As promised tonight I revived my play of Shadow Hearts: Covenant. I put two hours in, finishing up the Battleship Mikasa section (which was aggravating) and reached the Hojo Research Lab. I'm almost at 30 hours logged now. Aside from the main quest, this game has something like 13 sidequests as well. (I doubt I'll bother with all those, as the main quest is long enough for me.) I'm going to try and put at least two hours a night into this until I finish it. I do enjoy Covenant, but it has some aspects that keep me from really loving it. I'm trying to save those judgemental thoughts for the review though.
At 39 hours in, I'm now at the final dungeon of Shadow Hearts: Covenant. I've been debating whether I wanted to bother with the copious optional sidequests. Most of which you'd never know about without a guide. The only sidequest I was really interested in, was gaining this alternate costume for Karin:
Well I ended up doing Gepetto's "Doll House" sidequest last night, only because it was the sole sidequest that takes place in an entirely new location (creepy haunted mansion), not reusing assets from previous campaign missions.
Then I just watched through this for the rest:
So yeah, I'm good now. I plan to actually beat this game tonight.
"Shadow Hearts: Covenant" is a JRPG developed by Nautilus, and published by Midway in 2004 (in the USA anyway). "Covenant" is actually part three of the "Shadow Hearts" series. It continues a narrative that began in "Koudelka", evolved through "Shadow Hearts" and then reached climax in "Shadow Hearts: Covenant". "Covenant" boasts a greatly increased budget compared to its fore-bearers, doing its best to poise as a grandiose JRPG. Noticeable alterations to the original series' concept are evident, apparently catering to target demographic expectations of its genre.
+A highly polished obvious labor of love.
+Complex game mechanics offer tactical interactivity.
+Dungeons offer continuous variety.
+Marvelous enemy monster concepts.
+Extremely impressive set designs.
-This game's difficulty is a total cakewalk.
-"Shadow Hearts: Covenant"'s plot is far weaker than "Shadow Hearts"'s or "Koudelka"'s plots were.
-A goofy sense of humor is too often at odds with otherwise dark themes.
-Copious sidequests require a walkthrough to even known they exist.
-Completion time is at least ten hours longer than it needed to be.
"Covenant" tried to keep what worked from "Koudelka" and "Shadow Hearts", while attempting to placate to typical JRPG expectations. There are many examples of this, but Yuri (the protagonist) is a key point of my contention. In the original "Shadow Hearts", Yuri was a total badass. He was fearless, courageous, sometimes evil, and above all else never doubted his own convictions. In "Covenant" Yuri has been watered down into an angry emo teenager, who too often falls victim to melodramatic self-doubt, and constantly allows himself to be manipulated by others around him. This character (assassination) change was put into place in tandem with a huge dollop of silly humor that permeates large portions of "Covenant". Often "Covenant" attempts to amuse its player with whimsy antics and surreal characters, apparently in an attempt to keep the overall experience from being too serious. Unfortunately these attempts at humor are hugely detrimental to the developer's attempts at otherwise pathos-addled cutscenes. It would take far more talented writers than this game had, to be able to pull off the kind of silly humor they chose, while also having the player take the game's plot seriously. This is doubly aggravating considering the original "Koudelka" and "Shadow Hearts" had great plots and solid writing.
Putting the questionable writing aside, the rest of "Covenant" is mostly strong above average stuff. The graphics are wonderful, the OST is rather good (though often repetitive), party members are concept-original and highly varied, and there are subsystems on top of subsystems - combat complexity is certainly here if you want it. There are copious sidequests and secrets to find, and a fair amount of collectables as well. It is obvious that Nautilus really cared a LOT about "Covenant", and they went the extra mile polishing it. It's easy to be impressed with much of what is on display here. Most JRPG fans would likely enjoy "Covenant" quite a bit, and this game's reviews prove that fact.
Unfortunately for this JRPG fan, I can't give "Covenant" a completely glowing score. Too often this game's outrageous sense of humor fell flat for me, and ultimately its writing was amateur hour. Far too often I sat though long, boring, drawn out dialogues that completely failed to engage me. This lack of engagement carried with it a severe dearth of difficulty. That is to say that "Shadow Hearts: Covenant" is extremely easy to beat. Now when you've got a game that lasts over forty hours with a tepid plot and unchallenging battles... well, that's not exactly prime JRPG material in my opinion. However the impressive graphics, fantastic CGI cutscenes, varied dungeon designs, beautiful backdrops, crazy monsters, and other small parts added up enough to keep me interested till the end. And after the ending cutscene, I was very glad I'd beaten "Shadow Hearts" before "Covenant", because of the way "Covenant"'s ending tied so well into the original "Shadow Hearts"'s beginning - a rare moment of excellent writing in "Covenant"'s case.
There are a considerable amount of JRPGs on PS2. Most of them are mediocre, some are terrible. The original "Shadow Hearts" is top shelf material. Its sequel "Covenant" is simply not as good as its predecessor. However, "Covenant" is still noticeably above average, and I daresay quite a bit better than most JRPGs on PS2. While I wish "Covenant" had been as dark, scary, serious, and challenging as its predecessor; I still walked away from "Covenant" fairly entertained nonetheless. After all, it's not every day you get to beat up demons as a dirty old incestuous pedophiliac marionettist.
That's pretty much what I've got from Covenant as well and I'm glad you still rated the game that highly. Koudelka is an unforgettable candle light dinner, Shadow Hearts is a hearty but wholesome Sunday meal and Covenant is an overabundant but ultimately satisfying smorgasbord. From the New World is just fast food.
Yeah I don't know. I own a brand new sealed copy of SH:FtNW - owned it for many years actually. But considering that one apparently goes full-on goof, I'm in no hurry to play it. Someday when I'm in the mood for such wackiness perhaps.
I'm surprised at the 8/10 after reading alongside this journey | I'll have to check it out myself someday.
While playing Covenant I tended to point out the negatives more often. I did this because so many reviewers lauded this game, and apparently were not bothered by the aspects that bugged me. So I wanted to be sure and point out consistently why Covenant was not a 9/10 for me personally.
It's a strong 8/10, definitely. There's a lot of good on those discs. If only the misguided attempts at silliness had been excised, the writing had been as strong as the first two games', the length culled to 30 hours instead of 40+, Yuri had not been turned into an emo, and the difficulty actually had some teeth - well maybe then it'd be a 9/10 for me.
That said; we all have our own personal tastes that don't always align. I absolutely recommend anyone who enjoys JRPGs to give Covenant a chance. With the caveat that I strongly recommend playing through the first two games in this series before doing so. There are a lot of callbacks and plot elements that directly relate to the earlier games. I'd have been oblivious to important histrionic stuff if I'd just played Covenant first.