Despite being one of the more underappreciated game series out there, Shadow Hearts has built a strong and loyal following of RPG aficionados. Darker and more forbidding than most with an amazingly unique battle mechanic, the games thrive on engaging gameplay and casts of kooky and diverse characters. It may not have the tremendous glitz and glamour found in other big-budget titles, but its appeal is undeniable.


The original spawned a small fanbase and modest critical acclaim, and the second (Covenant) took a big step forward and landed several award nominations in 2004. Whereas Shadow Hearts: Covenant took place in World War II Europe, Shadow Hearts: From the New World continues the historical tradition by putting the player in the 1930s, and you will visit locations throughout North and South America. The stage is set for another fantastic role-playing experience, but does the series take another step...or will it be a step backwards?

The visuals in Shadow Hearts have never dazzled, and they've never been a major focal point. The best that can be said about From the New World is that the game is graphically very solid, and slightly superior to previous installments. Each area, from New York to Rio de Janeiro, exhibits a fair amount of detail with a heavy dose of old-fashioned charm. There is some graininess and jagged edges, but overall, there's a nice array of color and artistic impression.


The zany characters, so often associated with the franchise, are well designed and unique enough to be memorable. The cast frequently stands out against the backdrops, which is both a positive and a negative, and most fans will appreciate the effort put into the character design. There are a few impressive cinemas in the game to go along with the above-average cut-scenes, so all in all, there isn't much to complain about. However, it won't be remembered for the graphics.

P L E A S E V I S I T O U R S P O N S O R :

The sound revolves around voice acting that ranges from cheesy to touching, and includes a few laughable moments coupled with surprisingly impressive tidbits. There's a crew of veteran voice actors behind these characters, and the voices do provide a great deal of personality for each party member. The sound effects in battle tend to override the battle music, but they remain clear and powerful, while the soundtrack is mostly average. Depending on how much you enjoy the hectic combat music and the voices of your favorite characters, this category score may change for you, but as it is, From the New World is simply "good."


When it comes right down to it, Shadow Hearts lives and dies with its most appealing feature- the Judgment Ring. The Ring is used for battle, but it's also used in other aspects of the game, including purchasing items and the Lottery. The Ring is an ingenious gameplay mechanic that requires precision and timing, and also opens the door for a huge variety of options. It may seem simple on the surface, but the more you play, the more you realize just how diverse it can be.

When you select a command, you must carry it out via the Ring. If you select an attack - your options are Standard, Hard Hit, High Angle, or Knockdown - the Ring will appear and a thin bar will start to spin clockwise. As it passes over the "Hit" areas, designated in orange, and the much narrower "Strike" areas, designated in red, you hit the "X" button. Depending on how many Attack Boosts are on your Ring, denoting how many times you can attack, you must hit these areas in succession. "Hits" are simple hits while "Strikes" hit for more damage. Missing means the attack is negated.


Magical attacks and Special Abilities are carried out in similar fashions, except there are green "Step" areas that you must hit before the "Hit" - this time shown in blue - and the "Strike," which is red again. If you miss any of the Steps, you cannot complete the command, and stronger spells and abilities can cause up to 4 Steps to appear. Now, the Ring can be customized to change the number of attacks, a special attribute (Apathy, Poison, Paralysis, Instant Death, etc.), and the player may also change the type of Ring.

A Normal Ring means if you miss a Hit area during an attack, any Hits or Strikes you made before the miss will still be carried out. For example, if Shania can attack four times, and you hit with each of the first three but miss with the fourth, she will still attack three times. If you switch to the Technical Ring, however, any miss means the entire turn will be negated, but the flip side is you will do 1.5x the amount of damage with every hit. There is also a Practice and Gambler Ring to experiment with, if you are so inclined.


In addition to the typical status abnormalities your characters can suffer, the Ring can also suffer abnormalities. Enemies can inflict you with Fast Ring and Reverse Ring (does exactly what it says), and the more evil Invisible Ring and Fickle Ring. These are things that make combat all the more challenging, because missing on the Ring means sacrificing commands, and those kind of mistakes can pile up quickly.

