Dual Hearts


Review by Greg Wilcox



Graphics: 7

Sound: 9

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 8

A solid, fun, and challenging Action/RPG, Dual Hearts comes to you courtesy of Atlus and some of the folks behind the PS One Action/RPG, Alundra. Both DH and Alundra feature main characters who can put themselves into the dreams of others, and some unique play mechanics that mimic or improve on Nintendo's classic Legend Of Zelda games. Where Dual Hearts shines is in the introduction of a second playable character, a creature called a Baku, which looks like a cross between a rabbit, a dog, and a pig. The game also scores high with a number of interesting visual styles that while not as polished as newer titles, still deliver a great gaming experience.

With the default names of Rumble and Tumble, respectively, you'll want to immediately rename the hero and Baku just so you can concentrate on the plot and gameplay. Tumble is from the Dreamworld, where the Queen (who looks like she's straight out of a Russ Meyer film) assigns him the task of transporting a set of keys to a temple in the real world. Tumble takes a tumble and all the keys are scattered into the dreams of a number of people in and around nearby Sonno Village. Meanwhile, Rumble heads into the temple looking for treasures, and stumbles across Tumble, and they both agree to help each other out. There are a few surprises as you go through the game, which has a freeform style of play that keeps you on your toes more so than many RPGs out there.

There's a Dream Mentor (who happens to be a sheep) who guides you as you go throughout the assorted dreams in the game, and it's here where the majority of Dual Hearts is played. Rumble and Tumble do little in the game's real world, but in dreams, DH becomes an action platforming paradise for gamers of all stripes. You'll see a near-perfect Salvador Dali homage in one dream, visit an endless field with a talking forest, volcano, and clouds, and even go see what one dog's dreamworld looks like. You'll need to visit the dreams that have keys in them in order to progress, but there are also a number of items to collect that aren't necessary to complete the game. Most of the dream environments change when you re-enter, some more significantly than others. If you're one of those folks who has to get 100% in any game you play, you'll feel more than welcome here, as there are loads of minigames and events to participate in.

Rumble can carry two weapons (called Holy Instruments) at once, and you earn more as you find keys in the dreams you jump into. Like the Zelda games, there's a sword, hookshot type weapon, and bombs, but DH also adds a few more like a spear, hammer and a giant card which can be infused with elemental power. The game has excellent control for the most part, and combat is fast-paced and frantic, thanks to a smart lock-on system that keeps enemies within reach. As I said earlier, Tumble is indispensable as you can leap on his back and ride away from enemies, have him attack them in a number of ways (Megaton Buns!), and he later on gains the ability to swim and fly. Tumble eats Esamons, which are little bug-eyed creatures that appear when you cut grass or KO an enemy, and uses them to power his attacks. careless overuse of his powers will leave him belly up, so you have to pay attention to his Tummy Meter. As you progress in the game, the number of Esamons he can eat grows, and his abilities develop further. Later in the game you can even use Tumble as a weird-looking sword, which must be some sort of first.

Also some sort of first are the number of graphic styles and effects used in Dual Hearts. On one hand, the overly simple character design won't win any awards, but when you go from the Daliesque dream mentioned above, to a storybook world with pop-up images and paper-thin enemies, you know you're in for something special. There's at least a dozen different environments here, and you'll see something more unusual in each area as you progress. As you don't need to buy any items to take into the Dreamworld, you won't find the typical shops and traders in Sonno Village. The main point of interest there is the day/night cycle, which relegates which dream you can enter, as some folks sleep during the daytime and some at night. At one point you get an item which can change the time of day in a flash, which comes in handy on more than one occasion.

Everything's colorful and well constructed, but there are a few issues. There's a small amount of slowdown in areas where you have too many effects happening with moving enemies onscreen at the same time. Some of the Dreamworld sequences often have an incredible blurring effect which is really well implemented, but has the effect of making the game hard to play at times. I had N64 flashbacks in a few worlds, as every few seconds the whole screen blurred as if the game was simulating the dreamer's breathing. And there's some slight pop-in and texture warping in a few places, but these don't detract from the overall amount of fun you'll have while playing.

Dual Hearts also has good music and decent voice acting, although Rumble's comments during battle get a bit stale as the game progresses. Still, they fit the tone of the game, and the mostly lighthearted antics in DH make for a good 20-25 hours of your time, depending on your skill level. With games like Kingdom Hearts and Dark Cloud 2 getting more press, it's quite easy to pass this game by on the shelves. But you'd be missing out on a title that's just as engaging and fun to play (even more so in some areas) if you don't give Dual Hearts a try.


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:23 PM