Part 2: Episode II: Rude HeroEpisode II: Rude Hero
New Music: Wind Which Blows From the Dark II
The intro to Shadow Hearts has concluded. Were now in the realm of actual gameplay. This game isnt the greatest looker. In fact, it doesnt look a whole lot better than Koudelka. The overworld is still the PS1 common style mesh of pre-rendered backgrounds and polygonal models. Thats because Shadow Hearts began its development as a Playstation 1 game. There was only an eighteen month turn around between the Japanese release of Koudelka and this game.
Our trench coat sporting protagonist has yet to get receive a proper name, so hell just be operating under the moniker of Rude Hero. The game is very judgmental about his treatment of that poor murder imp that was just doing its job. We could go taking a deep dive into the menu to check out some mechanical details about the game now but ehh... Lets just get through the prologue first, eh?
Moving into the next train car, we come upon the ever present foe of JRPGs. The dreaded Random Battle...
New Music: Brain Hopper (Its the random battle music for a good chunk of the game. You should probably listen to it.)
If one thing in Shadow Hearts has gotten a graphical improvement over its predecessor, it is the battle graphics. Like... theres actually a background set now and not just a floor texture and dark void surrounding it. The train car was also nice enough to double in size and move all its seating arrangements to the back row to accommodate the battle. Its very considerate of the rail line to make such arrangements.
I spoke at length at Koudelkas overly complicated and poorly thought out esoteric mechanical mess of a battle system. So how did they iterate on that in the successor series? Easy. They tossed the entire thing in a dumpster where it belongs. Shadow Hearts comes with a completely new battle system. The details of which well get into when were in some proper battles. Which... is going to take a few updates, honestly.
Moving around a grid or any of that positioning nonsense has been eliminated in favor of more traditional mechanics. Battles are still turn based affairs but we just simply select our target and go to work attacking without worry about distance based damage calculations or proficiency of skills. Instead, there is a new unique gimmick in its place. Lets just Attack the enemy normally and take a look at that.
Meet the Judgment Ring -- the core mechanic of Shadow Hearts battle system. Almost no action in Shadow Hearts is guaranteed. There is a timing based element to it. The Judgment Ring will appear when performing almost anything more complicated than sorting through inventory on a menu (and even then, sometimes...) In this UI element, a green line will make one full 360 degree clockwise sweep of the circle which is divided between three colored segments. The player must tap the X action button at the appropriate times while the green line is over the right segments to trigger an action. In this case attacking.
- Hit Areas: The larger yellow segments. These are the point of the Judgment Ring we want to at bare minimum hit every time. All characters in Shadow Hearts get three Hit Areas for a basic physical attack. Striking em means weve successfully completed an action.
- Strike Areas. The smallest red patches at the end of the Hit Areas. Tapping X while the Judgement Ring line is over em will in this case result in a +20% increase in damage. Its a risk/reward for carefully timing button presses.
- Miss Areas: The open white spaces. Tapping the action button over these means youve done fucked up. If the first thing you do is hit a Miss Area on the Judgment Ring all youve done is just waste that turn. Hitting a Miss Area at any time will end the turn as well. So if you were to tap correctly for the first and second Hit/Strike area then tapped a miss area, our Rude Hero will only attack twice.
I think the Judgment Ring is a fun element to battles. Certain a lot better than that slow as molasses nightmare of Koudelkas battle system. But it can be a bit much to always have to be timing button presses. That said... there is one major drawback to the Judgment Ring system that isnt actually Shadow Hearts fault. This is a timing based gimmick on a very early PS2 game from the early aughts. You know... back when everyone still had big box CRT TVs with zero latency. So playing on a modern TV or emulator... the timing is a wee bit unforgiving compared to how it was intended. Its not PS1 rhythm game unplayable jacked. But the latency issue with modern hardware is definitely noticeable.
But youre reading a LP so you dont need to worry about that kind of stuff. Just like we really dont need to worry about hitting all the targets on the Judgment Ring for these enemies. A single hit will kill the Wind Shear imps here.
Which is not to say the little guys are completely defenseless. Theyre really sore about how Rude Hero did their cousin rotten like that in the intro and will attack with their scythes and blasts of wind energy. But they do all of 4-5 HP of damage and thats nothing to worry about.
New Music: Results
A job well done, Rude Hero.
