Today, I have made up my mind concerning an important decision. From this moment on, I vow never to trust the opinion of a Funco Land employee again. Just the other day, an unidentified register jockey suggested that I purchase Shadow of Destiny after I asked if any PlayStation 2 RPGs were worth purchasing. This rather portly fellow tricked me into spending $52 on a “game” that was not worth half of said price, and in the hopes that I can save future gamers from making my mistake, I have written this. Here’s my review.
Once upon a time, in a small German village, there was a man named Eike Kusch. One day, Eike was walking down the street for no particular reason, when out of the shadows came a madman brandishing a knife. Now, most opening stories usually allow the hero to survive, but not this one. Before you even gain control of the guy, you’re killed. Moments later, Eike is transported to a hellish little corner of the afterlife known as “the Dark”. A strange echoing voice awakens him.
Eike lifts himself up to listen to the speaker. Apparently, he is now dead, just as fate demands that he should be. Under normal circumstances, this would be the end of the matter, but the speaker has a slight problem. Despite his phenomenal powers over the affairs of men, the speaker’s destiny has been altered due to Eike’s death. Should Eike not survive, the speaker would never have been born. Obviously, Eike sees a win-win situation and decides to assist the strange one in his plight. In exchange for his help, the thing will revive Eike as well as give him a machine that will allow him to travel through time to change the past, thereby making it so that he won’t die in the future.
Eike wakes up in a small coffee shop. He remembers the assault as well as the strange conversation with whoever it was and quickly checks his watch. It is exactly half an hour before the knifing took place… and will take place again.
Shadow of Destiny is not a game; let me just clear up that confusion before I begin. It is more like a multi-ended movie that allows you to slightly change how it goes. There is some interaction on the player’s part though, yet not even close to enough.
The entire “game” takes place within an unidentified city. It is divided into chapters, 10 in all, and each one has a certain goal for you to accomplish. Let’s take the first one for example. After getting stabbed, you basically wander around town until you walk near the fortuneteller’s shop. Hopefully it won’t take you too long to find, because the entire time you are searching, the clock is racing by. When you get near it, a cut scene begins and the woman inside tells you that if you were to head back to that morning and convince people to be at the scene of the crime at 2:30, the assassin will have to give up, you’ll live, fate will be changed, and the hour of your… departure will be postponed.
After the cut scene finishes, a certain amount of time is used up (because the clock doesn’t stop for your conversations) and then you are given control again. You fire up your time machine and head back in time to earlier that day. Once there (then?), you simply go around and talk to people until your time machine starts flashing, thereby informing you that it’s time to go. You head back to your own time, people are near you at 2:30, and one crisis is averted. The end of the first section of the “game” has been reached.
That example is just one of the nine brain-waffling puzzles you’ll be faced with. Each and every one of them is just as incredibly difficult as that one! Why, it must’ve taken me ten whole minutes to get past some of them. Sarcasm aside, the game is pitifully easy. When each chapter starts, you die. The voice gives you a surprisingly straightforward hint concerning what you should do next. You come back from the dead and then do what you were told to. The level is beaten. Whoopee.
With the exception of some side quests to complete providing clarifying background information and improving your rating at the end of the game, the game is very short and has only two points where the story can be changed, depending on your choices. I beat the whole thing in 3 hours, according to the save data. At $52, that makes the price roughly $17.33 an hour. I am not a satisfied customer. Of course, after you finish, you can play it through again in order to choose different options and marginally change the story, as well as check an extra option to see some secret movies and find out exactly what percentage of the cut scenes you’ve seen.
There are really only two things to worry about in the game. In order to use your time machine, you must have fuel. This comes in the form of small green flashy things dispersed throughout the town, not to be confused with the small blue flashy things, which indicate that a key item is there. As you travel around, both will be collected in order to let you progress. For each fuel you get, you can travel through time once, but because there are two to five of them hidden in each era, and because they grow back, it never is a problem.
As for the key items, these are collected, usually one per chapter, and used, usually in that exact same chapter. For instance, you could find a place where you need a ladder to reach a key. In town, you’ll find a ladder. Try to guess what to do next. Some are more vague than that and are only used for side quests, but it’s still easy enough to guess their use. By the way, for the sadistic or foolish, there is an option to turn off the item location indicator, as well as the usable door indicator. Do so at your own risk.
