Shadow Hearts: Covenant is a superb sequel that remains highly innovative, interesting, and is able to easily stand on its own as a fantastic RPG.
The story continues after the original game, but it isn't a requirement to have played the first Shadow Hearts. This reviewer, himself played Covenant before the original. The story is one of the most engaging in recent memory. It takes place during World War I, as tensions are increasing across all fronts. Players have control of Yuri, a man struggling with loss, but who is soon joined by a large cast of great characters. A large part of the game takes place in Europe, while the second disc moves to other locales. The beauty of the story in Shadow Hearts: Covenant is with its characters. Each and every one of the main characters has his or her own quirks and great moments to add to the story. The interaction between all these characters becomes the story's focal point as the game plays on, and it becomes hard to part with the characters when the game draws to a close.
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The battle system in Shadow Hearts: Covenant at first seems to be a standard turn-based affair. Only when the player begins to delve into the huge amount of systems available does the battle system's complexity really come to light. The judgement ring is one of the mainstays of the entire game, as it allows players to do much more damage than a normal attack would by hitting red areas (strike zones) inside the ring as a spinner goes around, and allows for a "perfect" attack. This important ring also appears when players use magic, allowing for higher percents of healing or bonuses. If players miss on the judgement ring, however, they will miss parts of their attacks, or completely botch a magic spell. This system allows for a huge amount of skill to be involved, as players quickly get used to the system, and then over time begin to master it.
Another great part of the battle system is that each and every character has his or her own contribution to make. Every single character has some special ability that contributes enormously to the battle, depending how the player chooses to use them. Each character's special abilities also leads to side quests that allow players to make these abilities stronger or open up further moves. All of these individual skills allow for an enormous amount of customization for the player's party, as players choose characters that suit their playing styles best, and then proceed to put hours into the improvement of those same characters.
The bulk of the game involves exploring individual towns or locales trying to find the next story point. There is a good amount of plot direction, but it never feels as though one is absolutely required to continue on in some linear form. While players certainly do have to follow the same route in order to beat the game, there is an enormous amount of side quests available, and the "world map" (compare it to Final Fantasy X's map, where players select a location and simply arrive there) allows for easy access to dozens of vicinities. The game itself takes about 40 hours to complete, but the side quests can add on scores of hours on top of that, depending on how much the player chooses to delve into the varied systems. Another one of these systems players can enjoy is a sub-screen on the menu that lists the player's "Score" and rank. This screen shows a large amount of
statistics that decides how well a player is playing the game, and how skillfully players have mastered the battle system. It is an unnecessary touch, but one that facilitates players to challenge themselves.
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One marked improvement for Shadow Hearts: Covenant over its predecessor is graphics. The game looks beautiful. A huge amount of enviroments are featured throughout the game, and each and every one looks distinct and well rendered. The cut scenes look fantastic, and the cinematics are simply gorgeous. The graphical bar set by other PlayStation 2 games like Xenosaga is easily matched here.
The music of Shadow Hearts: Covenant is great. There are many compositions that are highly memorable, and some of the music can be ranked among the best for RPGs. While not as stirring as some other RPGs' soundtracks, this one is top-notch. The voice acting for the game is fantastic. Each and every voice matches the character it was placed with perfectly.
Overall, Shadow Hearts: Covenant could easily be placed as one of the best RPGs of this generation. Its wonderful story, enthralling characters, huge amount of side quests, and superb battle system all make it a game that is a worthy choice for any fan of RPGs.