Part 3: Episode III: Stat Chat 1915
Episode III: Stat Chat 1915
Music: Old Smudged Map ~ Europe
Welcome to the World Map. This is less a thing we'll be using to travel to assorted areas and more just a notice of moving to a new location. At least for the... err... well, the better part of the game. Karin Koenig's commanding officer may have told her to turn around and head back to Domremy to give it the ol' college try again taking the town from a demon with a fresh deployment of men. But on the other hand, a mysterious Vatican Cardinal pretty boy showed up and that clearly overrides a military general in the chain of command. Thus our next destination is...
It is 1915. Transportation isn't exactly the fastest thing at this point in history. So it's taken a good week for this field trip some 1,300 km from Luxembourg to the Vatican. I like to think the men stationed outside Domremy are really starting to wonder when the hell that scout is going to show up. That or General Heimann is just sending waves of men into the Demon of Domremy grinder until Karin and Nicolai are finished doing... whatever it is they are doing...
Is this your first time at the Vatican?
<nods> Umm, yes.
I need to do some careful preparation before we go to Domremy. There's a certain item that I must have in order to complete this mission.
A key item, you might even say.
A certain item?
Yes, a sort of good luck charm. It's used for exorcisms.
Many think the Luck stat is a useless vestigial trait full of randomness and uncertainty. But I have always found great benefits in topping it off with a spare point or two when the occasion calls for it.
And that's where we're going now?
NEW Music: Death is the Great Leveler ~ Tower of Atonement (Not exactly the tune I'd picture when thinking of The Vatican.)
Yes, it's inside the Apoina Tower. Also known as...the Tower of Atonement.
<stops walking> ......
Nicolai stops and turns his head toward Karin.
It seems you know of it... For many many years, dangerous heretics and others like them were kept imprisoned there. It's filled with the spirits of those who went mad from the torture. That's why it's a safe resting place for the item that I seek...
A spirit-filled torture dungeon of the Vatican is a safe resting place for this lucky exorcism charm...?
<nods> Naturally. Where else?
The two begin walking down the corridor again.
But why am I coming?
Well, to get to the top of the tower, I need your help. I'll feel much safer if you're with me.
A second target for the restless spirits of the tower will make the trek much more manageable.
Wait... Are we sure this is the Vatican and not the El Nido Archipelago? Is the Frozen Flame the relic Nicolai is after?
Karin is very impressed at the evil ass looking prison tower the Catholic Church had right in the middle of its home base.
<continues walking forward> It's this way, Lieutenant.
In we go to our first proper location of the game --
It's filled with real monsters and ghosts, you know.
Oh yes. I was not speaking metaphorically about the spirits inhabiting the tower. It is quite literally full of angry ghosts. I heard a curious Bishop was torn asunder by their ranks just last month.
There were talks of putting up a sign warning anyone unprepared from entering the tower. But such tacky signage would ruin the ambiance of the structure, in my opinion.
But don't worry. Compared to that demon in Domremy, these should be a snap to handle.
B-but don't I need some sort of holy relic to stop a spirit?
You have your sword about you, no? That should more than suffice. Even your service pistol will do in a pinch.
...You can just... shoot... a ghost...?
Now make sure you don't wander too far away from me. Let's go.
Welcome to Apoina Tower. Shadow Hearts: Covenant has far more of just a straight up direct tutorial dungeon compared to the original game just sort of tossing the player into the thick of it with an in-game instruction manual and only bothering to explain the more arcane mechanics directly. Granted, there is still quite a robust FAQ in the game's menu too. But Covenant will hold the player's hand a bit if they so desire.
With that said, taking so much as a single step forward will immediately thrust us into the first battle tutorial.
NEW Music: Vicious 1915 ~ Battle in Europe (It's the common battle theme. You should probably listen to it at least once. Lord knows it's gonna pop up several dozen times.)
While doing the battles themselves for the tutorials are mandatory, the tutorials themselves are completely optional. Which is real nice on subsequent playthroughs or when giving a cliff-notes version of what it's trying to convey for an LP or something. Like this first tutorial, which is about attacking.