During battle, you can also attempt Combos, Doubles, and Double Combos. Combos string character attacks together, but you must take into account the angle of the enemy vs. the angle of your attack. For instance, if you begin a combo with a normal attack from Johnny, the enemy remains on the ground, and Hilda would not be able to use some of her Magical Arts, which require an enemy to be airborne to succeed. The good news is that the game will tell you if your chosen command will work, if the enemy's box appears blue, it will hit, if it appears red, it will miss.


Doubles are for an individual character and allows them to move twice in one turn. You won't be able to move again for quite some time, so there is a trade-off, but they can be very useful. The Stock Gauge, a new addition to the Shadow Hearts series, dictates all of your combos and doubles; it's a bar that fills as you do battle. The higher the Stock, the more turns you can string together, but be wary: enemies can do the same thing. All in all, the Judgment Ring has been refined and nearly perfected, so this is the biggest reason to play From the New World.

There isn't a great deal of exploring because each area has a very set path, and although you can revisit any area previously visited whenever you wish, it's still quite limited. Items and equipment are found just laying around the towns and dungeons, along with the normal chests, and you will soon find yourself constantly pressing the "X" button along all the walls and in every corner to ensure you don't miss anything.


If you get hooked on the Judgment Ring, you'll want to tackle every side-quest and extra mission, moving the game from 25-35 hours to well over 50. Per tradition, each character has a specific quest that generally rewards you with their ultimate weapon, armor, accessory, or ability, and they also represent most of the challenge in the game. Unfortunately, if you're a Ring master and you take full advantage of the Stock system, it's unlikely you'll have too much difficulty beating the game. However, getting erratic with the Ring and moving through unprepared is absolutely fatal, so the adventure is hardly a walk in the park.

Finally, magic is done by utilizing Stellars and Stellar Charts. A Stellar is a spell, either a Healing type (Cure, Heal), Support (Gale, Mirage, Shield, etc.), or Attack (Red Bounce, Rock Javelin, Evil Servant, Bright Crest, etc.). The Stellar is placed in an individual node in a selected Chart, and this is where you can begin to customize. Each node can be increased in level; if you have a Lv. 3 Stellar and only a Lv. 1 node, you need to make a change. And you can even change the element of the node (from Earth to Holy, for example), if you wish to equip a different Stellar. However, making these changes requires money, so plan ahead. It's a well-done system and nicely implemented.


The biggest difference in the third installment is in the atmosphere; while the original and Covenant were decidedly dark, in both presentation and environment, From the New World is brighter and not quite as serious. Furthermore, the main character - a 16-year-old boy detective named Johnny Garland - is a far cry from previous protagonists, as he's closer to your quintessential teenage video game hero, and that, in my opinion, is a step back. The story isn't nearly as well fleshed out, either, but than again, Covenant didn't get good until far too late.


The pacing seems a little off in this one as well; there's a great deal of "dungeon crawling" through much of the middle of the game, and you won't find much besides some tedious puzzles and a ton of enemies. But again, if the Ring is exactly your cup of tea, you won't mind in the least. One major bonus is in the characters, and while it's almost entirely subjective, there is a good deal of humorous interaction and high-spirited conversation. This big positive almost outweighs the less-than-engaging storyline and problematic pacing...almost.

Your quest will take you to some very historic locations in the Americas, and you will become well acquainted with each colorful character. From the beautiful yet vengeful Shania to the talking cat named Mao (get it?) who uses Drunken Fist martial arts; there are many different ways to form your party and go about conquering the evil Lady and her cohort, Killer. One major secret helps the plot quite a bit, and if you can't find a single interesting character, you're not all that interested in RPGs.


Overall, Shadow Hearts: From the New World is not the same caliber game as its predecessor, but the Judgment Ring solidifies a very worthwhile experience. You'll laugh a bit, get a glimpse of how the Americas once looked, watch a zany group of characters interact, and possibly enjoy a decent yet somewhat underwhelming story. But I repeat- the game lives and dies with that Ring. If you love it, you'll love the game, and thanks to its wonderful refinement and implementation, it's got a good chance of landing even more fans. Just remember, it can be wildly addictive...

