Shadow of Destiny


   Time travel seems an almost perfect background for a video game, promising players history-altering gameplay and the chance at a true non-linear narrative. But for all that promise, only a handful of titles have ever used time travel as their core concept, and none have truly taken its implications seriously. Most 'time travel' games treat the past like a self-contained world with little causal connection to present day. Every action in the past ripples forward through time, and Konami's Shadow of Destiny may be the first game ever to employ this idea as the center of its gameplay

  This caption is not meant to condone reading Hemingway.
Death in the afternoon. And evening. And early morning.

   Shadow of Destiny concerns one day in the life (and death) of a young man named Eike Kusch. After leaving a café one afternoon, Eike is stabbed in the back by an unseen assailant and dies alone in a deserted alleyway. This would be the end of the game in most titles, but is just the beginning of Eike's repeatedly fatal day.

   He awakens to a mysterious voice in an unknown place. Resurrected by a being known only as Homunculus, Eike is given the chance to go back in time and change his unlucky end. Homunculus provides Eike with a Digipad, a device capable of time travel, and informs him that fate has it in for him on this day. One way or another, he is destined to die, but using the Digipad, he may be able to change his destiny.

Homunculus minimus
Felonious Homunculus

   The central conceit of Shadow of Destiny's time traveling gameplay is that Eike cannot change his actions in the present. If his assassin is hiding behind a tree, he can't simply move out of the way. If he's been poisoned, he cannot just avoid that meal. The Digipad only allows him to jump back in time once he is already in mortal danger, and then he must prevent his impending death by "tearing it out at the roots." Those roots, however, are much deeper than they first seem. As Eike grows closer to solving the mystery of his own murder, each death averted results in another.

   The game flows in a series of ten chapters. Each begins with Eike's unexpected and often brutal death, after which the Digipad becomes active. Moving to the past, however, doesn't stop the flow of time in the present. Time moves forward simultaneously in both eras, and the hour of Eike's death in the present remains unchanged. If the "fated hour" arrives and Eike has still not found away to prevent his next death, he will die again. Dying in the present only results in a resurrection (and scolding) from Homunculus, but if the time of Eike's death passes while he's in the past, a paradox is created, wiping out his existence and resulting in a game over.

  Gratuitous reference screenshot
To Say Nothing of the Dog

   In his attempts to sidestep fate, Eike will find himself traveling back to three distinct time periods, each of which has some sort of connection with the game's central mystery. The recent past of 1980, the turn of the century in 1902, and the distant past of 1580 all contain characters and situations that have lead to or can help prevent Eike's present demise. Sometimes Eike must simply gain an item or a of piece of information from the past to avoid death in the present, but more often he must change history itself to keep his current murder from ever happening.

   As an "adventure," Shadow of Destiny has more in common with the PC interpretation of that genre than its action packed console cousin. There is almost no action beyond a few timed events, and the bulk of the game is spent solving dialog- or inventory-based puzzles. These are all fairly simple, for the most part logical, and many have multiple solutions. But what really drives Shadow of Destiny's gameplay is the much greater puzzle of the story itself.

Thankfully, sound has already been invented.
Eike travels to the land before color.

   The game can be completed in about six hours the first time through. Depending on which of the five endings you receive, the story will seem anything from nonsensical to immensely unsatisfying. Fortunately, Shadow of Destiny offers one of the most rewarding replay experiences ever seen. Starting the game anew essentially sends the player back in time to Eike's first death, now armed with all the knowledge from the previous games and the chance to do things differently. Though each of the five endings are attainable from the first play through, certain options only become apparent after completing one or more of the other endings. After all five have been seen the pieces of the plot fall firmly into place. "Replaying" the game feels much more like completing it. The possible tedium of playing through the game five or more times is largely avoided by the fact that you can skip any of the cutscenes you've previously viewed. The reward for gaining them all, a hidden EX mode which allows Eike to escape his fate in an entirely different way, is more than worth the effort.

Yet another working title

   The graphics in Shadow of Destiny, though stylish in their own understated way, are not nearly as impressive as the gameplay. Each era is modeled in a slightly different way; the recent past of 1980 has the faded hues of an old photograph, while the medieval era of 1580 is drawn in sepia tones. This extends beyond the environments to the superbly modeled characters; the populace of 1902 is as monochromatic as their surroundings. It's a subtle touch that manages to give each era a distinct look while maintaining the small European town's continuity. Unfortunately, the strong aesthetics often result in a bland and repetitive looking game. In addition, the stiff and awkward camera and lack of any show-stopping special effects leave Shadow of Destiny's charms mostly below the surface.

   Whether most players will be interested in plumbing those depths is another question. For all of Eike's racing against time, Shadow of Destiny is a slowly paced affair. The bulk of the game is spent watching competently acted cutscenes and peeling away the layers of the plot. But for those willing to invest the time, the game stands as one of the most engaging and original adventures seen on any platform and the first U.S. PlayStation 2 game to offer something truly innovative.

Review by Zak McClendon, GIA
Shadow of Destiny
Developer KCET
Publisher Konami
Genre Adventure
Medium DVD
Platform PlayStation 2
Release Date  02.01
Shadow of Memories hands-on impressions
150 screenshots / 157 endings screenshots
5 character illustrations
U.S. box art