This is a good time to be an rpg fan, because for the first time in a long while there're a mountain of games to choose from. Instead of two or three titles a year we're seeing two or three titles a month. The quality varies, as always, but some are extremely good and none more so than Shadow Hearts: Covenant, Midway's sequel to their classic Shadow Hearts.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant is set at the beginning of World War I when parts of Europe are preparing to invade or be invaded. Lieutenant Karin Koenig is sent with a small force to capture the tiny French town of Domremy, but how she manages to survive an attack by a huge Demon is a mystery. The Vatican sends a young Cardinal, Nicholai Conrad, armed with a Holy Artifact with Karin on a second mission. The Demon, Yuri Hyuga, is about to have the peace he so desperately sought after the death of his beloved, Alice Elliot, shattered beyond repair. Yuri is placed under a curse that strips him of his transformation powers and greatly weakens him.
The attack on Yuri is part of a plan by the Sapientes Gladio, a secret society, and like all secret societies this one is not out to win friends and influnce people. At the fall of Domremy Karin joins Yuri to help find what the Sapientes Gladio have in mind and how Yuri can regain his powers. Travelling across Europe, staying one step ahead of the War, Shadow Hearts: Covenant draws you into a dark and sinister plot of world domination.
Although the game has the usual 'save the world' plot-staple of an rpg you'll receive a pleasant surprise. Shadow Hearts: Covenant decides to treat a serious subject with a touch of irreverance. This doesn't mean that the game degenerates into a farce, far from it. While the characters take it all very seriously the game begins to gently poke fun at itself. There are several moments of sexual innuendo that show that the characters themselves like a laugh. Karin's change from an army uniform into a revealing dress is one of the funniest moments in the game and Joachim Valentine is a masked vampire wrestler who uses post-boxes and submarines as unlikely weapons when he's not in bat form. Gepetto's girl puppet, Cornelia, swaps cards featuring male strippers for dresses made by two outrageously gay Travelling Traders.
Shadow Hearts used a 'Judgement Ring' as an exciting alternative to dice-determined combat. This clock-faced 'Ring' puts the sword-swing squarely in your hands and it's your skill at pushing the 'X' button at the precise moment that gives you a successful 'Hit' - or not. Shadow Hearts: Covenant takes the 'Judgement Ring' one step further by giving you up to four combo attacks. Each attack earns a combo 'bonus' that combine, giving a final Special Magic Attack that deals a Boss a sound clip round the ear.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant has inspiring music with important scenes building with a superb craft that swepts you up in the action. The voice acting is solid and for the most part well casted.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant is an extremely well put together game with some of the best graphics I've seen on a PS2 game. The theme of love lost and finding your way alone in the world could easily become trite, instead it's treated with the utmost care and respect even though you're having fun. This is one of the best rpgs I've played in a long time and one that you'll be recommending too.