Ben S. Dutka
Staff Writer, Kikizo




Shadow Hearts: From the New World is out now in Japan and North America. Midway, publisher of the first two tiutles in Europe, currently has no plans for the release of this game. Thanks to the fine people at RPGamer for the screenshos we have stolen for this review.







T H E S C O R E S

Graphics


Sound


Gameplay


Depth


Presentation


Overall

8.2


7.5


9.0


8.5


8.1


8.4

The Final Word: From the New World is not an award-contender like Covenant, but thanks to that unique and massively entertaining Ring, the gameplay is top-notch. The story isn't all that memorable, despite a nice little twist and dash of real emotion at the end, but the characters are humorous and likeable...well, most of them. The challenge depends on the player's skill, in both reflexes and preparation, and in the end, the entire adventure is very entertaining. A must-buy for Shadow Hearts fans, a must-try for any RPG fan, at least worth a look for anybody else.

Shadow Hearts: From the New World is the 3rd entry into this Traditional Japanese RPG Series. The 4th game developed by Aruze, which is comprised of ex Square employes. Let's see how it stacks up.

The Shadow Hearts series is one of my personal favorites, and a special thanks must be givin to newcomer XSEED game's who localized and published it in the States after the original publisher Midway, pulled out.

This series continues to take place in the early 1900's, a period that is rarely depicted in games. While the last 2 games focused on the east, this game focuses on the west, that being North and South America. Their is no overworld, so you'll travel from place to place via an onscreen map. Gamplay is traditional here, you'll find yourself leveling up, traveling from town to town, talking to people, battling, advancing the story, rinse and repeat. Thankfully though, this series has always had a few innovative quarks that spice things up, thankfully, this continues in this installment.

I never get to deep into stories with my reviews, and I wont budge here, the story is the most important part of any game and you should fully discover that yourself. I will say that as with previous installments, this game continues with the very strange and unique style fans of the series have grown to love. All of the characters are lovable with one exception (this explained in the negatives) all having their own strange, unique personalities that helps add to the atmosphere and fun of the game.

The battle system is fantastic as is to be expected, using the same judgment ring system established in the previous games. For those uninclined, the judgment ring system is used throughout the game to execute characters actions, such as determining the effectiveness of attacks or spells. The judgment ring is a spherical ring with a rotating bar that spins and must be stopped, their are areas on the ring that indicate different levels of effectiveness, after hitting these areas, the command is carried out. The Judgement ring is used in battles, shops and many other situations.

The graphics are great, but I don't believe their are good as Shadow Hearts: 2 (it's been a while since I played that though) and the Music, done by Yoshitaka Hirota is fantastic, evoking similar feelings I had playing the first 2 games. XSEED also did a fantastic localizing the game, both in the text translation and the voice acting.

Their is one glairing negative that I mentioned above. Every character is unique, every character has something interesting about them that is lovable...except the very character that needs it the most, the main one. The last 2 games stared Yuri, Yuri was a somewhat normal guy, but he was cool, you could easily identify with him, but this new guy (Jhonny) is as plain as they get, it got to the point where I actually started to hate him. The main character should represent the person playing a game, it should be someone who you can identify with, someone you like. Well, how is one suppose to identify with someone so normal, so unengaging. This plainness is multiplied even more by how cool everyone else is. I think Aruze kind of dropped the ball on this.

In conclusion, the new Shadow Hearts game lives up to the expectations fans have made for it, and while I personally don't think it's as good as Shadow Hearts 2, it's certainly worth playing by both fans of the series and fans of console RPG's.

Shadow Hearts: From the New World is the 3rd entry into this Traditional Japanese RPG Series. The 4th game developed by Aruze, which is comprised of ex Square employes. Let's see how it stacks up.

The Shadow Hearts series is one of my personal favorites, and a special thanks must be givin to newcomer XSEED game's who localized and published it in the States after the original publisher Midway, pulled out.

This series continues to take place in the early 1900's, a period that is rarely depicted in games. While the last 2 games focused on the east, this game focuses on the west, that being North and South America. Their is no overworld, so you'll travel from place to place via an onscreen map. Gamplay is traditional here, you'll find yourself leveling up, traveling from town to town, talking to people, battling, advancing the story, rinse and repeat. Thankfully though, this series has always had a few innovative quarks that spice things up, thankfully, this continues in this installment.

