Shadow of Destiny / Shadow of Memories

Developer/Publisher:  Konami
Year Released:  2002

Review by Steve Ramsey (March, 2003)
Eike knows he is going to die. He knows when and he knows how. He knows this because it has already happened. Now he has been offered a chance to prevent it. The means are seemingly simple; change the past to affect the future.

Fate or destiny would dictate that Eike must fail. Various theories on the nature of time would concur, at least in this universe. He may succeed in another, but it would no longer be his time, and his "self" would be compromised. Were Eike more metaphysical or philosophical, he might never begin, preferring instead to debate Homunculus on the notions involved. But Eike is like the rest of us, and as such, deeper thought will inevitably be swamped by the basest of desires - Eike wants to live.

The future is, however, not so easy to manipulate. Eike's life is like a pond, and his death ripples across its surface. Eike must find the rock at the centre, or eluding one death will simply put him in the path of another.

His passage through time will also cause ripples of its own. He may keep as much as possible to himself, or he may openly interact with those around him, but he can't help but cast a shadow, one which the butterfly effect may turn to stain. Not only his life, but also the lives of others will be affected, and the threads of all will become increasingly tangled. Indeed, cause may even become effect.

And as he struggles to find the key to live, he will continue to die.

Some deaths are unavoidable. Knowledge is the key to their avoidance, and death provides that key. The intervention of Homunculus will enable Eike to move on.

Other deaths will be by misadventure, a result of a lack of effective action before the critical time. Ironically, given that Eike has time in the palm of his hand, death will sometimes result from a lack of time.

There is plenty of time, but it must be respected. Not just in passing through it, but in its passing. It passes in real time, and whilst Eike can change time, he cannot stop it. Nor can he cheat its passing. Everything takes real time: a conversation, exploration, an action. Spend 10 minutes in the past, and he will be 10 minutes closer to his death in the present. The alchemist can reveal each critical time, and either Eike acts decisively to avoid his destiny, or he dies at the ordained time.

The town and the times through which Eike moves are beautiful and lustrous. So too are the people Eike meets. He may not notice the detail in the buildings and other surroundings, in night or in day, or in the sound of his footfall in snow or the exhale of his hot breath, but he can't help but notice the striking appearance of Margarete or Dana, or Homunculus in particular. Nor can his ears fail to register the lilting quality in the voices of the first two, or the mystery and maybe menace in the voice of the last. Or the music used at the right moments to heighten the mood of the scene.

Eike's actions and interactions are all revealed through animated cutscenes. These are many, and much of the 10 chapters of Eike's efforts are played out in this way. They are smooth in their playing, but with an occasional lag in lip-synching. They are often the direct result of Eike's choices. Eike always has choices - who to talk to, what to do, and at times what to say. Some of these are critical choices, and they will affect the final outcome. Much of the reason to go with Eike is to listen and watch as the threads of the story(s) unfold. The culmination can be very different.

Eike explores his environment in the third person, walking or running around the streets of Lebensbaum, and entering those of its buildings that are open to him. Some parts of the town are closed to him, at least in certain times and at certain stages. Following Eike takes a while to get used to, but there is a good combination of mouse and keyboard that works well - use the forward arrow for movement and "steer" with the mouse to change direction. The keyboard is used to access other actions (eg inventory, menu). You can see through Eike's eyes if you choose, but inside buildings you can only look, not move around, when seeing what Eike sees. It can make exploring buildings a bit trickier.

Eike's digipad is the key to his time travel. It is powered by energy units which Eike must find. These are plentiful, but should be stockpiled just in case. The digipad will also alert Eike to the fact that he has learned something which has opened a new time, or that travel through time is now warranted. Eike is also his own best assistant. His musings and journal jottings will often provide the clue to his next step.

The town has its own life, and characters move around. Lebensbaum also changes over time, and buildings and other things come and go. Streets too change, so the map(s) will be helpful. They will also show the accessible locations. Some will naturally only be accessible during the day; shops shut at night. Night, however, may provide cover for Eike to engage in some more discrete activity.

To interact with something or someone, Eike must stand directly in front of them. He may find this awkward at first, but will soon get the hang of it. He can leave his wanderings at any time, but can only ever return to where he left off (or the last place he saved), or the start of a chapter. Clocks keep track of the time for him, both in the present and in the past. The time at which he arrives in the past is always noted, as is the date. A compass will help determine direction, and his phone might occasionally ring.

Eike will also find and be given objects, which he can use to assist his endeavours. He does not have to find or use everything, but some interactions about objects will open up other threads of the stories.

Two things Eike must never do - meet himself, or be in the past when the critical time is reached. Both have interesting but fatal results.

Whilst some aspects of the game will deter some players, I thought participating in Eike's efforts was particularly satisfying. Whilst they were on a grand scale, they were gentle in their passing, and despite the relentless passage of time, Eike could hasten slowly and not be rushed. Time is fascinating, and has been the source of many entertaining discourses and diversions. Shadow of Destiny is yet another. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2003. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 95 OSR2, 98 or ME. Pentium III or AMD 450 Mhz or higher, 64 MB RAM (128 recommended). 16 MB AGP DirectX 8 compatible video card, DirectX 8 compatible sound card, 700 MB disc space, DirectX 8 (supplied on disc)

Note: though Windows XP is not a supported OS, it ran without problems on my system

First released for PlayStation 2 then ported to the PC...