It’s October, candles lit, lights are off and spooky monsters begins to creep behind you. Jokes aside Halloween is coming, so what better way to use this opportunity to start talking about everyone’s favorite horror games on Kinja.
Most people would probably begin with Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Outlast and other well known titles. But instead I want to share the love of a series that remains deep within my shadow heart (pun intended) … yes, I am talking about Shadow Hearts.
For those who never heard or are unfamiliar with the series, Shadow Hearts is a Japanese Role Playing Game that was rather unique for its time (possibly even unique now). Unlike most JRPG’s which had the focus taking place in sci-fi space or even the Tolkien influence fantasy of sword and magic, the Shadow Hearts series took a grounded approach by taking place in the early 1900’s of Asia, Europe and America while combining the elements of H.P Lovecraft’s story of horror and creature mythos. Throughout the journey players are able to interact with other famous historical figure such as Anastasia, Lawrence of Arabia, Al Capone and etc. (of course with developer’s liberal ideas being put in the mix).
With that out of the way, lets dive into the beginning and end of the series.
Hiroki Kikuta, well known for composing the soundtrack for SQUARE’s (now Square Enix) SNES classic Secret of Mana (1993), began establishing his own company Sacnoth in 1997, with the funding being provided by SNK.
His reason to the creation of Sacnoth, was because of how unhappy he was with the stagnant nature of RPG’s at that time. With Sacnoth, he believed he can take the genre to a whole new direction. As a result, Koudelka was born.
However during Koudelka’s development, quarrels within the company over creative differences ensued. Kikuta wanted to develop an action-based battle system with the inspiration of Resident Evil, while his employees were keen about releasing something closer to games SQUARE had been making (RPGs).
Upon its release in 1999 on the Playstation, Koudelka received mixed reception with most reviewers agree that (1) Koudelka shows a lot of promise to become a series. (2) combat sections in the game were not that great. Along with low sales figure, the company nearly disappeared as SNK could not fund Sacnoth. Resulting Hiroki Kikuta to resigned from Sacnoth (also because quarrels between employees).
Miraculously Azure Entertainment (well known for creating pachinko machines) took control over Sacnoth in 2000. Sacnoth then changed their name to Nautilus for the development of Shadow Hearts and its sequels. The rest… is history
Shadow Hearts plays out like a turn-based RPGs similar to Final Fantasy X. However unlike FFX, it took a unique twist to the formula by implementing the “Judgment Ring”.
For nearly every combat action and some mini-games, players are presented with a circular field with a radar-like line that sweeps through the circle a single time. There are several colored areas on the circular field, and each time the player manages to hit the colored areas, they can do multiple attacks, heal partners and cast spells. On the other hand, if the player fails to hit the colored areas, the character turn ends and becomes vulnerable to enemy attacks.
Another feature to the series is the inclusion of “Sanity Points”. Every time the player enter combat, the sanity point would decrease each turn (possibly characters’ exposure to the horrific and maddening creatures). When the sanity point reaches zero, characters would enter “berserk”. This prevents the player to take control of the character and allowing them to perform random actions (including hitting your own party member), fortunately the problem can be solved by healing them with a specific item or finishing the fight.
Set in 1888 in Aberystwyth, Wales, the game follows the mysterious surrounding Nemeton Monastery. Three of the protagonists are forced to investigate the dark history behind the monastery.
Fifteen years after Koudelka, the game starts off in 1913. On the train players take control of Yuri Volte Hyuga (half Russian/Japanese), who hears a female voice in his head directing him to rescue the young Alice Elliot, whose priest father was brutally murdered in France. Suddenly an English gentleman with a fine top hat by the name of Roger Bacon attempts to abduct Alice from the Japanese Army himself. Once Yuri saves Alice, players began exploring China (and eventually Europe) to discover Alice’s importance, Bacon’s intent and also revealing the mysterious voices and Yuri’s purpose.
Half a year after the first game in the midst of World War I, the plot focuses on Karin Koenig, a lieutenant in the German Army who assists in exorcism of a man able to transform into a demon (Yuri Volte Hyuga). After discovering his caring nature, Karin joins Yuri on an adventure from Europe (and eventually Japan) to save him from the spell inside his body, while also being drawn into conflicts involving demonology.
Taking place in North America in the year 1929, players assume the role of 16-year old New Yorker named Johnny Garland who owns a detective agency who was being hired by a man named Gilbert to find somebody named Marlow Brown. When Johnny finds the man, a mysterious ‘window’ opens and a monster appear. After the horror he witnessed, Johnny later joins a 21-year old Native American named Shania on a quest to uncover the truth behind Gilbert (the person who hired Johnny).
The whole series is mainly composed by Yoshitaka Hirota alongside his friend Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger and Xenogears) and Kenji Ito (Mana ans SaGa Series).
After three games, Nautilus was dissolved in early 2007, leaving the series in a definite limbo (or sadly, brought to the grave). The property is still under Azure but they now mainly focus on making their favorite pachinko machines.
Most of the creative members had joined AQ interactive subsidiary Feelplus inc. While working at Feelplus inc. they gain most of their recognition by helping Mistwalker on their development for the Xbox 360 exclusive Lost Odyssey (2007). However in 2010 Feelplus inc. was again defunct resulting in the company to be absorbed to Marvelous Inc. which is still active. b
Matsuzo Machida, the creator of the Shadow Heart series began creating another game called Arms’ Heart (not connected to Shadow Hearts) exclusive in Japan in 2010, although after that he went quiet again.
It wasn’t until 2nd January 2016, Italian gaming website geekgamer.it had an interview with Matsuzo Machida who has revealed that he is working on a new game.
with the chances of seeing Shenmue 3, Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Resident Evil 2 Remake in this generation. I hoped one day, I will see Shadow Hearts (and possibly Front Mission, Parasite Eve, Skies of Arcadia, Sakura Wars, and many more) in glorious HD and maybe, just maybe I can finally rest peacefully. Here’s to you Shadow Hearts.