I never get to deep into stories with my reviews, and I wont budge here, the story is the most important part of any game and you should fully discover that yourself. I will say that as with previous installments, this game continues with the very strange and unique style fans of the series have grown to love. All of the characters are lovable with one exception (this explained in the negatives) all having their own strange, unique personalities that helps add to the atmosphere and fun of the game.

The battle system is fantastic as is to be expected, using the same judgment ring system established in the previous games. For those uninclined, the judgment ring system is used throughout the game to execute characters actions, such as determining the effectiveness of attacks or spells. The judgment ring is a spherical ring with a rotating bar that spins and must be stopped, their are areas on the ring that indicate different levels of effectiveness, after hitting these areas, the command is carried out. The Judgement ring is used in battles, shops and many other situations.

The graphics are great, but I don't believe their are good as Shadow Hearts: 2 (it's been a while since I played that though) and the Music, done by Yoshitaka Hirota is fantastic, evoking similar feelings I had playing the first 2 games. XSEED also did a fantastic localizing the game, both in the text translation and the voice acting.

Their is one glairing negative that I mentioned above. Every character is unique, every character has something interesting about them that is lovable...except the very character that needs it the most, the main one. The last 2 games stared Yuri, Yuri was a somewhat normal guy, but he was cool, you could easily identify with him, but this new guy (Jhonny) is as plain as they get, it got to the point where I actually started to hate him. The main character should represent the person playing a game, it should be someone who you can identify with, someone you like. Well, how is one suppose to identify with someone so normal, so unengaging. This plainness is multiplied even more by how cool everyone else is. I think Aruze kind of dropped the ball on this.

In conclusion, the new Shadow Hearts game lives up to the expectations fans have made for it, and while I personally don't think it's as good as Shadow Hearts 2, it's certainly worth playing by both fans of the series and fans of console RPG's.

The Shadow Hearts series never seems to get its proper due. Long stuck in the shadow of Square’s Final Fantasy series, these games have been excellent and innovative from the start, thanks to their judgement ring system and flair for truly bizarre characters and story lines. The third game in the series makes the first two look positively normal by comparison, and is quite possibly the weirdest and most distinctive RPG on the PS2 since Okage Shadow King.

The Shadow Comes to the States, Wackiness Ensues

Shadow Hearts: From the New WorldShadow Hearts: From the New World brings the series to America, circa 1929. New York is suffering from a rash of murders, and young Johnny Garland, traumatized by the death of his family, has decided to pursue the life of a junior private detective. Though only 16, Johnny has an office and a formidable butler to help him out. Shortly after the game starts, he encounters the beautiful, shapeshifting Native American warrior, Shania, and her gun fu slinging bodyguard, Natan. Things get really weird after that.

Shadow Hearts: From the New WorldHired to find a bond jumper by a bizarre looking professor, Johnny soon finds himself knee deep in a plot revolving around an approaching storm of evil. His travels will take him all over the country—from New York to Boston to Chicago, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon, and other places. Along the way, you’ll join up with a middle-aged, rather insane ninja named Frank who wears a bobbing light on his head and fights with things like timber saws and cactus. Then, there’s Mao, Frank’s master, who happens to be a huge talking cat that practices the Drunking Fist fighting style.

Add in real-life characters like Elliot Ness and Al Capone, a bizarre serial killer and mysterious, silent supernatural, yet psychotic woman, a mariachi, a vampire, and a flamingly gay duo who run the pre-requisite adventurer’s shop from their sidecar-equipped motorcycle, and you’ve got all the makings for the most delightfully weird adventure in quite some time. Going purely on creative, bizarre character design and plot twists, Shadow Hearts: From the New World is stunningly successful.

Spin the Wheel… of Judgement!

Shadow Hearts: From the New WorldThankfully, most other aspects of the game are excellent as well. The use of the judgment ring is in full force here, and this system makes combat a more involved experience than in other RPGs. You need to time your moves as a dial spins around the ring, and the sheer level of options, customizations, and moves is stunning. Aside from being able to upgrade the ring with new abilities and timing elements, each character has an astrological abilities tree attached to them that can be upgraded and altered to give them new spell abilities and other upgrades. On top of that, the combat itself is remarkably fluid.

