Shadow Hearts: Covenant
Shadow Hearts: Covenant offers a nice twist on the role-playing genre, blending a fascinating and darkly brooding plot with the occasional and very bizarre dark humor while throwing in an interesting twist to the genre's weakest point 'fighting.
The game takes place about a half year after its predecessor as World War I is gaining steam. Karin Koenig is sent with a squad of German soldiers to capture the village of Domremy, but before they can a demon appears and decimates the unit. The demon turns out to be Yuri Hyuga, the star of the first game. The game steadily progresses from there, having you take on the role of Koenig, a cardinal named Nicholai and once again Yuri as you battle through the twisting plot of this 40 hour RPG. The game actually comes on two discs and is packed with beautifully rendered cut scenes and a plot that is as interesting as it is entertaining.
What makes the game most interesting though, is its use of the judgment ring. The judgment ring is basically a big circle broken up into wedges that represent your chances of success. In combat, for instance, once you select your attack a hand spins around the ring and if you stop it in the colored wedge you hit your opponent. If you stop it in a much smaller red wedge you deal extra damage. If you stop it in the non-colored remains of the ring you miss. This ring system ends up playing a huge role in the game. It's used to perform magic, help you haggle for items and use special abilities. You can also modify the ring, changing the number and size of the wedges to increase the number of attacks or your chances of landing in them. It's a unique system that does a lot to make this game a pleasure to play. I typically go into button pushing mode when I play the typical turn-based fighting system employed in most RPGs. By the time I work my way all the way through the game I usually hate the fighting. But in this game, the fighting has become one of the better parts of the game.
The game really pushes the Playstation 2's graphic engine to its limits, delivering up rich atmospheres, varied locations and breath taking cut scenes. The music too, is a pleasure, making the game more enjoyable rather than irritating, as do most soundtracks for overly long RPGs.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant is a pleasure to play, giving RPG fans something new to sink their teeth into and video game fans in general a reason to return to the fading genre.