Shadow Hearts: From the New World - Reader Review  

Johnny Dangerously
by Jeremy, the Duke of Otterland

Easy to Medium
40-60 Hours


Rating definitions 

   New York City, 1929: Johnny Garland, a teenage gumshoe who lost his memories and family in a car accident a few years ago, is hired to capture an escaped convict. When Johnny finds him, though, a Window from another world opens, bringing forth a monster that devours the escapee. As the monster turns to attack Johnny, an avian spirit crashes through the skylights and saves him from certain death. Thus begins Shadow Hearts: From the New World, the third installment of the series, sure to satisfy fans of previous installments.

   The third Shadow Hearts yet again features turn-based combat (a gauge shows when your party and the enemy take their turns), revolving around the Judgment Ring (pun intended :P). Just about every command, from normal attacks to skill/magic use to item use, brings up the Judgment Ring, with players needing to press the X button when the arrow reaches certain areas of the Ring. Hitting narrow red strike areas of the Judgment Ring will enhance the power of certain commands, while hitting the yellow hit areas (or modulate areas for magic/skills), will result in normal damage. Missing an area will either result in weaker command execution or no command execution at all.

   Special items can increase the number of attacks for each character (which will add an additional hit/strike area to that character's attack Judgment Ring), as well as widen the hit and strike areas. Players can also equip each character's Judgment Ring with various effects such as poison, instant death, and so forth. Moreover, there are certain accessories that, for the sticky-fingered ones among us (I know I'm one of them :P), slow down the Judgment Ring arrow for easier timing. Enemies, however, can inflict several ailments on the Judgment Ring, such as faster/varied arrow speed, invisible areas, and so forth, though an accessory can prevent these.

The Little Injun That Could Wematanye, I see Shania gettin' naked, Wematanye

   Alongside character-specific skills (which characters gain the vast majority of and occasionally empower through sidequests), each character (except Shania, who can use magic in her Fusion forms) can equip a Stellar Chart, into whose nodes go Crests, which allow characters to use magic. For a price, players can increase the Crest level each node can contain, reduce MP consumption of the Crest in that node, and/or increase the effect of the Crest in that node. Many enemies do have elemental weaknesses, so skillful use of magic can at times help clear out large sets of enemies more quickly when normal attacks can't quite get the job done. Another thing to consider when using attacks is the elevation of enemies, which can be in the air, in medium height, on the ground, or a combination of more than one of these zones (which is typically the case with most foes).

   Combo attacks from Shadow Hearts II return, though the third installment heavily builds upon this system. Each character now has a Stock gauge that can increase up to two levels through characters attacking or receiving attacks. Each character can consume a level either to perform a Double Attack, allowing him/her to execute two consecutive commands, or perform a Combo Attack with another character. If characters have two Stock levels, they can perform a Double Attack followed up with a Combo with another character. If all four active characters participate in a Combo, the last, if he or she has two Stock levels, can use powerful Combo Magic.

   Enemies, too, have their own Stock Gauges and can themselves make use of Double and Combo Attacks. However, each of your characters can consume half a Stock level to deplete one level of an enemy's Stock Gauge with normal attacks (or use magic/skills that deplete Stock), adding a bit of balance to the Stock system. Sanity Points from previous installments return, as well, with characters losing at least one SP per turn, and going berserk when their SP reaches zero (though consumable items can bring their SP back up).

OSWALD COBBLEPOT! Er, Gilbert "The penguin is a bird that can't fly...I am a man and have a name!"

   The battle system is fairly enjoyable for the most part, offering new elements of strategy with the Stock system, elevation system, and so forth, though certain fights can really test the player's patience if they slip up and thus possibly take a few minutes; it is, however, possible to beat many normal battles without the enemy lifting a finger, though some of the late bosses, especially the last, can be fairly tedious. Aside from some other minor shortcomings such as certain skills/magic depending on a characte's current location despite the lack of means to manually move them around the field during their turns (they only move when executing commands), combat is one of the main draws to the third Shadow Hearts.

   The interface is clean for the most part, aside from a few minor snags such as the management of Stellar Charts, and mostly keeps players moving in the right direction, in spite of sometimes keeping them in the dark about how to broaden their characters' skill sets. The translation contains some small errors as well (and supposedly a mismatched spell description), but otherwise, there are few complaints here.

   Shadow Hearts III, moreover, has several things going for it creatively speaking. The Stock system, Stellar Charts, and the means of acquiring additional skills for characters, for one, are unique twists on the series' hallmark battle system, and the cast of characters and setting help set it apart from other RPGs, as well. Overall, the third installment manages to keep the franchise fresh while still keeping its general feel.

   The story, however, *might* disappoint hardcore series fans. The plot is, in a few ways like its predecessors, "dark," although it counters this out with a good deal of lighthearted humor and zany/unique playable characters, such as an American ninja with a giant talking drunken cat for a master, two Native Americans, a mariachi, and a lightsaber-wielding teenage gumshoe (albeit with a bit of amnesia) for a protagonist. There are some minor cameos by characters from previous Shadow Hearts, although the third game's story is largely standalone. Moreover, Johnny's past takes a bit of a backseat until late in the game (although his past is somewhat surprising), and most of the main villains aren't all that well-developed or well-motivated. Overall, the story's okay yet certainly not a major selling point.

Monsignoir Ricardo "Vaya...con Dios!"

   The third Shadow Hearts' aural presentation could've used some improvement, as well. As with the second game, the soundtrack is heavily subdued and ambivalent at many points, with few memorable (although still decent) tracks, and no central theme to tie many themes together. The voice acting, moreover, is a slight step down from that of the second installment, though it certainly won't make your ears bleed. Overall, the voice acting is okay and the music passable at best, though the latter certainly doesn't hold a candle, let alone a lighter, to the first Shadow Hearts' soundtrack.

   The visuals are passable as well, though certainly inconsistent throughout the game. The models of the playable characters look pretty decent, though the models of NPCs mostly seem rushed. The environments, too, are largely hit-or-miss, sometimes looking nice yet sometimes showing half-assed texturing, with the typical "jaggies" of most 3-D visuals present, as well. The FMVs look fairly decent, although the developers could've certainly put more polish into the graphics overall.

   Finally, there are plenty of sidequests that can keep players occupied for a good while (anywhere from forty to sixty hours), a replay mode, and different endings. Overall, Shadow Hearts: From the New World is a fairly solid addition to the series, improving upon its predecessors' mechanisms and featuring a unique cast of characters. Its presentation aspects, admittedly, do leave some room for improvement, although if you enjoyed its predecessors, you'll likely be satisfied by the third Shadow Hearts.

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