My precious PS2 is still apparently selling rather well for a console that by now should be on life support. I feel rather envious of people starting their gaming life with a PS2 today even while we’re so far into a new generation of consoles. Envious because of all the great games that await them, yet also empathy since to play all these amazing titles will surely take them well into the PS4/Wii 2/ Xbox (add number here) era. Even for me, a PS2 owner of almost five years, I still find myself scouring eBay for hidden gems that I may have missed first time around.
A “gotta play them all” instinct that some publishers are also aware of, encouraging things like Konami’s re-release of Shadow of Destiny on the PSP, an obscurity lost to the masses nine years ago, which is now finding new life, surely only to be ignored again.
Adventure games are hardly mainstream anymore and no one cares about the PSP, so it is hardly an obvious choice for re-release. But logic is not one of Shadow of Destiny‘s strong points.
A Japanese perspective on the West is always amusing, mainly because they’re usually so inaccurate and well . . . you know, they also remain very Japanese. Shadow of Destiny chooses to portray a fictional German town named Lebensbaum, in which you play as Eike Kusch, a German man who looks and sounds nothing like a German man at all.
Upon leaving the town’s quaint coffee shop at around 2:30 pm, Eike is stabbed in the back and dies by a foe that no one sees. Instead of that being all she wrote, Eike is given a second chance, waking up in what looks like Josef Fritzl’s run down attic.
A mysterious voice known as Homunculus grants Eike this second life and hands him the Z-pad, a device which enables Eike to travel back and forth through time to prevent his own demise. Starting off in 2001, he’ll eventually find himself going back as far as 1580. Homunculus’s motives are explained later on, revealing his true intent. After all, nothing in life (or the afterlife in this case) is free.
As for Eike, preventing his first death does not deter the reaper, it merely slows him down and alters the natural flow of time. Eike will now die at 3:00pm, but this time by burning alive. And this time hopping doesn’t end there. Eike will die, die, and die some more only to be brought back to try and figure out what the hell is going on and who on Earth he’s pissed off so darn much. Death is in the air, so much so, that if the Eike of the future encounters the Eike of the past . . . they’ll both die!
For an adventure game, there’s a reasonable amount of control over the protagonist. You move Eike around freely in a decently proportioned town. You walk and talk, not shoot and stab, so action fans should look elsewhere. However, an adventure wouldn’t be an adventure if you weren’t sitting through sloads of dialogue and cutscenes, which is where the problems begin to emerge in the game. For an adventure to be a compelling adventure, then the dialogue, story and acting has to be up to snuff, which sadly they aren’t.
The streets of Lebensbaum are lifeless, empty and cordoned off by walls and . . . panthers. The few non-player characters around town just spout mindless drivel until they agree to do what you want. There appears to be no logic behind the conversations and no way or need to smooth talk the townsfolk into doing your bidding. No, just approach them and hit X enough times, and they eventually do it.
Crucially, there is almost no control over what Eike says. In fact, he says very little, or if he does, he says it very quietly. Eike not having a dialogue tree or a mind of his own is infuriating. A prime example of this is when two individuals are looking for each other. You know where each of them are and Eike knows where each of them are, but Eike refuses to tell either one of them the whereabouts of the other. If a delirious mother were looking for her lost daughter, any decent citizen would let the mother know that they just saw her equally terrified daughter in the town square. But no, not Eike, he keeps that all to himself.
There is also no tutorial. You die, you’re brought back to life, and away you go. It fits in with the bewilderment that I presume one would feel after being murdered and resurrected, but having never died or been brought back from the dead, I couldn’t say for sure. However, from a purely gameplay perspective, it’s confusing and disconnecting. Surely Eike would express some emotion but instead he remains (for lack of a better term) lifeless, as is most of the acting in the game.
So, what initially began as a thriller strays a little too far into science fiction, leading to a convoluted plot, in which not one actor says anything remotely believable. However, the real killer is the lack of interaction. The feeling that you have no real influence in the world means that you may as well be playing an old FMV game from the 80s. Still, the library of PS2 games that should be given a second shot at fame remains vast, but hopefully in future, a little more thought goes into the process — more so at least than goes into your average conversation with Eike.