You can perform whole group combos, double attacks, and even group combo double attacks. As your party grows, the game lets you set up combat groups, each with four characters, so you’ll have the option to switch groups and fighters to make sure all of your motley team can keep gaining experience points. The result is an engaging and distinctive combat system.

Side Quests, Fusions, and Fetishes

Shadow Hearts: From the New WorldAside from the main road trip-centric plot, there are plenty of side quests to complete. These quests are the game’s way of giving the player new skills, abilities, and items, which makes them almost mandatory to complete. While this isn’t a big issue, since most of the quests are interesting and can be completed at any time, it does force the player to take time away from the main story to gain more power.

The presentation is excellent. The pre-rendered cinematics look excellent, as do the in-game graphics. The characters are remarkably well detailed; although the weird fascination with Shania essentially performing a strip tease act every time she transforms to one of her fusion forms is a little creepy. Adding to the weird factor is the items you use to upgrade her fusions are called “fetishes.”

The voice acting is also well executed, although the music is much too repetitive. The game recycles the same tunes over and over, so you’ll quickly get sick of hearing the limited soundtrack.

Come Experience the New World

Shadow Hearts: From the New WorldThe complaints here are minor though. For fans of Japanese-style role-playing, all the Shadow Hearts games deserve a key spot on the shelf, but with From the New World, they’ve really outdone themselves. Weird, wacky, and engaging, the game can go head to head with any of Square’s best—as long as you have a healthy sense of humor.


PROS

* Incredibly offbeat characters and quest
* Entertaining story
* Excellent combat system
* Solid graphics

CONS

* Random battles get old after a while
* Interior maps can feel limited and repetitive
* Not for those stuck on political correctness or the close-minded
* Weak soundtrack

Enter Urm Hyuga, the son of a Japanese soldier who died in battle 15 years ago. He is a harmonixer - a man with the ability to morph into different creatures. Guided by a mysterious female voice, he rescues Alice, foiling the kidnapping attempt.

Players will journey through China and Europe to uncover the evil scheme of Rodger and his minions, as well as unravel the many mysteries surrounding the unique Shadow Heart's characters.

# Play with the innovative battle system that uses the "Judement Ring", a shaded wheel where the outcome of in-game actions are solely dependent on where the players stops the rotating bar.

# Meet unique characters with their own characteristics, personalities and abilities.

# Gain the ability to morph Urm into 20 various creatures as you battle the forces of darkness.

# Engage in intense gameplay as you journey across 20th century Eurasia.

# Discover mreo than 200 special items including weapons, armor, and other unique magic items.

Their is one glairing negative that I mentioned above. Every character is unique, every character has something interesting about them that is lovable...except the very character that needs it the most, the main one. The last 2 games stared Yuri, Yuri was a somewhat normal guy, but he was cool, you could easily identify with him, but this new guy (Jhonny) is as plain as they get, it got to the point where I actually started to hate him. The main character should represent the person playing a game, it should be someone who you can identify with, someone you like. Well, how is one suppose to identify with someone so normal, so unengaging. This plainness is multiplied even more by how cool everyone else is. I think Aruze kind of dropped the ball on this.

In conclusion, the new Shadow Hearts game lives up to the expectations fans have made for it, and while I personally don't think it's as good as Shadow Hearts 2, it's certainly worth playing by both fans of the series and fans of console RPG's.

Shadow Hearts: From the New World is the 3rd entry into this Traditional Japanese RPG Series. The 4th game developed by Aruze, which is comprised of ex Square employes. Let's see how it stacks up.

The Shadow Hearts series is one of my personal favorites, and a special thanks must be givin to newcomer XSEED game's who localized and published it in the States after the original publisher Midway, pulled out.

This series continues to take place in the early 1900's, a period that is rarely depicted in games. While the last 2 games focused on the east, this game focuses on the west, that being North and South America. Their is no overworld, so you'll travel from place to place via an onscreen map. Gamplay is traditional here, you'll find yourself leveling up, traveling from town to town, talking to people, battling, advancing the story, rinse and repeat. Thankfully though, this series has always had a few innovative quarks that spice things up, thankfully, this continues in this installment.

