Publisher/Developer : Atlus
Release Date: September/2002
Dual Hearts is an interesting RPG that can be called anything but generic; Atlus infused this title with a heaping helping of platform acrobatics and partner-based gameplay to mix things up a little bit. It is an RPG at heart but it also sports elements from other games like Super Mario Sunshine, Skies of Arcadia, Dark Cloud, and Jak & Daxter. What is most surprising about the game is that the developers were able to integrate tricky elements from other games while keeping the experience relatively coherent and tight. Like these other games it does suffer from occasional camera issues, and truth be told that alone is the biggest issue most gamers will have with it. But all in all this is a excellent title that I'm sure many will overlook since Square’s similarly-titled game which is also an action/RPG, Kingdom Hearts, is sharing the same week of release. But hopefully, Dual Hearts’ ability to purport an enchanting story featuring memorable characters coupled with interesting gameplay dynamics will sway some hard-earned gaming dollars in the months to come.
The story of Dual Hearts revolves around a sage and his trusty Pikachu-looking companion. It takes place in a time where the waking world and dreams are interconnected and evil thoughts can take a tangible-form in the real world. As the story goes, there was once a time where no distinction was made between dreams and reality, and this world was a paradise. Then “The Nightmare” was borne from evil thoughts and people who opposed it were turned to ashes. This Nightmare pushed the world to the brink of annihilation. And here is where our young sage and his floppy-eared partner come into the story, by separating the Nightmare from the real world the sage weakened its devastating influence on the population. The tainted dream was separated, separated but not destroyed. Instead, The Nightmare was sealed away in a place called the Holy Land. Problem solved, right? Well, sort of, while the omnipresent threat of the Nightmare was gone the world was now divided in two – dreams and reality. This mysterious sage who sealed The Nightmare faded into nothing more than a legend over the years, an old story. But now, a new chapter is about to unfold.
You'll play the part of a renowned Ruinseeker named Rumble and the game begins with the acquisition of a map that apparently details the approximate location of the ultimate treasure called the Dream Stone. Rumble immediately sets out to find this powerful item along with his dream-creature, Tumble. (Get it? Rumble and Tumble, how clever). While each character starts the quest with different intentions, Tumble’s being to unlock the doors in the Temple of Dreams, by request of the queen of dreams, they soon find that their destinies are intertwined. They will work together through many different adventures and acquire new powers that will further their abilities to achieve their dreams, so to speak. The Ruinseeker has the ability to equip a slew of different weapons and is fairly functional all on his own but by pressing L2 he will jump bareback on Tumble and be able to use a host of other attacks and maneuvers which will be necessary to progress through certain areas in the game.
The game’s environments consist of three separate playable-areas: dreams, reality, and the Temple of Dreams. Tumble wants to open all the doors in the Temple but the keys that were given to him in good faith were lost and must now be found in order to accomplish his task. These keys are hidden in people’s dreams. In order to retrieve the keys Tumble must journey through various dreams. The Ruinseeker doesn't much care about the whole key problem however, and instead has his own personal reasons to enter each dream. For instance in one stage he meets a girl who seems to be having a nightmare, fueled by sympathy, the Ruinseeker enters her dream through the help of Tumble and attempts to help her with whatever issue she is dealing with in her nightmare.
Each dream you enter has its own unique layout and objectives, most are incredibly inventive and original. In one stage for example, you will enter the dream of a sleeping dog and play some mini-games with him in order to progress. Another has you entering the dream of a painter, her dream is like a living piece of art and ends with a dramatic paint-off with her old painting mentor.
Both characters can jump and perform standard attacks and the combat sequences take place in real-time, kind of like Kingdom Hearts or Secret of Mana. Various attacks can be performed depending on the currently equipped weapon. The Ruinseeker can equip two weapons at any given time with the square button assigned to his left-hand and the circle button attacks with the right-hand. These weapons include things like a sword, spear, remote detonation bombs, and a magic card weapon that can change its elemental properties by sucking up differently-colored creatures. Rumble can also block and perform special attacks with the Ragna Blade and Longinus Spear by holding down the attack button and releasing. While riding on Tumble you will be able to perform a butt-bounce, breath attack, jump higher, and float for a short time. You can move around with the left analog-stick and Atlus also went to the trouble of including a pressure-sensitive set-up for the D-pad.
The Combat element in the game takes a back seat to Dual Hearts’ emphases on puzzle-based exploration. This is where the game starts to feel a lot like Super Mario Sunshine and precise platform acrobatics come into play. The puzzles that are laden throughout the dream sequences consist of such original concepts as rolling a snowball around on snow-covered ground until it becomes the size of a boulder, at which point it must be dropped on a thick layer of ice to rescue a trapped character. Upon the completion of each dream you'll want to stop by the Temple of Dreams to pick up a new maneuver that will help you to complete the next dream sequence. Finding dreams is the tricky part, in the real-world you'll traverse a huge environment in search of the next person whose dream harbors a key. Talking to town-folk, trading, bartering, and exploration is key to completing the game.
Graphically, Dual Hearts looks incredibly vibrant and detailed but not overly impressive. The atmospheres are akin to those found in Mario Sunshine but without that extra layer of .. polish. The various dreams are particularly cool-looking, they can change shape and structure at a moments notice. There are occasional clipping problems and jarring camera perspectives however, but by and large the game’s presentation is both attractive and charming. The music is also very captivating, obviously an attempt to purport a dream-like feel into the orchestrations. Sound effects are appropriate and give the game a lighthearted, whimsical feel.
It will take right around 20 hours to complete the game, not too long for an RPG. But despite Dual Hearts limited life-span it should definitely be checked out, if only for its diverse, original, and charismatic story. Those looking for a hardcore, straightforward RPG adventure may be disappointed, Duel Hearts is an RPG at its core but the majority of the game’s offerings revolve around puzzles, platforms, and real-time combat. Make no mistake, Atlus did a great job with this title and it should not be overlooked, I question the decision to release it at the same time as the more-hyped and looked-forward-to title Kingdom Hearts, but lets hope that this game doesn't get lost in the pile of AAA titles that were recently released or soon will be. Dual Hearts may not be for everyone but chances are if you have an open mind and enjoy quirky twists on age-old genres you’ll find a lot to like in this game.
Score : 7.9/10