Shadow of Destiny


Developer & Publisher:    Konami

Released:   2002

PC Requirements:     Windows 95/98/ME/XP, Pentium II 450, 128MB RAM, 16MB 3D DirectX 8.0 compatible video card, DirectX compatible sound card, Keyboard, Mouse




by Singer

Why isn’t everyone talking about this game? 

There are SO many reasons why Shadow of Destiny should roll off the tongues of adventure gamers everywhere, and yet the game appears fated to disappear into the oblivion of indifference.  Well, in keeping with the spirit of the game, I’m about to do my best to reverse that course.

Hands up the number of people who have played Shadow of Destiny (called Shadow of Memories in the UK).  Hmmm, that few?… Okay, how many people have at least bought Shadow of Destiny?  Yeesh…  Perhaps we should start over.  How many people even KNOW there’s a new PC adventure game out called Shadow of Destiny?  Oh dear – this could be harder than I thought.   Sigh….

If you weren’t even aware the game existed for PC, that’s understandable.  Originally released for the Playstation 2 by Konami, Shadow of Destiny was ported to PC with relatively few enhancements outside of some graphical improvements.  Unfortunately, in some kind of marketing blunder, the game’s scheduled release date passed with no updates from Konami, and ultimately it disappeared from popular radar.  Then, with no hype or fanfare at all, the finished game simply emerged (in limited numbers) on store shelves.  So much for publicity.

For those tempted to write the game off simply because of its console roots - DON’T, I urge you.  It does possess some elements of its Playstation heritage, but there is no jumping, fighting, or quick-reflex finger twitching.  This is a pure adventure game through and through.  It also happens to be one of the most intriguing, innovative titles to grace either system in a long time. 

Shadow of Destiny is part classic whodunit murder mystery, part time traveling sci-fi, part fantasy, part love story, and part character-rich drama that compares to really nothing else on the market.  For starters, you’re dead….   I’ll just let that sink in for a moment.  Yep, dead…. Not Grim Fandango dead, either.  You play the role of a young man named Eike (Ike) Kusch, and you witness your own murder in the opening scene (though not the identity of the culprit).  Fortunately, you are roused in a kind of Twilight Zone netherworld by an amoral “Q-like” creature called Homunculus, who offers you the chance to prevent your own death with the aid of a time traveling device.

Sounds easy, right?  Well, not so fast.  Since destiny has targeted Eike for death, it will also be necessary to eliminate the very root cause of your fate, lest death find new ways to claim your life (as it will inevitably do).  As it turns out, over the course of 10 chapters, that will take Eike as far back as the year 1580, and include several time periods in between.  For anyone who recognizes the words “space-time continuum” (someone shoot me if I use another Star Trek term), you realize that messing with timelines has a serious cause and effect impact on the future, so this becomes an intrinsic part of your problem solving on one hand, and your greatest potential danger on the other.

And so begins our game proper.  Shadow of Destiny plays out in a fully 3D gameworld controlled by a (gasp!) keyboard/mouse combo…. Uh oh, I just lost a few readers – darn!  But for those who remain, you’ll be glad you did.  The keyboard (primarily just the arrow keys) will take a little getting used to, but most of your movement will be done in large outdoor areas, so navigation is very little problem.  Only a few indoor areas will be a nuisance, as the navigation is further hindered by bad camera angles.  I’ll admit, this isn’t the ideal setup, but it shouldn’t be enough to discourage anyone but the most ardent keyboard hater.

The graphics are vibrant and colourful, and the anime-inspired character animations are particularly beautiful.  All of the people have large doe-eyes and soft features.  Facial expressions and gestures do a great job of conveying genuine emotion.  The variety of characters is also nice, as you’ll see age ranges from children to the elderly, bald men, portly women, and so on.  In other words, what you’d expect to see in any cross-section of society.

The game takes place in a small unnamed European town with cobblestone streets and a quaint charm.  There is enough activity to make the environment seem alive, from people walking the streets to flags waving in the breeze.  As you move through time, you’ll see the same town in its different iterations, and each time period is marked by a slight alteration in colouring that gives each a unique look.   Each time period also has different weather, so from a dark spring night to a light afternoon rain to a bitterly cold morning snowstorm, the town is completely transformed.  I particularly liked the snow scene, as it carried additional effects like visible breath, and a slower pace as you trudge through the snow.

Some of the background textures are slightly dull or blurry, and the trees are rather wretched looking, but that’s quibbling.  It’s no Syberia, but for a fully 3D environment, this is a very attractive game, and anyone who thinks differently needs more prunes in their diet.

Early in the game, you’ll acquire both a current and historical town map, each of which will come in handy as you begin to travel time.  The maps have the available locations marked on them, so your options are always apparent.  On the actual streets, doors that can be opened are indicated by a symbol pointer.  Realistic, no – handy, yes.

Time travel is as easy as the click of a button, providing you have an “energy unit” to power your device.  Not to worry, though, the energy units are quite plentiful in all time periods, and regenerate each time you return, so keeping yourself supplied should never be a problem.