I never get to deep into stories with my reviews, and I wont budge here, the story is the most important part of any game and you should fully discover that yourself. I will say that as with previous installments, this game continues with the very strange and unique style fans of the series have grown to love. All of the characters are lovable with one exception (this explained in the negatives) all having their own strange, unique personalities that helps add to the atmosphere and fun of the game.

The battle system is fantastic as is to be expected, using the same judgment ring system established in the previous games. For those uninclined, the judgment ring system is used throughout the game to execute characters actions, such as determining the effectiveness of attacks or spells. The judgment ring is a spherical ring with a rotating bar that spins and must be stopped, their are areas on the ring that indicate different levels of effectiveness, after hitting these areas, the command is carried out. The Judgement ring is used in battles, shops and many other situations.

The graphics are great, but I don't believe their are good as Shadow Hearts: 2 (it's been a while since I played that though) and the Music, done by Yoshitaka Hirota is fantastic, evoking similar feelings I had playing the first 2 games. XSEED also did a fantastic localizing the game, both in the text translation and the voice acting.

Their is one glairing negative that I mentioned above. Every character is unique, every character has something interesting about them that is lovable...except the very character that needs it the most, the main one. The last 2 games stared Yuri, Yuri was a somewhat normal guy, but he was cool, you could easily identify with him, but this new guy (Jhonny) is as plain as they get, it got to the point where I actually started to hate him. The main character should represent the person playing a game, it should be someone who you can identify with, someone you like. Well, how is one suppose to identify with someone so normal, so unengaging. This plainness is multiplied even more by how cool everyone else is. I think Aruze kind of dropped the ball on this.

In conclusion, the new Shadow Hearts game lives up to the expectations fans have made for it, and while I personally don't think it's as good as Shadow Hearts 2, it's certainly worth playing by both fans of the series and fans of console RPG's.

The Shadow Hearts series never seems to get its proper due. Long stuck in the shadow of Square’s Final Fantasy series, these games have been excellent and innovative from the start, thanks to their judgement ring system and flair for truly bizarre characters and story lines. The third game in the series makes the first two look positively normal by comparison, and is quite possibly the weirdest and most distinctive RPG on the PS2 since Okage Shadow King.

With demon powers and matching gothic attire, half-Russian, half-Japanese tough guy, Yuri, is back for Midway's RPG sequel Shadow Hearts Covenant. With his sardonic wit and bad boy image, girls (and some dudes) will be melting at the knees as Yuri and his misfit band of partners take players along for an exhilarating ride. With its wicked cast of characters, relentless humour and epic storyline that puts The Neverending Story's title to shame, this is definitely one game that RPG fans should not miss.

Covenant picks up one year after the events of the original, right in the midst of World War I. The saga opens in the eerie surrounds of Domremy village in northern France with the introduction of Karin Koenig, a German lieutenant whose regiment of soldiers are being torn to shreds by the ever lovable Yuri in his most bad arse demon form. Karin is spared by Yuri and after reporting back to her superiors she is sent back with the aide of an exorcist by the name of Nicolai to capture Yuri and to ultimately occupy the deserted village. However as with all good RPG's there's bound to be twists a plenty, and sure enough they ensue quickly as Nicolai reveals his true colours as a co conspirator of a secret society bent on world domination. To cut a long intro short, Yuri gets cursed by a magical piece of mistletoe that Nicolai plunges into his chest thus sparking the flame of the real story.

Players soon assume control of Karin and Yuri, who due to the magical mistletoe can no longer perform his trademarked demon fusions. And so unfolds one of many premises that prompts Yuri on his journey to regain his lost powers and of course his tainted soul. The epic storyline of Shadow Hearts Covenant begins to slowly unravel like the world's largest ball of twine, but with more plot twists and bosses on top of bosses that will have players eating, drinking and breathing Covenant for a good forty plus hours (that's not even including the seemingly endless slew of side quests and treasure hunting). Its immense storyline really is a credit to the writers and artists who while mixing real historical events with its distinct fantastical anime flair have combined to create one of the most compelling RPG stories around.

