Right, here we are again. Before I get started, I just thought I'd mention that my copy of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door has arrived from the States and it's every bit as fantastic as I had hoped. I shall report back once I have finished it, which could take a while because I play to savour every last drop of gameplay that this beauty has to offer. So, on to this weeks Hidden Gem!
This time my attentions shifts over to the PlayStation 2, which is a pretty good place to find a bargain as so many games are released that a lot of good stuff gets lost amongst all the crap. This happened to an RPG called Shadow Hearts not so long ago, which is a great shame as there is much to enjoy here. It's another game that takes it's influence from the works of H P Lovecraft (see also Eternal Darkness), and it really does make for a compelling setting for a game.
The player takes the role of the protagonist, Yuri, who rescues a girl named Alice from grisly torture and death from the evil Roger Bacon, all during the opening FMV. Your journey proper begins after you jump from the speeding train you were on and begin to explore the area of Japan that you're in. Eventually you find yourself at the gates of a sinister looking village, where the residents hide a nasty secret.
The gameplay itself is somewhat traditional, but the story is unique enough to keep you interested. There are a few innovations to the standard Final Fantasy style battle system, including the judgment ring (a ring appears when you attack, and you have to stop a moving line within a green wedge to score a hit), the Fusion system and the fact that you have Sanity Points. If these should run out during a battle, your character will go beserk and you will lose control of them.
Graphically, the game can look a little rough around the edges at times, but some of the prerendered backgrounds are very nice to look at. The music is almost faultess, one of the best game soundtracks I have heard thus far. Voice acting is a bit hit and miss, sometimes it's bad enough to make you wince, at other times it's perfectly serviceable.
Shadow Hearts shouldn't cost you too much of your hard-earned, maybe around £12.99, which is pretty good value for money for a game that is lilkely to keep you entertained for around 30 hours. A sequel, Shadow Hearts: Covenant was recently released in the USA and is pencilled in for a European release early next year. I'm looking forward to it.
For more in-depth information about Shadow Hearts, check out the link in the article heading. It will take you to a review I submitted to RPGamer.com a while back.