In his travels, Eike will encounter two women who seem particularly entwined with his own destiny.  This is no cheesy Harlequin story, mind you; it simply adds a layer of personal interest… Will Eike end up with one of them?  CAN he be with either of them?  How are they connected to his fate?  Hey, don’t look at me - no answers coming from this review.  Just the questions. 

The characters you meet are all given a detailed treatment rarely seen in games.  Even secondary characters each possess a distinct personality of his or her own, rather than simply being a plot device.  From the man who curses his emotions after Eike leaves him alone, to the little girl who delights in receiving a kitten for company, to the pigeon toed walk of a young lady, to the bar owner who wants to show off pictures of his grandkids, Shadow of Destiny seems filled with REAL people.  Unfortunately for Eike (but fortunately for gameplay), the people he meets are not necessarily what they seem, and discovering the truth about each character is a vital part of the mystery. 

Sound quality is a mixed bag.  The music is decent and never seems overbearing.  The voice acting is generally quite good.  Eike’s voiceover seems perfectly suited to him, and he always comes across as believable even as he struggles to reconcile himself to the unbelievable events he encounters.  One of the central young ladies has what might be termed a bimbo voice, although her character doesn’t come across that way.  My only real objection is one boy, Hugo, who was surely voiced by a developer’s younger brother who insisted on being part of the project.  Leave the kid at home next time, folks.

The sound effects in the game are one of the primary failings.  While overall fairly decent, the game contains one particular effect that drove me nuts.  In an attempt at realism, rather than maintain a steady footfall sound as he runs, Eike sporadically produces a louder heel clicking, but this was WAY overdone, and had the effect of someone whapping a kid’s clacker toy in my ears.  Unfortunately, in another strange move, that particular effect was tied to the sound volume for VOICES, so it wasn’t possible to turn it down significantly.  The other bizarre effect occurred in a time period which contained a jogger.  For some reason, regardless of where the jogger was in relation to Eike, the LOUD! tired panting sounded like it was coming from right beside me.  Hey, there’s a time and place for heavy breathing, but this wasn’t it.

All right, I’ve skirted around the fringes, but now it’s time to come to the most contentious aspect of the game.  Timed sequences.  In fact, the whole GAME is one timed sequence after another, and a clock is a permanent fixture on the screen.  It’s a design decision that won’t be unanimously embraced, but hear me out.

First of all, being dead already, you’re not really penalized if you can’t prevent your death (again) in time.  Each segment of the game is MEANT to be played through several times in order to get the full effect of the story.  If you just want to progress through the main storyline, you’ll likely have more than enough time in each sequence – as I said, it’s not about fast reflexes; just logical decision making.  But if you want to take your time and explore fully, there’s no punishment; you’ll simply re-visit Homunculus’ netherworld, and then be placed back in time again to continue your quest. 

Taking this philosophy to the extreme, there are a total of EIGHT different endgame scenarios, depending on several crucial decisions that you make.  These decisions are emphasized by asking you to verify your choice, so you’ll know when you’re making them. 

Just so you understand my own preferences, I dislike repetition in games.  It goes against my nature to recommend a game that encourages repetition, but in this case I will.  The story is simply so compelling (and the game so short otherwise) that it’s worth a little repetition to uncover all available scenarios. 

The other major objection to this game might be its degree of interactivity.  This isn’t an interactive movie, but it can have that feel at times.  After a period of controlling Eike through different actions and choices, you’ll frequently break to watch lengthy cutscenes which drive the story forward.  Again, it runs contrary to my nature to sit still during many such scenes, but I never felt that I was waiting them out to get to my next play session; I was witnessing a story of which I was the audience, a participant, AND a director, and that made it worth the time and energy I invested in it.

I didn’t say everyone would love this game.  What I initially said is that everyone should be TALKING about it.  It’s a fresh approach to adventure gaming, and as such it should be debated high and low for its merits vs. limitations.  What it shouldn’t be is ignored.

There is, of course, another reason to promote this game.  For years now, adventure gamers have been the underdog – a persecuted niche market whose genre is “dead” and gets no respect.  Well, gang, this is a glimpse back into the big time.  This is the sort of game, no matter how poorly marketed, that will likely serve as fodder for future corporate decisions.  If sales numbers for Shadow of Destiny are pitiful, it’ll simply reinforce the concept that there’s no money in adventure games and the cycle will repeat itself. 

Having said that, I would never recommend a game solely to support the business of adventure gaming.  No, I do so only because this game stands proud and tall on its own credentials.  There is no denying its flaws, but I think everyone should do themselves the favour of at least TRYING this game. 

If you appreciate an engaging story, lovely graphics, complex characters, and most of all, something new… go grab Shadow of Destiny.  You can either thank me or yell at me later – just make sure you do it after you’ve played the game.

Final score: 82%

Played on:

Win XP

P4, 2 Ghz

512 MB RAM

GeForce 4

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Please write to: Singer

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