Throughout this epic quest players will happen across a myriad of unforgettable characters who all add their own fighting nuances, humour and depth to your party. From the lost Russian Princess Anastasia to the Pro Wrestling wannabe Joachim, the additional characters you come to control all complement each other with their incredibly interesting personal stories, histories and fighting abilities. The cast of Covenant is perhaps the most enjoyable feature of the game and a definite foundation for its strong story. Yuri is as sarcastic, girl crazy and dark humoured as ever, which ties in superbly with the plot as it changes from light comedy at times to the darker toned seriousness that provides such an appealing contrast.

Let's Party!
Shadow Hearts Covenant features a loveable and quirky mix of characters that will have players howling in delight and purring in pleasure. Check them out!

Yuri: Not your stereotypical hero, but rather a loveable rogue who has the ability to fuse with the souls of demons.

Karin: The hot and fiery German Lieutenant who prefers the use of swords over the Wehrmacht issued Lugers.

Gepetto: The tough love puppeteer with a heart of gold. Sorry, no Pinocchio but he does have a cute little girlfriend marionette.

Kurando: Samurai bodyguard by day, demon morpher by night, Kurando takes honour seriously and is more than handy with his samurai sword.

Blanca: No, not the green dude from Street Fighter but rather a cute white wolf with deadly sharp fangs.

Joachim: Vampiric hero who wishes to one day be the greatest pro wrestler the world has ever seen. Cheesy, daft and a hell of a lot of fun.

Lucia: The air headed, buxom tarot card reader from Florence. She's not too bad looking either, for a computer game character that is.

Anastasia: Daughter of Tsar Nicholas II. Part time Russian Princess, part time annoying brat. Has the hots for Kurando.

Game play is a mix of the typical RPG turn based battle system and linear meandering between locales and dungeons, and although it doesn't sound it, it's the battle system that really secures Covenant as such a solid and well composed game. The intuitive and logical battle system not only sees the return of the Judgment Ring but also the incorporation of team based combos that are as much fun as they are deadly. For those out of the know, the Judgment Ring works as an interactive battle system where success depends upon players hitting specific zones within the wheel to complete the character's multi combo attack patterns. Missing these zones however, can be catastrophic as you'll only inflict minimal damage if at all and will then have to wait for your next turn to try again.

The generous number of party members allows you to customize different parties according to individual stats and abilities and ensures that every conceivable situation can be handled with the right mix of brains, brawn and beauty. Each character's Judgment Ring is unique and upgradeable, so players can increase attack moves, enlarge hit zones and even slow the spinning rate of the wheel. It's incredibly interactive and a great way to chunk up and personalize your favourite characters to how you see fit. All these elements combine seamlessly to give players a combat system that's not only rewards interactivity but also provides pace to keep up with the mayhem your players inflict.

During play, Covenant doesn't redefine any borders in terms of graphics, but that's not to say they are at all displeasing in any way. What really draws attention are the beautifully crafted and superbly directed cut scenes that litter the game. Fight visuals too are outstanding with each character exhibiting distinctive combat moves that flow better than a Bruce Lee combo karate kick to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Flaws within the game are minimal and fortunately do not take away from the overall experience at all. Aside from the initial locales and dungeon environs that are small and linear, and also the annoying spawn rate of monster encounters, most problems with the game simply come down to nitpicking. As the story progresses so too do your options to explore the world and pursue the endless side quests, a feature that really opens up the game in the later stages. There's a lot of backtracking, talking to civilians, and collecting trading cards of naked men (Gepetto uses them to barter for dresses), that will entertain players for hours on end if they ever hope to achieve all that can be done in this monstrous title.

What ever you do, don't be scared off by the fact that Shadow Hearts Covenant is a sequel because this RPG is good enough to could stand alone. With its clever mix of history, fantasy and humour the story is as compelling as it is immersing. Throw in the awesome cast of misfit characters, some skimpy outfits and boatloads of personality and you have one RPG title that can't be missed. Final Fantasy watch out!

Verdict
With its memorable cast of characters, in-depth story and colossal length, Shadow Hearts Covenant is a role-playing game everyone should pick up.
Pros: Best battle system ever. Beautifully composed cut scenes. Awesome ensemble cast of characters.
Cons: Small city environments. Annoying and frequent monster spawns in dungeons.