Posted by Pip
F236- The Way To Their Alcoholic Hearts
The Sins have a pretty good plan to sucker in some worshipers! Or, you know, earn them in earnest by proving they're worthy Forces. But we all have to make sacrifices. But some of us have to sacrifice more. Good-bye, sweet sweet juice, you will be missed.
Also, maybe getting kids drunk. That seems like a pretty Sins thing to stumble into.
Look Back: Shadow Hearts Covenant
I've been replaying some PS2 games, and you know what, Shadow Hearts is still pretty neat. It's a game that revels in being weird. It focuses on being disturbing rather than scary or threatening and the creatures are more into looking bizarre than going for being gross. I'd want to call the designs Lovecraftian but that's selling it short. One of the first bosses you fight is a spider whose legs and mandibles are made out of fingers and its head is a distorted human face. That's messed up in a way most RPGs don't do with enemy designs.
The "Judgement Ring" makes the turn-based combat more interesting, almost like the Mario RPG games, where it ends up having a kind of rhythm to it. So much of the game is tied to the ring and they do a great job of making it feel important and also varying how it's used. There are different gimmicks for items, attacks, and magic and it really sells this idea and that part of the world.
The party is super anime but in that mid-90s anime where they could still make cool characters like Karin, Yuri, and your battlin' wolf (who at one point gets into a fight with a wolf dressed up like Terry Bogard, which is pretty amazing). It does get more anime with the creepy characters, like the old guy that acts through a puppet made up like a young girl and you can get outfits for that doll that are grossly inappropriate for a living doll shaped like a young girl. And there is some rather questionable treatment of the cartoonishly flamboyant gay stereotypes like the shopkeepers and the homoerotic wrestling league. The wrestlers are so over the top that it's played for comedy but the shopkeeper gets to be too much and they play it off as a gay panic/ewww these guys are gross thing. The character get pretty meta in questioning why the shopkeepers appear in every town your party visits and how they got through all the puzzles and locked doors that were in your team's way, and that's a way more fun gimmick for the shopkeepers to focus on.
SHC did come out at a time when RPG developers were starting to shoehorn in too many systems though and it hits this game hard. Yuri's powers come from fusing with monsters and have a special currency to level them up, Joachim changes shape depending on how many experience points you have and learns special moves from wrestling fights, then there's doll dresses, photography, tarot cards, potion mixing, and a separate guy that fuses with monsters and everybody's skills come from some kind of sidequest. There are also a lot of invisible items and important collectibles. Some of the most important items in the game you can miss by not walking over an invisible marker. Walk around this bed to the left, you get nothing. Walk around it to the right and you meet the Ring Soul and get the ability to make an extra attack every round in battle. That's a bit too useful and important to be invisible and so arbitrary.
Spread across two DVDs, it's a really long game. The story is well-told and interesting, so I wouldn't want to cut much from it up through the first disc, but the dungeons really could have been tightened up and the battles made shorter. For the second disc, that whole part of the game could have been vastly shortened or even reduced to a single cutscene. You visit Japan just kind of because... And by that point, you've already defeated one of your main adversaries and defeated the other one kind of, so you're just trying to get back to do the thing you've already done and defeat him again. The Japan quest only serves to tie together loose ends introduced in that trip and expand on a less-interesting character's motivations and backstory that were already inferred. Everything else was already covered earlier in the game, so the whole thing could have just been some cutscenes. You know what, don't mess around with things to try to bring back the dead and that whole quest is over. That's typically a hobby that doesn't work well for anybody involved.
It's a shame the game wraps up so lackluster, because the story as a whole still works and has an absolutely fantastic ending that's kind of the main reason I came back to re-play it. It was a lot of fun to go through the story a second time, even knowing how it was going to end. They pepper dialogue and small scenes with these little hints and it's only in replaying the game do you notice how importantly they secretly were. The ending is simultaneously heart-warming, super creepy, and kind of sad, especially depending on how you interpret Yuri's ending. Shadow Hearts is such a cool franchise (Koudelka too!) and it has such a unique style and feel that I wish more games tried for.