Dual Hearts
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Atlus and its American branch have a knack for developing and publishing niche titles, particularly Nippon Ichi’s Disgaea: Hour of Darkness in the latter instance, which proved to be a smash hit. Another relatively unheard-of title is Dual Hearts, developed by Matrix Software, responsible for Alundra on the original PlayStation not to mention the future remakes of the third and fourth Final Fantasies. Does the game’s disposition as a niche title necessarily account for good quality?

The aforementioned Alundra seems to be Dual Hearts’ primary source of inspiration, what particularly with protagonist Ruinseeker Rumble’s ability to enter the dreams of the various denizens of Sonno Island to perform various tasks. Each dream has a certain number of items such as golden rings and spherical Dream Energies to find, with the goal of acquiring all providing decent lasting appeal, alongside one of two selectable difficulties. Dual Hearts, however, is more considerably light-hearted fare than Alundra, so those looking for a dark storyline should certainly look elsewhere, although the game’s plot, despite its derivative nature, helps the game more than hurts.

Fortunately, enjoyable gameplay backs up the decent narrative, with Rumble’s sidekick, the bumbling pig/rabbit-like Baku named Tumble, helping during his adventures. Rumble, however, can do decently on his own, given the player’s ability to equip his two arms with Holy Instruments found in the game’s ancient ruins, among these being four different kinds of weapon that gradually grow up to four levels, allowing for complex combination attacks, whenever he defeats enemies, similar to the system found in Secret of Mana. Typically, however, most bosses, maybe a few enemies as well, require some kind of strategy other than endlessly hacking away at them, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.

Although Dual Hearts’ weapon system has RPG elements, the systems of increasing Rumble’s life meter, not to mention Tumble’s containable amount of Esamons that hide in grass that Rumble can slice away, resemble those found in the Zelda games, with the player needing to find four HP Up or Tummy Up fragments to increase either, or obtain whole incarnations of these items from boss fights. Rumble is also able to mount Tumble to perform tasks such as swimming and flying when the player reaches certain points in the game, and aside from some minor issues with the camera, the gameplay comes very close to perfection.

The control scheme in Dual Hearts is generally above average, with easy menus, a convenient save-anywhere feature, in-game maps, solid puzzles that in most instances won’t drive players to use a guide, and a good direction on how to advance the main storyline thanks to reminders Tumble can give when desired. There are some minor issues with the camera, and finding every single item might necessitate the use of a guide, but otherwise, the game interfaces well with the player.

The soundtrack is among Dual Hearts’ high points, with plenty of bouncy, upbeat tracks and beautiful music such as the title screen theme, with some strong tracks also showing up during a few plot scenes. There are also some rare voice clips from Rumble and Tumble that luckily don’t detract from the game, although some of the music is too ambient at times, particularly at night. Still, a decent-sounding game.

Probably the weakest aspect of Dual Hearts, however, is its visuals, which are neither fully realistic nor fully cartoony, with decent character models and scenery, although the environments occasionally have blurry texturing when seen close-up, and there are some technical issues with the graphics in certain worlds, such as a music theme world where things can become a little psychedelic and the choppy storybook world.

Finally, the game is fairly short, a straightforward playthrough taking somewhere from eight to fifteen hours, maybe more if the player seeks to collect every item in every dream. In the end, Dual Hearts is for the most part a solid offering from Matrix Software, as would become the case with a few of their future titles such as the remakes of the third and fourth Final Fantasies, what with its great gameplay systems, solid control, decent story, and good soundtrack. It does have some issues such as the derivative nature of the narrative not to mention the technical problems with the graphics in a few areas, but is otherwise worth it if players can find it at a good price.

The Good:
+Solid action/adventure gameplay with some RPG elements.
+Save-anywhere feature.
+Decent, if derivative, story.
+Superb soundtrack.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Camera can be annoying.
-Graphics have technical issues at points.

The Bottom Line:
A solid action/adventure RPG.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 9/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 6/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 8-15 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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