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Game Over Online ~ Shadow of Destiny

GameOver Game Reviews - Shadow of Destiny (c) Konami, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Shadow of Destiny (c) Konami
System Requirements Windows, Pentium III 450MHz, 64MB RAM, 700MB HDD, 16MB 3D Accelerator, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 90%
Date Published Tuesday, July 23rd, 2002 at 12:40 PM


Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

Pieces of work that revolve around time travel are usually prone to commit a few inherent flaws. First is the slapstick sci-fi quality where works will present the most hackneyed explanations in the need for time travel. This is the dreadful mad scientist storyline we have all come to loathe. Others, on the other hand, don't take advantage of time travel. It's as if traveling through time is second nature, as easy as opening a jar of peanut butter; which takes away from the freshness of the concept and often, the supporting drama isn't convincing on its own anyway. Shadow of Destiny is a rare piece that finds a balance between making time travel believable and time travel a necessity to the plot. It is intelligent and thought provoking in a way that it doesn't insult the audience's acumen.

You assume the role of Eike Kusch, a dweller in a small European town with cobblestone streets, market plazas, and sturdy stone buildings. Eike, as he is known throughout the storyline, has a strange problem as you will see in the onset. He keeps getting himself killed from no fault of his own. Why, who and how these deaths happen will be up to you to find out. But how does Eike continue the story if he is killed at the beginning of every chapter? In his afterlife, Eike awakens in a dreary room in the presence of a being known as Homunculus, who endows Eike with a Digipad that lets him travel through time. The catch is he can only travel to certain times and at certain moments. After that, Eike is let out unto the city again, in his attempt to thwart death in the present time at an appointed hour. As you slowly work your way through the plot, you'll delay your death by minutes, hours and finally, an entire day, such that the killer or cause of killing will be negated.

Because of this inherent feature, you're bound to experience some déjà vu. Shadow of Destiny is a cinematic story with much of the scenes playing out in a passive spectator role. However, it handles this quite well. If you die and you talk to the same people, déjà vu sequences can be skipped, so you'll be able to keep track of things. Just the same though, Eike will undergo multiple deaths and through each death, he'll be able to develop clairvoyance into the future such that the next time you meet a certain character, you may already know what they're about to say and for good measure, Eike knows too.

That is the key strength you are endowed with that your enemy does not have. Each chapter begins with a cause for death. You'll be maimed, shot, stabbed or run over and short of tripping over your own two feet, you're destined to die at the appointed hour. Homunculus even jokes at one point when Eike is stabbed from the back, "What about putting something like an iron plate under your clothing?" Without giving too much away, each death happens because of an X condition. At which point, your job is to travel back in time and do everything you can, talk to people or change events to prevent X condition from happening in the future. As you progress though, the conditions of your death will require you to travel between increasingly lengthier times and the cause or condition for your death in the present may not be as clear. A slight change of things in the past, even many centuries ago, may prevent your death; chaos theory, par excellence.

To be able to think in four dimensions is tough according to Stephen Hawking. He humbly states that he has enough trouble piecing out problems in the third dimension. But the fourth dimension is what Shadow of Destiny challenges you with. Some of the solutions to your problems are very subtle and clever. For example, at one point, a falling object kills Eike. Note how the solution to the problem is not to beat up the object or wear a helmet but to discover something about someone's past and reveal it to them, causing them to break the object out of shock or dismay. It's done so neatly that you have to think back through the events to figure it out. Another incident requires you to talk to yourself and like the recent film Frequency, instruct your past to do something for the present. In this sense, Shadow of Destiny is very different from North American adventure titles. Its concept challenges you to do more than merely chatting your way through forked conversations to solve puzzles. And it definitely is not one where you merely mix and match inventory to objects, like a burglar's ring of keys to keyholes.

The story is fleshed out more by some capable voice acting. Although at times, it is sorely in need of Hollywood talent, the numerous characters you meet are enigmatic, engaging and memorable. However, it is not on the order of titles like Grim Fandango or Planescape: Torment. Those featured characters (and voices) that had more affability; the former in humor, the latter in depth. The one I fell in love with most was the sinister Homunculus character, who assumes an attractive feminine form but is endowed with a synthesized yet effeminate voice that reminded me of the Shodan character in the System Shock series. Her speech is at once ominous and scintillatingly seductive. Visually, Shadow of Destiny suffers from the low resolution of being a console title. While you can play it out in higher resolutions, some animated sequences, like time travel, remain pixilated. But all in all, Shadow of Destiny possesses an appealing style. It's not overly based on overseas anime and has a naturalistic look to it. The character models are well animated, save for stiff arms. There's good use of lighting. Look closely at the library's windows during daytime. Fade and motion blur effects are used fruitfully for time shifting sequences. Moreover, the artists exercise great liberty in their work. Medieval times are portrayed in an off-color brownish tone, including the people. While everyone in the turn of the (20th) century time are black and white, just like the photographs.

The only troublesome spot is presenting the initial concept itself. There's very little explanation on how time travel can be used to thwart your death. In the beginning, you're fenced into a relatively restricted space, guarded by 'dogs' at every alley. It would have been much easier to guide new players through their first four dimension problem solving and have them go from there. Shadow of Destiny is filled with hints but they, like the nature of the title, are very subtle. The console-like camera system, which relies exclusively on the keyboard or gamepad, is hard to get used to too.

Shadow of Destiny works so well because it is told entirely within a closed world. That's why we are able to look over the constant loopholes that Eike generates, despite his adamant refusal to alter too much from the past. In the present, you'll meet an old man who dreams of doing a movie only to be able to travel back in time and remind him of his moviemaking dreams. However, there are some peculiarities, like the fact that the story makes the assumption that everyone lives in the same hamlet as they did for centuries. While that may actually be the case in class-restricted Europe (more foreign to us in the relatively new North America), such details are insignificant to the story as are the medieval people who are able to say 'OK'.

In Japan, I'm told that there isn't much of a Hollywood for creative minds to go to. So when creative minds get an incredible idea, instead of making a film, they proceed to make a game. That adage plays very strongly in influencing this title. Very cinematic in nature, Shadow of Destiny encourages replaying by offering at least half a dozen endings and the opportunity to travel back in time to fix more pedestrian problems. Its magic and charm is in its problem solving, on the order of the fourth dimension: time. It weaves this often-problematic device so well into the plot that the two are seamlessly meshed together to provide, ceteris paribus, one of the most compelling adventures released this year.

 

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Rating
90%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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