Although obviously overshadowed by Final Fantasies X, X-2 and XI, the obscure Shadow Hearts franchise carved out its own place in role-playing gamers’ hearts by somehow blending gothic horror and goofball humor. On one hand, you had sheer terror: demons possessing priests, harvesting of souls, serial killers and the end of the world. On the other hand, you had a fat, alcoholic cat that knew Drunken Fist kung-fu and a flamboyantly homosexual vampire-turned-wrestler who bludgeoned his enemies with a huge, frozen tuna.
Amazingly, it all worked, perhaps thanks to meaningful characters and epic-yet-personal storylines. Shadow Hearts even had continuity, with the characters and events of one game spawning and influencing those of the next. Sadly, the series’ third (and admittedly weakest) entry was its last, but all three deserve a second shot at lush, HD-quality life. [Ed note: Actually, so do the PS2-era Shin Megami Tenseis, while we’re wishing].
Granted, visuals aren’t really the focus of Harmonix’s pre-Guitar Hero/Rock Band releases, so this is more GR wish fulfillment than something that could actually happen. There would also probably be licensing hurdles to overcome, what with two catalogs of music that A) contain groups that could ask for more money and B) are songs that could date the series to a specific 2001-2002 time period. However, the gameplay is so alluring, we want to share it with an audience whose only exposure to this type of game includes a pile of plastic instruments.
In a way, you can play Amplitude right now on PSP – it’s called Rock Band Unplugged, and it more or less handles identically to our PS2 obsessions. The only catch is that it’s dressed up as a Rock Band game, and lacks the ultra-trippy backgrounds from Frequency and Amplitude, which, to bring it full circle, would undoubtedly look fuggin’ amazing in HD. Audio may be the focus, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to have a fabulously psychedelic seizure.
Mixing Disney-style animation with M-rated violence is hardly a new idea. But Mark of Kri perhaps did it better than anyone else in the entire decade, effortlessly blending vibrant worlds with gory finishing moves. Kri was a true PS2 gem, offering up a distinct visual style and an amazing combat setup that let you fight groups of enemies with actual combos and skill, not button-mashy silliness. Other abilities, like sending your bird to scout the path ahead, broke up the action and turned it into a Metal Gear-ish stealth affair.
Its sequel didn’t turn out as well. While the style and combat remained mostly whole, the reliance on an irritatingly idiotic AI partner (the hero’s sister Tati) soured the entire experience. In an HD remake, it could be possible to finally add online co-op (or same system, we’d take that too!), fixing the game’s most glaring flaw and perhaps endearing a whole new generation to this should’ve-been-a-blockbuster franchise. Plus, those animated cutscenes would probably drop our jaws all over again.
In case you missed them, Primal and Ghosthunter were a couple of relatively obscure games made by Sony’s European arm (although Ghosthunter was published by Namco in the US). Primal, released in 2003, was an adventure starring a gothy young woman with a gargoyle sidekick and the power to transform into different species of demon (something that may or may not have been influenced by the legendary SNES game Demon’s Crest). Ghosthunter, meanwhile, was an alternately goofy and horrifying adventure that had a lot of similarities with the ‘80s Real Ghostbusters cartoon.
Aside from their paranormal bent, the two games had a few things in common: neither of them had spectacular gameplay, for starters, but they made up for it with gobs of creepy atmosphere and some high-end stories and presentations (particularly Ghosthunter, which featured Sir Michael Gambon voicing one of the most fascinating game villains ever). And both ended up largely ignored and forgotten at retail.
It’s a shame, really, because in spite of their flaws, these are both top-flight productions. An HD makeover would be a perfect way to highlight that, while giving them a second chance with a new audience that might be a little more accepting of subdued adventure games. Sure, it’s wildly unlikely, considering that neither game sold well enough to merit further attention from Sony, but this list is about what we want to see – not what we think we will.
Instead of flailing around aimlessly in an attempt to restart the ailing Silent Hill series, maybe Konami should revisit its strongest work and spruce up Silent Hill 2. There’s very little argument that SH2 is the strongest entry, telling one of the best videogame stories ever with one of the creepiest, most disturbing villains of all time. The only problem is that its 2001 fog-swirling technology is a bit out of date, and could stand a Homecoming-esque upgrade. We wouldn’t mind a few other tweaks, but we’d be happy just to play through it as-is, with Trophy support.
But to keep the “collection” theme going, toss in Silent Hill 3 (also good) and Silent Hill 4: The Room (eeeeeeeh) and we’ve got the series’ heyday all in one place. By the time we play through each again and re-acquaint ourselves with psychological horror done right, Konami may have found a way to make this franchise work again. We’re still all for a Resident Evil crossover, guys!
Sep 17, 2010
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