May 2, 2007

Shadow Hearts: Covenant

I just finished playing Shadow Hearts: Covenant, after about sixty hours of gameplay which is a little bit longer than I was expecting. But I ended up trying to find all of the best items and completing all of the sidequests, so the total time actually isn't that surprising. Covenant continues the story of Shadow Hearts, with Yuri continuing his role as protagonist. In fact, the storyline is very much a continuation, with characters and motivations from the first game carrying over into the second.

Overall, this sequel is an improvement in all aspects over the first game. Both technically and in terms of the story and gameplay. I'll start with the combat system, since that's probably where most of the time is spent. The introduction of combination chain attacks, different elemental physical and magical attack types, and useful auxiliary spells makes combat fun and strategically interesting. This is a much needed improvement over the combat system of the first game, where it was almost mechanical.

The judgement ring serves the same combat purpose in Covenant, but there are some customizations available depending on how you like to play. I preferred the "technical" setting, which makes hitting the correct areas a little harder and the punishment for missing a little more severe, but also allows for very nice combination attacks if you get good at it.

The graphics are also much improved. Character polygon counts are much higher and rendered and FMV scenes allow you to get right up to the characters and environments without things looking blocky. Motion capture, or careful animation work, is applied to all characters and monsters so that different movements are possible. This makes things look much better during predefined animation sequences, and also during combat since the different types of attacks can result in different enemy and character motions.

Another great thing about the graphics this time is that enemies don't always turn into crazy monsters or ghosts. Fighting a human actually involves fighting a human. Many monsters look more realistically physical, rather than spiritual manifestations, like snails or giant insects. Of course, demon possession and other magical or spiritual transformation still takes place, but in a much more accepting manner.

The music is also better overall, although I still found the music too repetitive in many cases. Especially for combat. I would have liked more variety in music as I travelled between different places and entered combat in different places. But the music seems to be limited by disc. So the music you encounter changes once you get to disc two, but then you're still restricted to the portion of the disc which was alloted for music.

A lot of the problems I mentioned in my earlier post for Shadow Hearts are resolved in Covenant. I didn't have to deal with not enough of a particular accessory, forcing me to keep swapping out accessories between characters. And the only time you ran into enemies that you really couldn't defeat without knowing ahead of time their special attacks or weaknesses was in special battles, where generally a loss would be okay and you could try again.

I did really like how the plot continues from the first game, and also continues the trend of not really having evil antagonists (for the most part) but instead simply people with different viewpoints about how they want to change the world. Although there are a few times when insanity or just plain evil surface, due to humans losing control or great tragedy befalling them, for the most part. Regardless, if you liked Shadow Hearts, you'll like Covenant a lot more.

I'm looking forward to the next one, Shadow Hearts: From the New World, but Luna says she wants to play that one. So I'll probably end up watching most of the time, so I don't miss out on the story. But because of how Covenant ended, it looks like FtNW won't have any direct connection.

Posted by josuah at May 2, 2007 4:58 AM UTC+00:00

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