Now that the the floodgates have opened and the PlayStation 2 is adrift in RPGs, Sacnoth has decided to add another drop to the bucket. The developer behind Koudelka has created a new RPG, Shadow Hearts, which has two features that are very unusual for console RPGs: it's set in the real world, and it has a plot that continues from the previous game in the series (the afore-mentioned Koudelka). Complementing these intriguing twists are the improvements in gameplay and graphics that are sure to make Shadow Hearts a memorable RPG experience.
Shadow Hearts follows the wanderings of Yuri, a man who can shapeshift into the forms of different animals. While riding on a train to China, Yuri witnesses the attempted kidnapping of Alice by the nefarious Englishman Roger Bacon. Bacon wants to kidnap Alice, the daughter of a famous exorcist, in order to use her powers to summon dark powers. Yuri interferes and escapes with Alice, and much adventuring ensues.
Shadow Hearts' battle system boasts many improvements over Koudelka. The game has active-time battles, similar to pre-Final Fantasy X Final Fantasy games. Attacks have timed button presses, similar to Final Fantasy VIII's gunblades. The success of attacks is based upon a timing wheel with a constant rate of rotation, where the player stops the mark upon the wheel to determine the effectiveness of the attack. Up to four hits can be achieved during every attack, so learning to use this wheel is crucial.
Magic also has its own little twist. Instead of the traditional "magic points," characters have "sanity points." Each magical attack or monster transformation consumes sanity points, and when these run out, the character goes berserk, attacking friend and foe alike.
According to the developers, the exploration and field graphics are going to be highly detailed and true to the time and place settings of the game. Early-1900's Europe and China are both featured and are presented with prerendered backgrounds in the fashion of Final Fantasy VII.
In RPGamer's recent interview with Brian Lowe, producer for the game, Mr. Lowe compared the game's atmosphere to that of classic horror stories. "As combat ensues, the inhabitants change into monsters best described as H.P. Lovecraft's worst vision - hideous monsters, powerful beings, and 'things' from 'other worlds.' Think Call of Cthulu and you get the picture." H.P. Lovecraft's stories often painted pictures of menacing supernatural evil lurking under the surface of the everyday world, and clearly Shadow Hearts intends to follow in that spirit.
The horrifyingly enjoyable-looking Shadow Hearts will be terrifyingly shipped to innocent, unsuspecting stores by a frightening December 12 with a petrifyingly low MSRP of $49.99US, just in time for some heart-stopping last minute holiday shopping.