficult (but fair). Here is a typical, non spoiler example of typical combat:

The Characters. As with most JRPG's, It Often Comes Down to Characters (although not always). 

Yuri, the main character and protagonist, is a harmonixer who absorbs and fuses the souls of the enemies he fights for new abilities and stats. This is a fairly common mechanic found in most JRPG's and I feel it's done quite well with this series.

I have found this to be really satisfying when combined with the timing based judgement ring mechanic. It keeps things varied and fresh enough, and made for some fun boss encounters as well. The other characters are your typical wacky sidekicks, but I found them to be particularly memorable none the less.

But really, what stands out is the the genuinely funny and witty dialogue that plays out, and the banter back and forth between characters, which for many JRPG's can be more than bit groan inducing, but if done right, can really elevate an RPG. I also enjoyed all the small nods and references to the original game in the two sequels. Yuri and Alice have a really touching back and forth, and the romance angle isn't too overbearing but just right.


This RPG series has it's roots going back into the PS1 era with with it's spiritual precursor, Koudelka, which itself was a turn based RPG that few new about or played, despite being a very flawed but enjoyable RPG with the same gothic and alterna-world overtones as its more successful spiritual sequels.

Audible Splendor

The soundtrack for this game, and really the whole series as a whole is just beautiful, and I think, rates among the very best the JRPG genre has to offer. Yoshitaka Hirota is the series primary composer with various other small contributions from other talented artists. However, what initially had me look at the first game's soundtrack, beyond digging the music as I played the game, as the fact that some of these tunes had a very "world music" and familiar sound and I soon found out why. 

One of my favorite all time composers, Yasunori Mitsuda (famed composer of the Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross games) contributed to the overall sound of the soundtrack to the first game and contributed some of his own fantastic tracks. He really brought the music to another level. There is more music to love than I could possibly fit in this post but I will share the theme, and some of my favorites!

The Shadow Hearts Main Theme:

Track Name: Sphere Qu 

Track Name: Callback From Jesus

I could go on for awhile about this wonderful game and series as whole. I have been playing games, and RPG's in particular since the NES days, and this series truly has stayed with me. I love all three games, and feel the second game, Shadow Hearts: covenant, is the series high point. Do yourself a favor and pick these up if you can, the first game is becoming harder to find and is steadily climbing in price, so don't miss out!

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