Shadow Hearts: From The New World - Staff Review  

Not Overshadowed
by Tyler Willis

40 to 60 hours


Rating definitions 

Normal ninja are rather mysterious, secretive fellows from Japan; Frank is a Brazilian ninja with an odd penchant for ripping objects from the ground and making weapons out of them. Normal cats are small, fluffy creatures, loved by their owners; Mao is giant, talking cat who spends her days as a Chicago mob lieutenant and moonlights as an aspiring actress. Normal private detectives are cynical, wise-cracking retired cops; Johnny Garland is a sixteen year old rich kid with an unexplained past and the ability to form a lightsaber from a knife. Normal is a setting on the dryer; Shadow Hearts: From the New World is not, by any stretch of the definition, normal.

The Shadow Hearts series has a reputation for being different, both in content and form. Not only are they set in a tantalizingly familiar version of the real world, but the series tends to deal with darker themes than most RPGs. From the New World is a departure from the previous incarnations in some aspects, but fans of the series will find that it is not a complete removal from what they have come to expect and enjoy.

As the title indicates, this third Shadow Hearts title takes place in the New World, following the adventure of Johnny as he crisscrosses the Americas in search of the truth surrounding the strange fire that took the lives of his family. The story starts in New York with Johnny taking on a simple missing-persons case, but things quickly take a darker turn: people dying, ominous red lights, supernatural vortexes through which demons appear to swallow mortals whole. That sort of darker turn.

Musn't... ogle... Musn't... ogle...

But with the bad comes the good, and the good goes by the name of Shania. A Native American princess, she searches for an elusive being named Lady who single-handedly destroyed her village three years ago. Accompanied by her stoic guardian Natan, she seeks out the Spirits of the land to form pacts. These pacts not only allow Shania to tap overwhelming power by transforming her body into the form of the Spirit, but they also present an opportunity to witness the sheer awesomeness that is Shania's nearly nude body… er, that is the beautifully detailed and jaw-droppingly realistic FMV sequences.

After comparing notes, the three decide to team up and try to find Lady and the hunch-backed professor who sent Johnny on that seemingly innocent missing-persons case. Along the way they'll bust Al Capone out of Alcatraz, uncover the real identities of the Roswell aliens, get captured by cute pirates, explore several ruins in South America, and save the world from total annihilation. The story will come with a few twists and turns, but it drags a bit in the latter half of the game, especially when the gameplay devolves into one ruin exploration after another.

Of course, the trio will also find more traveling companions. Alongside the aforementioned Frank and Mao, Ricardo joins the group as the archetypal Hispanic guitarist who would look perfect in the cantina of any cheesy Hollywood Western. Finally, there's a vamp named Hilda whose weight oscillates from curvy to slim. Appropriately enough her skills and demeanor change also: the curvy form is an endearingly cute child afraid of her own strength, but the slim version is a bizarre cross between an anime magical girl and a dominatrix. And those are just the playable characters; NPCs will include Eliot Ness, a 700 year old magician, a blonde ninja named Britney, and a pair of Village People bikers who follow Johnny around the world, ostensibly to provide a storefront but really just wanting Johnny all to themselves.

One of the notable features of the Shadow Hearts series has been its usage of the Judgment Ring to facilitate player involvement in battles. Quite simply, the Ring is a small circle that pops up during combat and gauges if and how well any action will be performed. A line will rotate around the circle, and players must strike all of the hit zones in order for the action to be performed perfectly. Rings may also have strike zones, small areas at the edge of a hit zone which allow for greater damage but with the added risk of missing entirely. Different actions will have different types and numbers of zones, but all actions revolve around the Ring, so mastery is essential to success.

Why yes, it does get bigger. Why yes, it does get bigger.

New to the series is the stock gauge which fills up during battle when a character completes an action or is damaged. Stocks can be used to perform double attacks, combos, or double combos. Comboing allows the player to daisy-chain attacks together with up to four characters, each successive hit causing more damage, but it also requires the player to correctly identify a rapidly rotating symbol within a short time and strike its corresponding button. If the fourth character is reached in a combo, that character may execute a massively damaging final attack.

Each character also has some form of special attack that corresponds to their nature; Ricardo offers a number of support spells by playing his guitar, Mao is a master of Drunken Fist, and Natan's Gun Fu can rip the enemy to shreds. Every character, save for Shania, can also equip a stellar chart that allows for the usage of magic. These charts have a number of slots and can be customized to suit need, though not without cost. Magic comes in three types: support, healing, attack via one of six elements, and while all characters can utilize magic, some are obviously better at it than others.

No RPG would be complete without a few sidequests, and From the New World dishes out quite a number of them, many spanning the entire game. Johnny has the ability to snap pictures of the monsters that he encounters, and these snaps can be traded to collectors for various items. Each battle yields Soul Energy that Shania uses to power up her fusions, and Natan hunts down a number of legendary monsters in order to gain their power for his Gun Fu. Mao can gain Cat Coins which are used to further her ambitions as a movie star.

The visual environment is well designed and will satisfy all but the most demanding. The in-game engine is quite good, but it pales in comparison to the FMV sequences. It is unfortunate that these sequences are few and far between. Musically, the game neither shines nor disappoints, but it does become repetitive by the end of the journey. The voice acting is solid, with a few exceptions, and adds greatly to the characterizations.

Fear the Drunken Fist. Fear the Drunken Fist.

The main story clocks in at around 30-40 hours, but adding in sidequests could easily push that to 60. The sidequests are hit-or-miss, but the good ones provide some of the funniest moments of the game, and it is recommended that at least some of them be completed to provide maximum enjoyment. The game features two endings, but it is not necessary to make two complete playthroughs to achieve both. There is some replayability due to the fact that certain items carry over in a New Game+ option.

Veterans will find that much of the humor and style has remained intact, and they will also enjoy the cameo appearances by previous characters. It is not, however, necessary to have played either of the previous games, as this third title is more spin-off than direct sequel. Overall, From the New World comes recommended both to veterans of the series and to newcomers.

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