I am playing this on an emulator, if you cannot tell by the fact it doesn't look like a jaggy mess running at 480i. Shadow Hearts: Covenant runs perfectly well for the most part. Except... there has been a bug where the Judgment Ring, the thing that pops up every time an action is performed in-battle, results in either a black screen or a weird copy of an earlier shot in memory overlaid on the background. Unfortunately, that bug seems to have existed since inception on the only decent PS2 emulator in existence (I found "hey how do I fix this" forum posts as far back as like 2014) and looks like it will never be fixed.
Other than switching the thing to Software Mode which outputs in the original PS2 480i resolution. So bear with the game looking a bit like ass while we make it through these tutorials. Technical issues aside, this is the Judgment Ring -- the chief gameplay gimmick of the Shadow Hearts series. It is largely the same as the original game, but I'll go over it again as a refresher. Feel free to skip to the bolded part below if you're not interested.
When performing any action, this glyph will appear with assorted colored sections and a dial will spin around the circumference of the circle. The player must tap the action button (X) at the right spots on the dial's revolution in order to successfully perform an attack. The tan colored areas of the Judgment Ring are called Hit Areas -- they result in a successful action. The red areas are Strike Areas, these will result in a more powerful version of an attack with a chance to land a Critical Hit. The white area of the ring is a Miss and hitting that will fail an action. The X button must be pressed on all of the Hit/Strike segments on the Judgment Ring or the attack will also fail. Any colored region separated by a white Miss area counts as its own segment.
Nicholai hit both Hit Areas so he attacks twice with his basic physical sword attack.
Meanwhile, Karin only manages to hit one of her two Hit Areas and only does a single attack on this spooky Vatican skeleton.
In addition to physical attacks, characters can also have Special Attacks aka Magic. Or at least Nicholai can perform White Mage being a pious JRPG churchman and all. Karin is currently unable to perform any magical attacks being a normy just getting introduced to the fact that she's in a weird alternate history full of wizards, monsters and transforming rude heroes. Pay no attention to that early title card splash screen where she clearly had a flaming sword.
Apparently, Catholics just innately are taught White Magic in this universe's Sunday Schools since Nicolai is privy to the same White Magic abilities that Alice Elliot had in the first game. Although the way magic works is somewhat different this time around.
The original Shadow Hearts was an Allies stand on this side of the screen, Enemies stand on that side of the screen. Everyone take turns hitting one another before returning to their line affair. This time around, everyone moves about the field when attacking or getting hit and the positioning of characters and enemies matters to an extent. In this case, Nicolai's Blessed Light has a small radius of effect. If we just targeted this single uppity skeleton Revenant over here, it'd only damage that single guy.
But if we targeted this skeleton over here hanging out with his bones buddy, then both enemies will eat the magic attack. There's no real way to corral enemies together. Nor is there a way to manually move our characters beyond selecting who to attack physically which causes our character to run up near 'em (assuming they're a close range fighter.) It's basically down to targets of opportunity.
For Magic Attacks and other Special Skills, the Judgment ring adds a green colored region that has to be tapped for the attack to be successful. These bonus regions get more complicated/frequent the stronger the attack in question gets. You don't really need to concern yourself with that since you're not the one playing the game. But it's worth a note to see how the game goes if you ever did get around to playing it yourself.
If you're wondering, sadly this entire series is AWOL from any legal front other than being bought used online and playing on actual PS2 hardware. Azure, the parent company to Sacnoth/Nautilus, got out of the video game industry and went into the lucrative weird pachinko pseudo-gambling trade back in the mid-00s and has basically sat on the rights to anything it owned since then. RIP.
In any event, Blessed Light is more than enough to wreck these tutorial dungeon jobbers. There's some other stuff with magic like elemental affinities and whatnot. But that is beyond the scope of this point in the game.
So let's just finish mopping up the last of these jerks and move on.
Music: Result ~ Victory
Well, that's that I guess.
YOU GET! After every battle, we get the fairly standard JRPG Experience Points and the ubiquitous currency of the Shadow Hearts universe -- Cash. Skeletons with rotting flesh hanging off them in the Vatican's prison camp tower naturally have a least a few bucks hanging onto their dry bones.
Music: Death is the Great Leveler ~ Tower of Atonement
C'mon Karin. You're acting like you've never fought a reanimated skeleton before. Get it together, girl.
Those were easier than most. Are you all right?
Lt. Koenig hastily climbs to her feet and walks off. It's not like she needed your help or anything, b-baka!
