Shadow of Destiny review
A Short Memory
Here's a thought for you. Can you imagine a video game on a console - say, the PS2 - that doesn't involve any real action? You don't fight the hellspawn of the army of darkness using flashy attacks, nor do you kick a ball about while dangerous looking sports stars home in on your position. And no, it's not The Sims either. A game that takes the idea of adventure a bit literal and drops any sense of action. Sounds so very boring when it is laid out like that, and yet Shadow of Memories (Shadow of Destiny to the American audience) not only takes that mold but makes it work, marking it out as a fairly unique title amongst a sea of games.
In this title you play the role of Eike Kusch, who the storywriters decide to showcase his death right at the beginning. Props for them killing the protagonist straight away, but it wouldn't be much of a game without a main character so naturally he is brought back to life. It seems someone else would find themselves in a bind if Eike died and so decide to help him evade his own fatal destiny. After an unnerving conversation Eike awakens in the cafe a mere half hour before he is fated to die, armed both with the knowledge of how he died and ability to travel through time.
Throughout the 10 chapters of the game Eike must thwart multiple deaths and get closer to the root of whatever wants him dead. Needless to say that the cause becomes linked with his own efforts and can wind up hitting quite a nice conclusion. I don't really think any of the supposed "big reveals" are shocking by the time they do crop up, as the game is all too eager to foreshadow them with the subtly of a raging bull, but they are worked into the tale nicely and the overall structure made me want to see things through to the end just so I could see the story unravel.
Each chapter of the game kicks off with a scene showing Eike's death, followed by some advice from his mysterious benefactor. From there the player is tasked with figuring out a way before their fated time arrives. This is really where the game completely goes off from almost any other game, as there are no fight sequences, platforming hell sections or anything like that. SoM is very much a puzzle game where you put together circumstances that ensure your survival.
To throw a twist into things is the presence of the digipad. This little device is what allows Eike to jump between time periods. A special "fuel" is need to power it, but this is rarely an issue as each era has multiple power cells that respawn, so at worst you might have to look a little to get what you need. As you play the game opens up specific time periods to jump to, and solving puzzles usually involves doing something in the past to affect the present. A murderer will be put off an assassination attempt if there's a lot of potential witnesses around, for example.
Despite the ability to time travel, the clock is always against you. The game has two clocks constantly running - one is for the time period you're in currently and one is for the "present" time where Eike came from. If the present time reaches the point of his death then you still face a game over despite not being in the place at the time, no doubt due to destiny having a fit. This puts some pressure on the player to make sure they don't dawdle and helps to keep things moving.
The way time moves is done in two ways. The clocks move in real time for the most part, but events in the game will fast forward the clocks by set amounts depending on what you do. These things cover a variety of things, including talking to people or using objects. This is done to ensure that things that are supposed to take up 5 minutes game time don't take up 5 minutes literal real life time and makes sure things don't drag too much.
The puzzle aspect of the game is done quite well, thankfully given that's the whole point. You're given hints and then set out to use that information to form a solution. Many of the challenges you face come with logical choices to make and players should derive a lot of enjoyment in going about it. The game's system is set up to ideally try and avoid too much vagueness, such as the digipad only allowing for some time periods to be accessed just so you don't go wandering around in completely the wrong area.
Items in the game are used in solving these dilemmas too, even when at first you wouldn't figure out the significance. What use is a mobile phone if Eike's not going to use it to call someone? Maybe it could be handy in a time period it wouldn't be recognised? It's this kind of thinking that the game encourages.
That said, it's not all perfect. There are a few times when the puzzles presented were very vague and resulted in some aimless wandering around town, either not knowing how to accomplish my goal or not even knowing what my goal was. While these moments are drowned out by solutions that could be logically figured out, it was still a bother to find myself sideswiped by such troubles and an issue where almost every single action caused the clock to jump forward.
The events of the game all take place within a single European village. The layout of the place makes for an interesting location and the network of roads and paths make it a complex place to explore. Obviously it was not possible for the developers to allow for Eike to enter every single building in the place (which is logical, unlike many RPGs with a few houses that welcome looting strangers), but the place still has a few points of interest, like the fortune teller that can provide more details on your impending demise or the art gallery where Eike has some business to attend to. The game also makes full use of the time travel to produce variants of this village, where the layout is similar but differences like a manor where the art gallery was.
Fortunately, while complex there is an ease of navigation thanks largely to the map you have available. At the simple press of a button an overhead map view is brought up, which also highlights Eike's position and orientation, as well as pointing out places you can potentially enter. So if you need to hop over to the gallery then this will help.
However, now I must draw upon the game's biggest weakness, which is the lack of replay value. The game proclaims multiple endings depending on the actions you take, and indeed multiple endings it has, but actually replaying the game simply isn't fun once you've done it once. As the whole concept revolves around puzzle solving and no action then there is no challenge once you already know what to do. Also the fact that despite the endings the path you take through the game varies so little makes it feel too much like retreading all too familiar ground.
The developers have worked to alleviate some of this. Cutscenes and conversations can be skipped at the press of a button if you've seen them already, and the generous save system can mean you can save at critical points, then reload those save files to take the story in a different direction. There are also "sidequests" where you can explore and check out meaningless events unassociated with Eike's fate. But this doesn't mean all that much because it still takes a while to get through all the stuff you've done already.
This also means that the lifespan is quite short. The game itself doesn't last terribly long - perhaps somewhere in the 6-8 hour region - and then that's it because I really don't feel like trudging through the same thing again.
The audio side of things aren't as impressive as I would have hoped. Almost the entire music soundtrack consists mostly of ambient background sounds. This in itself is quite good, as while hardly music player material it helps set the tension as Eike rushes to avoid the next deathblow. It's just that it recycles the same kinds of music over and over so it soon fades into the background and stops being useful. Voice acting is good for the most part, with Eike being a standout for voicework. On the other hand, Homunculus' voice just comes across as incredibly camp, which hurts the image of that character that is supposed to be quite dark in nature.
Visuals are more impressive. I quite like the detail and technical quality of the character models, for example. A lot of care has gone into crafting them and the design choices fit in well in each given time period. The work into the facial expressions and animations like walking have been done well so such things look smooth and natural. This extends to the NPCs as well, though understandably not to the same level of detail.
The location itself is very nice too. The structure of the town makes it feel very much like a real place and the attention to detail is amazing. The various details like the brickwork helps paint the picture but it's aspects like building interiors being so full of well designed furniture and knick-knacks that helps things along. What strikes me as most impressive is how the town's look changes in different time periods. The architecture and layout receive modification befitting the time you're in, but the designers have also taken the liberty of adapting the colour scheme as well. Modern day is awash in vibrant colours, but jump back several centuries and the town is painted in very earthy tones. It's a very neat effect.
The only thing I would pick on is the indoors camera. Outdoors it works wonderfully, allowing the player to swing in either way and get a good view of the layout. Indoors the camera is fixed when the players are controlling Eike's movement. Although it is possible to use a first person view to look around, you can't move like this so it can get a little disorientating. Fortunatey, the gallery is probably the only place this is of any real concern as other buildings are not that complex.
Shadow of Memories therefore stands out as a rather unique experience on the PS2 and for that reason alone it's worth playing. However, it's just not the kind of game you'll return to again and again. The gameplay itself is very strong with its puzzle solving aspects and a good story to suck players in, but there's just not enough content here to warrant repeat plays. Still, it ranks good with me regardless of that.
About the author
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- Official Guide by NTT (127 Pages, ISBN 4-7571-8089-6) 0
- PSP Re-dub on PC 3
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