Game: Shadow Hearts
Platform: PlayStation 2
Genre: turn-based RPG
Style: light influences
Verdict: Highly Recommended
Buy: Amazon

Shadow Hearts is a game I’d hoped to play for a long time, and this October I finally had a chance to. It’s a turn-based JRPG for the PlayStation 2, which makes it a bit difficult to find nowadays since it’s never been re-released, and it features a 1913 Gothic horror setting.

You play as a young man named Yuri who has the power to transform into monsters. Following the instructions of a mysterious voice in his head, he rescues a young woman named Alice from Roger Bacon, a warlock attempting to kidnap Alice as part of a dark plot.

While I wouldn’t necessarily call it a horror game on its own, it’s filled with Gothic horror trappings: curses, vampires, demons, etc.

It brings in a variety of elements, starting with Chinese mysticism, then Catholicism (priests and demons, plus the Inquisition for good measure), and then, yes, some Lovecraft-inspired ideas and designs. I had the impression Shadow Hearts had much stronger Lovecraftian themes than it actually does, but it still gets there in the end and is an enjoyable game throughout.

Gameplay-wise, it takes traditional turn-based combat and adds a unique flair with the Judgment Ring, a system where you must time your button presses to successfully pull off your move.

The Judgment Ring adds a nice element of risk-versus-reward and helps Shadow Hearts stand out from other JRPGs – although being set on Earth in 1913 does that as well. The unusual setting is a refreshing change of pace, the story is interesting, and the characters are all quite likable.

Overall, while its Lovecraftian elements are light, Shadow Hearts is a great turn-based RPG I’d easily recommend despite the difficulty in finding copies.

Buy: Amazon