Shadow Hearts (シャドウハーツ Shadōhātsu?) is a series of role-playing video games for the PlayStation 2. The Shadow Hearts series was developed by Sacnoth (renamed Nautilus for the later games in the series) and released by Aruze in Japan and Midway in North America and Europe. However, Shadow Hearts: From the New World was published by XSEED Games in North America and Ghostlight in Europe.
A trilogy of role-playing games set in an alternate history of the early 20th century, mixing gritty realism with fantastic elements and heavy Lovecraftian elements. The first two games take place in Asia and Europe shortly before and during World War I, while the third game puts the player smack-dab in mid-to-late 1920s America... sort of. The original Shadow Hearts had the misfortune of being released just one week before the insanely popular Final Fantasy X, but the series has still enjoyed its share of fans over the years and has developed into something of a cult classic. Koudelka, while not a Shadow Hearts game in name, was the first to be released and exists in the same continuity as the Shadow Hearts games. It was originally developed as the Magnum Opus of Hiroki Kikuta (who previously worked as the composer for Secret of Mana) and a radical new take on the stagnant RPG genre, but executive meddling forced him to change the game from Resident Evil style action-horror to Final Fantasy style traditional Turn-Based Combat. The result was a mess (teaching us, among other things, why Survival Horror games should not have random encounters) with Kikuta resigning in protest after the game's completion.
Set in Wales in 1898, the game tells the story of Koudelka, a young gypsy girl with supernatural powers who is drawn to the mysterious Nemeton Monastery after experiencing a series of troubling visions. Along with adventurer/thief Edward Plunkett and bishop James O'Flaherty, they must delve into the dark history of Nemeton Monastery and stop the malevolent force that permeates its halls.
After original developer Sacnoth was taken over by Aruze Entertainment, the Sacnoth team (sans Kikuta) created Shadow Hearts as a Spiritual Successor to Koudelka, set in the same universe but shifting the genre to pure Eastern RPG.
The first two games star Yuri Volte Hyuga, part genre savvy bada** ineffectual loner and part goofy idiot hero butt monkey who just can't get a break. He also happens to be a Harmonixer, which means that he can fuse with the souls of the cosmic horrors that he defeats and turn into various superpowered monsters. He would rather just coast through life beating up anyone stupid enough to give him lip, except in Shadow Hearts there's a voice in his head that tells him to do stuff and isn't too appreciative if Yuri fails to fall in line. This leads him to rescue a young cleric named Alice Elliot, who the main antagonist needs to power his device, and the plot leads on from there.
The sequel, Shadow Hearts: Covenant, sees Yuri's former powers sealed away by the new bad guys in town and introduces Karin Koenig as his new companion. They seek to find a cure for the Mistletoe Curse that Yuri has been afflicted with while struggling against the Illuminati-like cult Sapientes Gladio, who naturally want to take over the world. Covenant later got an Updated Re-release under the name Shadow Hearts II: Director's Cut which was unfortunately never released outside of Japan. Curiously, with a little bit of hackwork you can unlock some of the English-translated Director's Cut content in PAL versions of Covenant.
The third game, Shadow Hearts: From the New World, could almost be seen as a Gaiden Game (despite the fact it stays within continuity) in that it replaces Yuri with intrepid kid detective Johnny Garland, moves the setting to America (refreshingly, not Eagleland) and gives the fusion powers to a scantily clad magical Native American woman named Shania. She's searching for "Lady", the stoic cyber punk woman who wiped out her entire tribe, and Johnny signs up for the ride after developing the ability to create a laser blade out of a powerful (but evil) force known as Malice.
For a very long time, the games in the series were notoriously hard to find. Recently, however, the first two were reprinted, making them rather easy to find at any good EB Games or Gamestop. From the New World is hard to find in stores but simplicity itself to order off the Internet. Good luck finding Koudelka, though.
Not to be confused with the Kingdom Hearts games which, while featuring shadows, are not related to this series.
The Power of the Verse
Shadow Hearts is a very powerful verse. Their top tiers range from Planet Level to Star Level. You have characters like Yuri who is a Harmonixer (basically he can fuse with monsters). He has fused with several gods and has considerable power. One fusion has the power to cause a worldwide earthquake by growling. Another fusion has the power to submerge the entire world in a torrential rainfall. At his second strongest fusion, he can obliterate a world with a stray thought. At his strongest who has a immaterial body and is the controller of life and death can destroy large cities by flexing and can kill nigh-universal gods with ease. Dehuai was going to use the Valorisation in order to destroy all of Japan, the Valorisation summoned Seraphic Radiance. Also bare in mind it was said many times that if Dehuai made even one mistake during the Valorisation he could have destroyed the Earth, obviously this implies that Seraphic Radiance would have destroyed the Earth. You also have characters like Kato who technically succeeded in destroying the world by undoing 100 years of time itself, Kurando fusing with Tsukiyomi the moon goddess that can manipulate the power of the moon, The Awaker and Lady both have the power to destroy the world and Shania fusing with Tatan'Ka can shake the entire planet and Tirawa who is the sun spirit.
You even have gods like Yamaraja: Wind who can travel at the speed of light early in SH1, Soul Block who has speed of light attack speed and the final boss Meta-God who is the creator of Earth, can make a star go nova and can travel at 4,800,000 light-years who Yuri canonically defeat with his third strongest form Amon along with his party members.
You also have the Three Ancient Tomes with reality warping potential, the Émigré Manuscript that has the power to manipulate time and undo death originally made by The Author a Druidic God from Koudelka and translated by Roger Bacon. You also have the Codex of R'lyeh that records the true nature of the Outer Gods and gives the reader knowledge of how to call out to such beings and the Pulse Tract that has the power to manipulate the elemental forces of nature and manifest the planet's life-force both written by Roger Bacon.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant
Shadow Hearts: From the New World
Seraphic Radiance/Dark Seraphim
Grand Papillion (superhero Joachim)
Bat form Joachim
Bat form Hildegard