Shadow Hearts

Shadow Hearts

■  Platform: PlayStation 2                               ■  Category: Role-Playing

■  Publisher: Midway                                       ■  Developer: Midway

 

Shadow Hearts is a singularly unique and innovative game.  The first thing you’ll notice about the game is the typical menu-driven turn-based combat system.  The second thing you’ll notice is a fancy white circle that pops up the second you try to do anything called the Judgment Ring.  The judgment ring has a hand that goes around the face just once, whenever the hand passes over a highlighted area you need to hit x to actually do anything, making you work for everything you do, from attacking to using an item.   This is not a game you want to play without checking out the manual first.  I should know, because that’s exactly what I did.  Unfortunately for you battle isn’t the only place where the judgement ring will show up.  It also follows you onto the field, and while you might think “big deal” the truth is Shadow Hearts did it years before Batman.  Though unlike Batman’s “press x 3 times to leave the vent” Shadow Hearts kindly tosses you a “You’ll never look cool in front of your girl friend ever” level of difficulty; where If you get it right you can continue the game, get it wrong enough times and the girl you just saved pushes you out of the way and does it for you.

Loser.

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Persona 4

■  Platform: PlayStation 2                               ■  Category: Role-Playing

■  Publisher: Atlus                                           ■  Developer: Atlus

 

Persona 4 is something of a mix between a dating sim and a dungeon crawler.  Instead of dating though, it’s more like a friend sim.  As you level up your friendships called Social Links you gain bonuses that help you with the dungeon crawling aspect of the game.  That may sound simple, but it’s far from it.  Things get complicated after that.  Very complicated.  The battles themselves are simple; they’re turn-based and menu driven, much like the RPGs of old, you can also set other party members to auto-pilot or manual if you so wish.  At the same time you’re introduced to battle you are also introduced to Persona “Your true self”.   Be prepared for a crash course on Freudian psychology because things only get weirder.  Each team member gets their own personal persona, only the main character can swap out personas, allowing you access to a wide variety of skills.  while that doesn’t sound so hard, how you obtain your personas is.  You get the chance to collect new personas after a battle, if you fuse these personas with others you get newer, and perhaps stronger personas.  I bet your wondering where the dating sim bit fits in.  Well, in order to get higher level personas not only do you have to level up social links corresponding to the persona type, but your character also need to be a least the same level.  The in game tutorials cover the whole fusion system by taking the hands off approach.  Basically you’ve got to more or less figure it out yourself.

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Disgaea

■  Platform: PlayStation 2                               ■  Category: Role-Playing/Strategy

■  Publisher: Atlus                                          ■  Developer: Nippon Ichi

 

Disgaea first come out in 2003 and at first blush looks like a typical strategy game; there’s a number of classes you can create extra characters in, items to use in battle, and grid-based game play.   After that things get interesting.  The level cap for Disgaea is 9999, and at any point between level 1 and level 9999 you can have a character “reincarnate” and go through the whole leveling process again, but with a huge boost in stats (depending on the level).  If that doesn’t offer enough in game play, there’s also the option of leveling up any item in the game to level 100.  But just in case that wasn’t enough you could also petition for the Dark Assembly for any number of things; from better items in the item shop, to stronger enemies, or if need be, permission to take over the human world.

Oh right….and did I mention the game takes place in the Netherworld?

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