Shadow Hearts: Covenant Review

Shadow Hearts: Covenant is set during World War I, a most unusual setting for this style of RPG to be sure. The German War Machine is pumping on all cylinders and yet the lone village of Domremy sits free and unconquered, a thorn in the side of the German lines. A young female officer (this is a fantasy RPG after all) named Karin Koenig is sent to capture the village, but a demon is guarding the prize and makes quick work of the Germans. Not to be deterred, the German command teams Karin with a young Cardinal named Nicholai who possesses an artifact that can defeat the demon (yes, Italy was an Allied country in World War I, remember this is a fan-ta-sy…). Not everything is at it seems in these games, and so it is not surprising that Karin has been duped into defeating Yuri (of Shadow Hearts I fame) and cursing away his shape-shifting talents. Thus begins your true quest – the restoration of Yuri’s powers and the destruction of the mysterious society that tricked Karin into cursing Yuri.

The judgment ring.

The game’s setting in World War I already marks it as a bit different than most RPGs, but as you make your way through the story you’ll find out just how different it really is. How many other RPGs feature a vampire pro wrestler and a deadly boss creature who just happens to be a pink kitten. This is not a game for everyone and may leave RPG players who take their stories very seriously in a foul mood. Those who can appreciate that which is different and at times absurd, however, will probably get a kick out of the game’s odd mix of demonic themes and absurdist humor.

Like most all Japanese-style RPGs of this nature, gameplay involves many a battle that takes the player to a turn-based battle screen with each encounter. Where Covenant breaks from the mold is with its attack system. Rather than having you select each task from a menu and then sit back and watch the result play out, the game makes you more of an active participant with its judgment ring system. A judgment ring is basically a stopwatch-like disk with a hand that sweeps across its face. Your job is to hit the button when the hand crosses into one of the ring’s marked zones. Some of these zones include a special smaller zone that will unleash a critical strike for even more damage if hit. Hit the right spot and your character will unleash his or her spell or attack. Miss your mark and your character’s attack fails and the turn is lost. Making things even more interesting is the fact that different characters, and even different attacks for each character, use different rings with different zones. Some will have a single zone, others multiple zones which all must be hit, and the second hand will move at different rates as well. What’s more is that power-ups will allow you to tweak the judgment rings. You can increase the size of a zone or its critical area, add an additional zone, and more. It all makes the combat far more interactive than in most other RPGs and makes you feel more of an active participant.