Shadow of Destiny (or Shadow of Memories as it was known as over here) was the third PlayStation 2 game I ever purchased. It came a whole four months after the console's November 2000 launch, which I naturally bought immediately after saving up for months. While I managed to beat Konami's quirky adventure game fairly quickly, returning to the likes of TimeSplitters or Tekken Tag Tournament far more often, the images it conjured still managed to stick with me for many, many years. I remember being wowed by the graphics, totally immersed in the distinctly Bavarian town and gripped by the time-travelling mystery contained within it. It's been almost 20 years since I've played it, so I anxiously revisited it to see if my fond memories still hold weight or will they be overshadowed by the ravages of time.
We begin with your death. Eike Kusche's death. A bold way to begin any adventure. While visiting a quaint German town called Lebensbaum, you were stabbed in the back by an unknown assailant. That is not the end of Eike, though as none other than Satan himself gives you aid to solve the mystery and save your life, giving you the ability to travel through time to prevent your murder and unmask your killer. But something about this effeminate deity (voiced by Mario's Charles Martinet no less) appears off.
The fortune-teller provides clues of your time of death
and eventually becomes an integral part of the plot.
This plot allows for some interesting gameplay. You get to explore the town, then change it by going back in time. Your initial death is scuppered by inviting a load of residents to loiter in the area where it will happen. The next is prevented by making sure a tree isn't planted in the town centre middle ages. Depending on the decisions you make, you can either replace it with a nice flower garden or a statue of Eike himself. Many puzzles are solved in different ways, many with equally entertaining outcomes. That statue you resurrect, for example, may include you holding up a turn-of-the-millennium cell phone making for some awkwardly brilliant comments from the residents.
Time travel is the crux of the gameplay, and you can travel to select time periods with your digipad. This is given to you by that devil of indeterminate gender (who'll later introduce themself as Homunculus). If you have the energy, you can travel to any pre-determined moment in time open to you. The top right of the screen will indicate how many energy units you currently hold, with a maximum of 10. These are found in the game would as glowing green orbs and are usually replenished whenever you travel back to a time period. I never really came close to running out, but I can imagine doing so later on in the game when multiple moments in time can be travelled to in your quest to progress the story.
Choices in the past change the present in a myriad of ways.
There are 6 very different endings as a result.
In this way, the game rewards exploration and experimentation. If you do a fair amount of the former you'll find enough energy to do a great amount of the latter. It helps that it's pretty hard to out-and-out die. Well, you will die - quite often in fact. I'm talking about a game over. When visiting the past, the clock will still tick in the present. If you reach your time of death while in another time, the continuum will short circuit and not even Homonculus can resurrect you. The trick is to return to the present at the time of death so that you can come back and try again.
The way the game handles saves is in line with this philosophy. Permanent saves will be offered at the beginning of each chapter, though you have access to one temporary save at all times. These are solely used for when you want to leave the game mid-chapter and are deleted as soon as you restore it. It's the David Cage philosophy of game design, making sure you own your decisions, though I do like the more lenient approach here.
Pick up the glowing green energy units whenever you can (left). In the past, two times run concurrently.
Your digipad will pulse green if time is running out so don't overstay your welcome! (right)
All of the puzzles have a vaguely esoteric aura to them. Never once did I feel like I was working towards a solution to a problem, but I instead felt like any progression was put upon me. If I was stuck, I simple wandered the town - whenever that may be - talking to everyone until I triggered something. Normally, I would say this is leaning towards a bad, unfocussed game design for some reason it fits here. The nature of the story and presentation have a weird mystical feeling, and this puzzle design complements that perfectly.
The graphics add to this Lynchian atmosphere too. I remember marvelling at the game's look, at how the eyes have actual eyeballs instead of painted textures, how each finger is individually modelled instead of going for a mitten shape to save polygons. It is also overly clean and shiny, perhaps dating the game but also providing each character with an uncanny air of unreadable mystery.
The time periods you can visit will gradually increase over the games' chapters.
As for the voice acting, well, it's equally strange. The lines of dialogue are deliberate and perfunctory, performed in an almost emotionless inflexion that perfectly encapsulates the tone of the game. If you think they don't add anything, try the PSP version released in 2009. They re-recorded the dialogue with different voice actors and an aim to make it sound better, but it fails. The new dub forgets that Shadow of Memories was supposed to be - above all else - weird.
If there was one issue I had with the PC version over the PlayStation 2, it's in the controls. The mapped keys aren't exactly broken, but they cannot be changed at all. You can use a control pad, which surprisingly accepts the XBox One controller, but the buttons are not placed in a similar way to the PS2 and the analogue stick doesn't work as it's supposed to, restricting movement to only four directions. I played with the keyboard and mouse, and while a little awkward, it suited me just fine. It's not like it's an action-heavy game at all.
A map of Lebensbaum in the present day (left) and the 1500s (right)
Upon playing the game again, my memories of my first playthrough back in March 2001 came out of the shadows. I fondly recalled the exhilaration of that burning building, the odd behaviour of the medieval wenches or that strange man eating spaghetti in the cafe. I remember plot points and actions, giving me a heads up on certain scenarios. It got to the point where I could complete a whole chapter in 10 seconds, 'cos I knew how to prepare for it. Every chapter has multiple ways to complete it, and decisions made in earlier moments affect how later scenes play out. That's some attention to detail.
Despite Shadow of Memories being its original Japanese name, I believe the American title of Shadow of Destiny is far more fitting a title. While the game does occasionally play on recollections, the main theme is much more about fate and playing with perceived inevitability. It's a game with many layers ripe for discussion. If you haven't played it, it's about time you step out of the shadows and make your own memories of it. It holds up incredibly well.
To download the PC game, follow the link below. This is a custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses dgVoodoo to run on modern systems. Manual and Quick Reference Card included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 619 Mb. Install Size: 665 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Watch the video review!
Shadow of Destiny (aka Shadow of Memories) is © Konami
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me