These days, it looks as if game developers are trying to reinvent the
wheel with each RPG they create. All too often, it seems that their
efforts result in gimmicks that do not enhance gameplay as much as would
be desired. However, if there were one pair of games that deserves the
greatest amount of praise for introducing a new, fresh element of
gameplay, along with a truly unique atmosphere and unrivaled hilarity,
it would be the Shadow Hearts-flavored games in the Koudelka series. The
latest entry into the series, Shadow Hearts: Covenant, lived up to the
good name of the series and then some, thus earning itself top honors in
the PlayStation 2 category in RPGamer's staff awards.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant expanded on the series' wheel reinvention, or
ring reinvention as it may be, by improving upon the elements contained
within the original Shadow Hearts. Most aspects of gameplay are affected
by the player's performance in a "Judgment Ring" trial, which presents
the player with the chance to stop a spinning indicator on certain
places on a large round wheel. Shadow Hearts: Covenant improved upon
this system, originally introduced in the original Shadow Hearts, by
adding several customization options with which to change each
character's Judgment Ring to suit players' individual tastes.
The Judgment Ring system aside, Covenant boasts the musical stylings of
Yoshitaka Hirota and Yasunori Mitsuda, both whom did a wonderful job
creating a unique atmosphere through their compositions. Combine all of
the aforementioned things with a story that masterfully mixes serious
themes with humor that is unparalleled, and you have a title that fully
deserves a place in every RPGamer's collection.
Taking second place in RPGamer's PlayStation 2 Staff Awards is one of a
pair of Nippon Ichi titles to make it into the top three, La Pucelle
Tactics. The antics of Prier and company, along with the fun, gameplay
has won over the hearts of many an RPGamer. Considering Atlus' showing
in RPGamer's staff awards, along with many other indicators, it is a
pretty safe assumption to say that Nippon Ichi
has taken to the forefront of the tactical RPG sub-genre.
The second Nippon Ichi title in the top three, Phantom Brave, takes
third place below its sister game, La Pucelle Tactics. Phantom Brave
boasts very unique extentions upon the tactical RPG battle system.
Rocks, trees, corpses, player characters, and even enemies can be used
as lethal weapons, for example. Phantom Brave also did away with the
traditional tactical RPG grid-based movement system. All of these
things, among many others, give this game a very fresh and innovative
feel. Phantom Brave fully deserves third place, and deserves recognition
for its innovation in the genre.
by Phillip Clayton