Shadow Hearts 2: Covenant

Best RPG of 2004?

The Game
I'll admit that I never played the first game (or even heard of it), but this 2nd installment really caught me by surprise as probably one of the BEST RPGs I have EVER played. But then again, I don't play alot of RPGs to begin with.

The game picks up about six month after the original, with German army girl Karin Koenig investigating some church in the country side about reports of a monster. The monster turns out to be the hero from the first game, Yuri Hyuga, who's been living there and more or less protecting the village since then.
So after facing defeat to demon Yuri, Karin is sent back with Nicholai, a priest of sorts to face the monster again. Nicholai confronts Yuri and puts a curse on him with a magical mistletoe (?) which cause Yuri to lose his transformation abilities. Of course, Nicholai also betrays Karin and destroys the whole village. And the real story picks up from there as Karin joins forces with Yuri, his friend the elderly Gepetto, and Blanca the wolf-dog. And as with most RPGs, your party will grow with additional characters you meet as you progress throughout the game.
The best part of the game is obviously the storyline. At the beginning of the game they claim everything in the game is a work of pure fiction, and that any semblance to any actual real persons or events is purely coincidental. YEAH RIGHT!
It's pretty obvious they took actual historic events to base part of the story on. Like the Germans before World War 1, Anastasia and the Russian Royal Family, and even the Mad Monk Rasputin are used as characters in the game! But it's the little things like this that just make the game all the more interesting.

Like most other RPGs, you'll be running around from town to town, area to area encountering random battles (you know, run around till the screen explodes and your suddenly in a battle) to level up your characters, solving puzzles and collecting items to advance the story.
An interesting twist to the turn based combat system is the Judgment Ring. This requires you to have a little hand to eye coordination in order for your attacks to connect, and also plays a major role in combining your character's attacks together to form one big combo. Some might like it, and slow handed won't.
There are also mini-game battles to find to help upgrade your character with additional attacks.

Graphics and Sound
This game looks great! All the characters, enemies and backgrounds are all well done and detailed, though during the battle scenes some of the special attacks look less than spectacular.
Sound wise, the soundtrack of the game is just excellent as the tunes match the ambiance of the situation, from gloomy when your exploring caves, to comical when situation calls for it, to full on rocking during big battles.
The english voice acting is also some of the best I've ever heard in a game, but I do wish they would have taken a little extra effort to give the characters the proper accents from the countries they are from, ie German Karin, Japanese Yuri, Russian Anastasia etc.

So after playing a long TWO DISC quest like this, what's the catch to bring you back for more? Obviously the SIZE of the game means you'll definately missed something along the way the first time around, and there's definately more than one way to get past certain areas. It's also said you can pick up alternate outfits for the female characters of the game if you can find them.
So the replay factor is definately there.

For me, this is probably the best RPG I've played since Final Fantasy X-2, maybe better even. This game is definately recommended if your a fan of the first game and RPGs in general.

Game Ratings:
Graphics - 8
Sound - 7
Gameplay - 8
Lifespan - 9
Overall - 8


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