We find ourselves back in the main hall. It's not like we moved much of anywhere fighting those skeletons. That big blue circle is the game's Save Point, if you're curious. You can save the game there. The in-game justification is you need a place to save because this is a 60 hour game. What more do you want?
Before we move on further, let's take a few minutes to shuffle through the game's menus. They're a touch sparse at the moment. But we're taking baby steps in the tutorial zone. More options will fill out as we progress through the game.
Nicolai and Karin took some preparation on for their assignment and have brought along an assortment of goodies in their Item inventory. Much like the first Shadow Hearts and Koudelka before it, each and every item in the game gets unique art and a lore fluff blurb to go along with it. Let's take a moment to sort through what we're carrying.
Yuri used to just crumple these up in his fist and shove them in his mouth. I assume this is how it also goes in the Resident Evil franchise. This consumable heals 75 HP.
Sadly, these cannot be mixed with a Thera Leaf to somehow turn into a yellow powder for a full heal. It just restores 50 MP.
You've never had a high like a Mexican Pure Leaf. These restore 3 SP or Sanity Points -- a returning mechanic we'll touch on later.
Those idiots going around carrying bird feathers when just doodling a phoenix on some old paper would have sufficed. This restores a KOed character with 30% of their total HP. Hopefully, we won't need to use many of these.
I'm glad 1915 camping technology was so environmentally friendly. Like it says, this fully restores HP/MP at a save point. I usually carry like 20 of these in any JRPG that has them available. You never know when you need a top-off and cannot be bothered to find an inn or use a bunch of consumables.
Characters in Shadow Hearts 2 can equip a weapon, a set of armor and up to three accessories to provide assorted benefits just like they could in the first game. We're a wee bit lacking in that third department at the moment. But Karin and Nicolai both come packing a weapon and armor which also have their own lore blurbs.
Who knew World War 1 Germans were closet weebs? Or maybe it's just Karin.
In the real world, the German military didn't have any female members until the tail end of World War II when things were really going to shit for the Nazis. Even then, they just served in Luftwaffe artillery support roles (along with young boys.) After that, German went hardline conservative and didn't allow women into the military until 1975 and even then it was only into the Medical Corps. And it wasn't until 2001 that they actually allowed women into combat units. So the Shadow Hearts universe is WAY more liberal in this regard...
Nicolai literally has Galahad of the Knights of the Round Table's sword as his weapon of choice. Which just by itself lends a bit more evidence to an evil heel turn than dying unceremoniously by the end of the tutorial. Expendable Red Shirts usually don't get relics out of mythology. Usually...
It's worth mentioning that way back in Koudelka, broken duplicates of Galahad's Sword were a potential weapon drop from... evil zombie dogs.
Let's be real, you could stick any Catholic Church upper echelon attire into a JRPG without skipping a beat. So Nicolai's uniform isn't that outlandish.
Finally, there is just the stat page for our characters. Most of the upper values are self-explanatory if you've ever played a JRPG before and if not... I'm not sure why you started with a LP of technically the third game of a franchise. But you live your life how you want to... As for the rest of the stats, they've retained everything from the original Shadow Hearts in that department and haven't altered their uses all that much. For a brief rundown:
- Strength - Governs physical attack ability. Mostly gets affected by weapons equipped.
- Intelligence - Governs special attack ability (read: Magic.) Also gets boosted by weapons for more magically inclined characters.
- Vitality - Governs defense against physical attacks. Armor boosts this stat greatly.
- Power - Governs special attack defense. Same deal as Vitality for the most part.
- Agility - Governs the number of turns a character receives in combat and to a lesser extent their potential evasion rate.
- Luck - It is Luck, so it's a vague mish-mash of obscured mathematical calculations the player will never see such as potential Critical Hits, rare item drops from enemies, evasion rate potential, attack accuracy and probably some other crap the game will never mention. My feeling on Luck stats being dumb as hell has not wavered.
- Dominance Capacity Points - Ergh... that's a heck of a name. Don't worry about this one right now! It won't be relevant for a little while.
- Weight - All characters have a weight class which affects how likely they are to be flung around by enemy attacks. There's no way to alter this so... don't worry about it either. I forgot it was even technically a displayed stat.
