Dual Hearts - Re-Retroview  

Double the Disappointment
by Jeremy, the Duke of Otterland

10-20 HOURS


Rating definitions 

   In 2002, Matrix Software, the same company that created Alundra, which many of its fans consider a Zelda-killer, developed its first RPG for the Playstation 2, Dual Hearts, published in Japan by Sony. Atlus' American branch, that year, quietly localized the game, which I originally wanted for Christmas then, only for my parents to be unable to find it, given Atlus' nasty habit of severely limiting its releases. After finally getting my hands on the game the following Christmas, thanks to finding out you could actually order their games from their site, I came to discover that Atlus wasn't wrong to restrict its release, given the game's abysmal production values.

   Dual Hearts' battle system, to begin, makes use of the two protagonists, Rumble and Tumble, the former allowed to wield two weapons or tools simultaneously, from swords to bombs. Rumble can build up the levels of his weapons to unlock combos, though I found these difficult to pull off, and therefore, fairly useless. What really worsens things, though, is the terrible targeting system, at first requiring the player hold down the L1 button to lock on an enemy, though the player eventually acquires a permanent lock-on, requiring him/her to literally mash down L1. Switching targets is needlessly frustrating, and the berserk camera doesn't help, either.

   In case that weren't enough, Rumble can mount Tumble for rapid conveyance or a variety of moves ranging from a dropkick attack, Megaton Buns, to swimming and eventually flight. When not on Tumble, Rumble can slice grass to release Esamons, which Tumble can ingest to fill up his Tummy Meter, providing healing to the player with a simple press of the L2 button. Rumble can also kill Esamons, lift them, and toss them at an enemy for Tumble to charge the targeted foe and deal damage. Moreover, collecting four HP Up or Tummy Up fragments respectively increase Rumble's HP and Tumble's Tummy Meter. Despite all the quirks, terrible controls pretty much spoil what would've possibly been an enjoyable battle system, at times making even the most trivial battles needlessly irritating.

Tumbleicious! Rumble wonders how Tumble would taste stewed with some carrots and potatoes

   The lousy controls pretty much rub off onto interaction, though the menu system isn't troubling at all, character management is easy, and the player can even save the game anywhere, alongside a largely spotless localization and decent puzzles.

   As for originality, the story is a direct rip-off of Alundra's, involving a hero that can walk into dreams and an emphasis on puzzle-solving, and the game also borrows from titles such as the Zelda series (collecting four fragments to increase the hero's life meter) and Secret of Mana (weapon level building). The Baku and his Tummy Meter, though, were something new, as was perhaps dual-weapon wielding in an ARPG at the time, but creativity is still a bit below average overall.

   The plot itself begins with Ruinseeker Rumble yakking it up with a cartographer, promising to find the legendary Dream Stone and thus going to Sonno Island to do so. Meanwhile, the chopstick-haired Queen of the Dreamworld sends her most incompetent underling, Tumble the Baku, who looks like a cross between a pig and a rabbit, to unseal the Nightmare in ruins on Sonno Island, where he both accidentally scatters the keys necessary to unseal the Nightmare across various persons' dreams and meets Rumble. Unaware of the Nightmare, Rumble joins with Tumble to search for the keys, gradually accomplishing the task and gaining several Holy Instruments along the way. The various dreams the protagonists encounter don't exactly hold the story together very well, and both heroes are pretty much devoid of any meaningful background and motivation, as is the Queen of the Dreamworld, and there are no characters really worth caring for, at that, those whose dreams they enter included. Overall, the story's nothing to write home about.

Tumble, as usual, acts like a retard. "The graphics are breaking apart! RUN AWAY!

   Neither is the music, aside from a few decent pieces, such as the title screen theme. Most pieces, such as that in the ruins, are fairly weak, with this particular example consisting of random notes spaced apart with the occasional ringing of a triangle, hardly sounding like a serious attempt at music. Many other tunes are forgettable and childish in nature, as well, and the occasional voice clips, such as Rumble's "All right!" or Tumble's "Yay, yay, all right!" aren't particularly noteworthy, either. Overall, the aurals definitely don't rise to, let alone exceed, mediocrity.

   Hardly helping the game, as well, are the graphics, which really make the game look like a developer's prototype and leads me to believe that Sony, with their name pasted on the game, somehow rushed Matrix into releasing it before any kind of tests for quality. Anyway, the visuals have a very nasty habit of "blurring out" in many dreams, and the framerate is miserably choppy at some points such as the storybook dream, all of which can really throw off the player's progress and make fights needlessly difficult. In summation, Dual Hearts is definitely an eyesore.

   Finally, the difficulty of Dual Hearts depends upon how well the player adjusts to the controls and graphics, not to mention the challenge setting chosen before starting a new game. Luckily, the game doesn't attempt to drag on forever like so many other RPGs, taking as little as ten hours to complete, or up to twenty if the player wants to collect every item, a strong unlikelihood.

   It's frightening to realize that the same company which developed Alundra created this monster. With a battle system ruined by abominable controls, a weak plotline, and visuals that could easily give someone epileptic seizures, among other flaws, Dual Hearts is easily one of the weakest titles to appear on the Playstation 2, and a low point for action RPGs, at that. Thankfully, though, Atlus mercifully limited its release (to around ten thousand copies, from what I've heard), so the chances are slim that players will be unfortunate enough to stumble upon it, and more lamentably, play it.

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