For slaying our enemies, we get the usual RPG staples of Experience Points and maybe a dropped item if we were lucky (we were not.) Already a change from Koudelka, theres actually money time around. Turns out those little guys were carrying 40 Bison Bucks or whatever denomination the internationally legal tender Cash falls into.
Music: Wind Which Blows From the Dark II
But well worry about that some other time. Back on task, our Rude Hero continues back towards the car Roger Bacon and the girl were hanging out in. Along the way he can do the tried and true RPG protagonist technique of pillaging corpses for a couple spare items. Its not like a guy with his head spun 180 degrees backwards is going to need any medicinal herbs.
Like in Koudelka, all Shadow Hearts items have unique art assets and some... lets say interesting flavor text. Well check out all that junk when things calm down a bit.
For now, onto the back car! Its quite the mess back here. Theres definitely several gory scenes in this game. But nothing is on the level of the prologue chapter to the point it kinda feels like the whole sequence was made way earlier as a proof of concept to pitch the game to a publisher. I wouldnt be surprised if that is actually the case.
Of course this is going to spill out onto the roof. Its against international law to have any incident transpire on a moving train and not have the parties involved eventually clamber up onto a train car roof for a climactic showdown.
Thats OK. Rude Hero is more than happy to use the express ticket to the roof.
I prefer tenacious rogue.
Dont think you can buy me off with a free show either, grandpa.
What are you babbling about?
<points to girl> Should watch where youre pointing that butt...
<side-eyes> Well, then... You may have a... small point. Ill be getting rid of you now...
New Music: NDE - Near Death Experience (Its the boss battle music. You should listen to it.)
Time for the hypest duel of the evening and climax of the prologue. Roger Bacon, a gentleman so dapper he pisses tea and shits biscuits.
Versus the rudest unnamed punch-boy currently riding the Trans-Siberia Railway. Youd honestly be surprised how many pugilists are in contention for such a title.
Naturally, Roger Bacon begins the duel with a volley of telekinetic gentlemanly slaps. And they call our player character Rude.
Now that we have an enemy that can take some hits, Rude Hero can show off his entire Tekken ass hit string of physical attacks. Edward J. Plunkett doesnt have shit on this guy. Were just going to stick to this. Like I said, well get to the other abilities when we get to a proper fight and well...
Unfortunately, Rude Hero is still fighting a wizard. As soon as Bacon takes a combo or two, he gets fed up with our protagonists comboing his face and casts a spell to buff his Special Attack Power +30% in preparation for...
Aru ajifu aruhazado!
<clears throat> Ahem... Kitab al-Azif of Abdul Alhazred!
<sign> I am invoking the title of the mythical magical tome the Necronomicon and its profane author.
The what and the who...?
I am going to end this tiring conversation by destroying you now.
Yeah, Ive heard that one befooh SHIT!
Now you know why we didnt bother with any techniques more advanced than repeatedly punching and kicking the wizard. This isnt a battle that can be won.
Now, foul monster... you shall cease to be!
Roger needs a bit to charge his special attack. Why doesnt he use that instantaneous Special Eyes to just blast the Rude Hero again? Well... Im fairly certain he just completely forgets about that ability immediately after the intro movie just like our man never reattaches a limb again.
<attack fizzles out> Wh-What on Earth...!?
New Music: ICARO - Song of Spirits
Well it looks like SOMEONE managed to hold onto their magic neutralizing pendant unlike other short skirt wearing female protagonists in this series I could name...
Seeing that Bacon is distracted by a magical girl popping off with some undoubtedly important mystical energy, Rude Hero sees his chance...
...to punch a fucking hole in that dapper wizards stupid face. Why didnt you lead off with the skull shattering Falcon Punch, guy?
When you enjoy punching and your job is punching, you can hardly even call it a job.
Smell ya later, pops!
Real change of fate for Roger Bacon here. But while getting a hole punched into where one of your eyes ought to be is usually a pretty big deal for most folks. Well, Bacon...
...still is kinda...
...a wizard. So a healing spell later and hes fine.
Unfortunately him, unless he can fly I think he might he might have lost the girl he was kidnapping. I like to think he quietly returns to his seat and enjoys tea and crumpets all the way till the next train stop in Harbin or Vladivostok while then pretends nothing happened in the back of the train. But thats a story for another day... Time to properly begin...
Video: Episode 2 Highlight Reel (Its the end of the prologue and the title card drop. Go watch it!)
Shadow Hearts Cover Art At least he isnt lugging the unconscious girl around like Bacon was...