There are also elemental affinities for each character. Karin Koenig is a Fire Elemental character, like all redhead women. While Nicolai Conrad is a Light Elemental, like all Catholics, no matter how somewhat shady they come off. The elements of the Shadow Hearts universe and their opposites are:
- Light - Dark
- Fire - Water
- Wind - Earth
- Non-Elemental (This does count as its own thing and takes reduced damage from all other elements. It's mostly reserved for late game junk.)
That's about it for now. You may notice the Affinity and Profile tabs in this menu. We're going to ignore those for now. Affinity is a mechanic that won't come into play for a while and Profile... straight up spoils some stuff were we to take a gander at those at the moment. Whoops!
OK. Let's try to make some actual progress now and make it out of the first room of the game.
I actually got a wee bit lost here the first time I played this. There are some spiral stairs on either side of the room. But these only lead to semi-hidden chests with some less than noteworthy loot (a Pure Leaf and a Talisman of Luck.) Any time a big Question Mark thought bubble pops out of a character's head, it means there is a point we can click on to interact on the map.
To progress the game, we actually need to walk backward toward the direction we came in. Turns out Nicolai and Karin just wandered into a dead end for no particular reason. There are two sets of stairs a bit back from the main chamber. The staircase to the left leads to a locked gate. The one to the right is the one we want. However, as soon as we so much as approach the steps... well, we ARE in a tutorial dungeon, so...
Music: Vicious 1915 ~ Battle in Europe
While the previous tutorial was just recapping returning elements from the first game, this one is actually something new and pretty fun added to Shadow Hearts: Covenant's battle system -- Combo Attacks!
Scrolling the battle menu down to the bottom reveals a couple more options. Combo is a new one.
Selecting this will allow us to initiate a combo with a team member. Obviously, Nicolai will be doing this with Karin. There will be more to it after we gain additional party members. Selecting Karin will make Nicolai run up to her side to get into Combo position.
From here, we can select what Nicolai will do after initiating the combo. It's either just hang out or enter a defensive stance. You can see at the top of the screen, there is now an indicator of enemy and ally turns, not unlike Final Fantasy X. Shadow Hearts 1 had this same system but obfuscated the actual turn order for no particular reason. Strangely, the fourth icon on the grid is actually the current turn, not the first one. Could not tell you why that UI decision was made. But here we are... Anyway, we'll just have Nicolai hang out since Karin's turn is up next.
Another addition to combat is Hit Classes. Instead of just the standard physical attack being the only option, there is also special degrees of attack. These are:
- Standard - Just the normal, run of the mill attack.
- Hard Hit - As the name suggests, performs a heavy attack that will stagger an enemy but keep them on their feet.
- High Angle - Performs an attack that will launch an enemy into the air.
- Knockdown - A hit that will trip the enemy without launching them into the air.
Starting a combo also makes this weird QTE appear where a random button will flash on the Judgment Ring for a couple of seconds. We have to hit the appropriate button or else the combo will fail. I'm not sure why they felt the need to include this step. But there you go.
In any case, Karin's High Angle strike is a sick cartwheel flip using her sword as a springboard to send that unlucky bondage ghost flying about ten meters into the air.
Since we succeeded in the combo, Nicolai gets to cut in line and have his turn next to perform his end of the Combo (he still needs to complete a Judgment Ring like a normal attack, but the enemy is frozen in place until he does so.) Since these are Level 1 tutorial schmucks, he instantly annihilates the enemy with the next strike which ends the Combo with three hits.
The game does keep tally of Combos length and damage. During special fights (read: Bosses) and it will reward bonuses for pulling off cool team-up attacks. Combos and Hit Classes are nifty additions to the battle system and certainly make the fights more dynamic than mashing the same attack string over-and-over until health meters are drained like the original game frequently devolved into by the end.
Music: Result ~ Victory
Don't underestimate me because I'm a woman.
That all said, that concludes the first rather tutorial dense room of Apoina Tower. Tune in next time as we finish out the rest of the tutorials (there's only one real one left), maybe fight a boss and discover the mysterious exorcism good luck charm Bishop Conrad is after as Shadow Hearts: Covenant continues!
Video: Episode 3 Highlight Reel (You should see some battle stuff in action.)
Lieutenant Karin Koenig Official Art - Knee high, high-heeled boots were a fully necessary part of the uniform.