Shadow Hearts (PS2) – Initial Impressions

I’ve recently completed a stack of new PS2 RPGs that I’ve put off, and with a bit of a lull here (though Odin Sphere just came out and I have my copy, and Atelier Iris next week), I looked through what RPGs I’ve not yet done and pulled out Shadow Hearts.  I’ve played both of its sequels and found them enjoyable, but I recognize that this is one of those games that came out just shortly after the PS2 was released, and thus has the feel of a PS1 game adapted for the PS2.  I have played this a little bit before, but that was before adopting the mantra of “complete one RPG before moving to the next”, so I restarted the game fresh.

That said, most of the Shadow Hearts is there.  The Judgement Ring which you need to hit to make your attacks is key in all aspects of gameplay, and the style of each character is also different, but only with the lead character (Yuri) does the player have miniquests needed to gain new powers (later games would have all characters involved in these to build up powers).   Sanity points are there as well, so combat is still quite familiar.

The biggest problem I have, and this is more related to the PS1-feel of the game, is that unlike the recent RPGs I’ve finished, there’s next to no voice work, with the entire story told by on-screen text.  Now, you’re not waiting for the text to spell itself out, though there are times you’ve got to wait for the characters to finish movements to advance to the next line of dialog.  But given the fixed, large font and such, I find I just have a hard time staying with the story.  I wonder …. arguably if I were to go to Zelda: TP or Okami, which the story is still all text, but there’s the fake voices with different “voices” for different characters, if that would help in a case like this, just to at least distinguish between the various characters.   The story’s not a great one (as yet), but its got potential and I know that it does tie to Shadow Hearts: Covenant, but maybe I’m more spoiled by modern RPGs and find it easier to keep my head into those.

Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! 2 (DS, Import) – Initial Impressions

A followup up to Ouendan 1 from a storyline perspective while taking most of the improvements that Elite Beat Agents had to offer is what makes up Ouendan 2.  The gameplay is the same as both these games: tap the screen as colored markers come up in time with the music to cheer on the various characters you’re helping.  The biggest change for the best is that there seems to be a much sharper learning curve with this game.  I finished through the Normal difficulty and while the first 6 levels were easy, the last few had just enough tough tracks that played on musical off-beats to throw me off and require a few reruns at it.  Notably, there’s a couple songs that are equivalent to “Canned Heat” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” from EBA in terms of their syncopation that threw me off.   However, I like that – the improved challenge earlier in the game feels much better than making Normal “too” easy.

It’s still all presented in Japanese, but, as with the first game, I think only one scenario seems a little odd and requires just a bit of Japanese culture knowledge; the rest are self-explanatory by pictures.  It is region free, so no need to mod your DS or anything like that.  Fans of the first game will see some of their favorite characters (crazy old pottery guy!) in some of the stories, so there’s nice continuity with the game.