The battles use the turn based system, so you will have to alternate between which enemy you attack at each time. You will have to first choose what type of attack you want to use and for which character you want to attack. Attacks generally consist either of a melee, spell, a special ability or you can sometimes use some sort of weapon item. Once you have selected your method of attack a ring will appear on the screen that will look like a fancy swing meter from a golf game. This disc has three orange sections placed at roughly 1-2 o'clock, 4-5 o'clock and 8-10 o'clock. At the trailing end of each orange section is a red section. A hand will move clockwise from the top of the ring and carry on to do a full circle. You have to press the correct button when the hand passes each of the coloured areas. If you hit the button at the correct time on the coloured sections of the ring you move will be successful. If you manage to hit the red sections you will see that you attack will incur more damage. However hitting all the red sections is a pretty tricky task. What you definitely don't want to do is miss the coloured sections on the ring as this will cause your character to do nothing and miss ago. The secret to this attack system is timing and rhythm; once you get used to the system you will find hitting the colours isn't such a difficult task if you get your timing right. However the red sections are pretty tricky to hit and hitting all three is quite a challenge but strangely addictive.
If you thought that was it, you are wrong. The fighting system gets even better. As you progress through the game you can add items to some characters rings which will give that fighter special features such as larger coloured zones, more coloured zones or increase the damage which is served up, this last feature does in fact decrease the size of the coloured sections on the ring though. As for the wimps out there that are used to RPG's that just let you select an attack, there is an auto feature which will make the game do everything for you. Obviously this doesn't deal out as much damage as the manual version. In my opinion this is one of the best fighting systems in any RPG I have ever played as it requires skill, steady hands and timing to do well, were as other RPG's only require you to select an attack from a menu. If selecting attacks from menus is your bag, you can still use the auto mode.
And there is more… You have just read about the basic style attacks and the addition items available so far. Shadow Hearts Convent also has advanced combo moves which are possible by moving your characters close together. Once close you characters will arrange in an attack formation. To complete a link between characters you will need to press one of the four corresponding buttons to link to the next character, as each character is assigned one of the four face buttons on the control pad. When you complete a link you will be rewarded a decent size bonus, should you link all four character together you will be able to finish off the combo with a combo magic move. If you fail to press the relative link button the combo will finish there and then. RPG fighting systems come any better than this one.
The rest of Shadow Hearts Convent will entail visiting parts of Europe and the far east. All the scenery and locales vary hugely in terms of colour but all are beautifully drawn and textured. Another prominent part in Shadow Hearts Convent are the FMV sequences which really push the story forward and look great to boot. The character animation, in game and FMV scenes is very good and all characters, however bizarre they may be move convincingly.
Probably the main let down in Shadow Hearts Convent is the voice work, its not really poor but it certainly could be better. The music on the other hand seems to suit the right occasion all the way through the game, but some music is repeated every time you have a battle for example. Although the music is good in the fighting scenes it can get slightly irritating once the game has been played for a while simply because you do so much fighting.
Shadow Hearts Covenant is a rare RPG that stands up to the might of Square and wins. The battle system is very well thought out, intuitive, and certainly requires some skill, unless of course you choose the auto mode. The story is adept providing lots of plots, sub plots and twists that will keep you going for a good 40+ hours. Any RPG fan would love this game and its slightly bizarre characters and creates such as a big cat/poodle cross breed.
8.5 out of 10
Click Here to view Shadow Hearts: Covenant Screenshots