The other thing to concern yourself with is the timer. Throughout each chapter, there will be a clock showing you what time it is in the real world as well as one for whatever era you find yourself in. Once the real timer reaches the time when you are supposed to die, you die and the level basically restarts. However, if you don’t exist in the real world when that point rolls by, destiny reaches a slight snag and the only way the universe won’t collapse on itself is for your existence to be utterly erased from history. Although it’s easy to tell when you’re getting close to the end, each cut scene takes up anywhere from 20 seconds to 15 minutes of your time, making it somewhat easy to miss the proverbial bus.
Fortunately, the storyline is enough to keep you interested, despite the lackluster gameplay. You start out knowing nothing about our Aya Brea look alike named Eike, but it soon develops into a brain-cramping time travel mystery and bits of background pop up. The tale spans throughout time and you wind up meeting ancestors and past forms of friends and foes alike. Sadly, it all ends far too soon, but it does provide a nice cinematic experience while it lasts, plus that ending added a very nice twist to finish off an original tale. One of the only problems in it would be a slightly awkward translation, but those guys did pull off a praiseworthy job. Throw in the ability to see your main character die time and time again and you have something worth seeing – just not for the price of a game.
Visually, Shadow of Destiny is outstanding and lets me know that the future of the PlayStation 2 is going to be quite impressive. Apparently, the game’s makers went out of their way to make everything seem as movie-like as possible (at the cost of gameplay) and they succeeded remarkably. Roughly three quarters of the game are made up of cut scenes that are astoundingly realistic.
While backgrounds were slightly dull and lacked real detail, the “actors” were phenomenal. Facial expressions, body movement, and even the mouthing of words are nearly life-like, and I can only think of a handful of situations where the “game” didn’t seem almost mistakable for the real thing. Along with that, time travel is accompanied with psychotic light shows, the likes of which remind me of the Gates in Chrono Trigger.
Even era design is interesting. As Calvin’s father once said, the world was all black and white at the turn of the century, and we cannot forget that famous portion of the Middle Ages known simply as “the Brown era”. While the cast was small, the design for some of them was excellent. Homunculus in particular just gave off one of the most blatantly evil feelings I’ve seen in a long while. The only areas I noticed that needed work were minor things like hair moving and a cat being stroked, but remember, the system is still pretty new.
Most of the game’s music gave off a mildly creepy feeling through the system’s incredibly high-quality sound. However, much of it seemed more suspenseful and dramatic than horrifying. There are also a few calmer moments such as when you are helping a small child, as well as some fast-paced scenes, but most of the music is similar to the opening theme. This isn’t really a bad thing as the game is too short for it to get on your nerves, but it could use some more variety.
This goes double for sound effects. You would not believe how quickly you will tire of hearing footsteps as you run around the city, but even more unbearable is the fact that after about five seconds of light jogging, our over-apologetic hero starts breathing hard. My grandmother is 83 years old (bless her soul) and she can still clean the house up and down without a single complaint. There are also a few extra effects for the cut scenes, but none of them are particularly outstanding. There isn’t even a single explosion in the whole thing. Phooey.
Despite the other problems, the voice acting was superb. Every line is spoken, and considering that almost every cut scene has at least some dialogue, that means there’s a whole lot of speaking parts. None of it was poorly acted out, and unless I’m mistaken, they even got Harold from Hey Arnold to play a village ruffian. Talk about Hollywood talent. Also worth mentioning are the unsettlingly evil sounding little girls.
Controlling Eike through his fatality-ridden day is surprisingly simple. There is one menu of items to look through, one action button, and running through town is controlled via the analog stick. No other buttons are really used except for the L and R buttons for camera control. My only grievance against this would be that collision detection is a little off and it’s easy to get caught on corners, but aside from that, you can cruise comfortably through it after a mere ten-second learning curve.
If for some reason you decide that you must own this game, I’d have to suggest getting a used copy as paying full price for it seems very stupid. However, getting a used copy requires that someone buys it first, and now that I’ve told you all to not buy it for the full price, used copies will be hard to find. Perhaps, if you have a time machine, you could go back to March 8, 2001 and hunt me down to prevent me from writing the review. Then fools will go out, buy the game, and return it so you can save 20 bucks or so. Of course, if you do have a time machine, you probably have better things to do than play this title anyway.