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Developer:
Nautilus
Publisher: XSeed Games
Platform: PS2
Release Date: March 7, 2006

by Josh Ferguson




Even though the Shadow Hearts series has faired pretty well with critics, for some odd reason it hasn't been nearly as successful when it comes to sales. This even led Midway, the US Publisher of the first two games, to drop out of bringing the third installment, Shadow Hearts: From the New World, to U.S. shores. It completely boggles my mind why this series hasn't been more successful, but luckily XSeed Games has come along and picked up this latest installment for a U.S. release. So will Shadow Hearts: From the New World fair better than its predecessors? We can only hope, because this is one heck of a game in one heck of a series!


The story in Shadow Hearts: From the New World follows a 16-year-old detective named Johnny Garland. Being a 16-year-old detective, most people don't take Johnny too seriously, but that all changes one day when a man named Professor Gilbert hires him to locate an escaped killer. Johnny soon tracks the man down in an abandoned theater, where he is stunned to see him being devoured by a large monster. Suddenly, a winged angel-like creature comes crashing down through the glass window, defeating the monster and saving Johnny. This winged creature is actually a young Native American named Shania, who, like the previous game's protagonist, Yuri Hyuga, happens to be a Harmonixer. Along with her guardian, Natan, Shania is in search of these large green portals the monsters called "windows." Hoping that Professor Gilbert will know more about these "windows," the three join together to find the Professor.


Like most RPGs, along the way more and more characters will begin to join up with your party. The game features a wide variety of party members, including a ninja named Frank who constantly talks about himself in the third person, a fat alcoholic cat named Mao, Hilda, a Vampire and member of the Valentine clan, and a mariachi similar to the one in Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi films. As you can see from the description of some of the characters alone, at times the game doesn't take itself too seriously. Even though the story is somewhat dark, it still manages to blend in a great style of humor that at times can be downright hilarious!


Considering that this is a Shadow Hearts game, everyone knew that there would have to be a Harmonixer. And like I said earlier, the Harmonixer is a young Native American named Shania. When you first come across Shania, she will only be able to fuse with one type of spirit, but along the way you will pick up a few more forms. I'm sure the real question is how do they look? Honestly, I think I prefer a few of Shania's even to Yuri's. While he had some pretty neat looking fusions, a lot of them looked very... odd. Most of Shania's tend to keep a humanistic look, but still are great. The actual transformation scene is a little risqué, especially with the close-ups of her breasts, but it still looks gorgeous.


As far as combat, the battles in Shadow Hearts: From the New World are done with up to four of your party members against a number of enemies. The combat is turn-based, but very different from most RPGs. If you are familiar with the series then you will already be aware of the Judgment Ring, but if not, let me explain. The Judgment Ring is a gray circle that is used to determine the effectiveness of a character's action, whether it is using an item, casting a spell or performing a physical attack. Once a player chooses an action, the Judgment Ring will appear and a small bar will travel around the ring's diameter. As the bar moves, it will travel over different colored zones that must be hit for the selected action to be a success. For most attacks, the darker the color of the area hit, the more effective the action.


In Shadow Hearts: Covenant, the Judgment Ring went through a bit of a change, and allowed for customization that almost gave the player complete control. While this latest installment still allows for customization, it also features an all new stock command. As a character receives or deals out damage in combat, that character's stock gauge will begin to grow. Once the gauge is full, the character will then receive one number of stock. Each character is only able to carry one stock, which can give a character two consecutive attacks or combos with other characters. The stock system also allows for a character to pull off two consecutive actions and combos with the remaining characters, but this action depletes double the stock. Still, even with the addition of stock and more combos, the combat feels pretty much the same as Shadow Hearts: Covenant, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. In other words, if you liked Covenant, you will more than likely feel right at home.


While the combat system of Shadow Hearts might be different from your average turn-based RPG, I've still always enjoyed it. Unlike most turn-based RPGs, the Shadow Hearts series features a much more involving combat system that actually forces the player to become more aware of the combat. For example, think about most RPGs where the player presses the attack button and then the game automatically pulls off the attack. It gets a little boring and the player doesn't even have to pay attention. In fact, often the player won't even have to look at the television screen. But Shadow Hearts requires the player to actually pay attention if they would like to defeat the enemy.


As far as graphics, Shadow Hearts: From the New World is very impressive. The game doesn't feature a whole lot of cinemas, but what is there is superb. Instead of cinemas, the game features a lot of in-game cutscenes, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially since they look great too, but they aren't nearly as impressive as the actual cinemas. The combat also looks very well done, and both the main characters and random enemies are detailed and look great. Heck, even roaming around the beautifully done environments the game looks fantastic.


One of the other impressive areas in this latest Shadow Hearts game would be the sound. The game's soundtrack is done very well, and features a wide variety of great voice acting. There is also a large amount of voice acting, much of which takes place during some of the many cutscenes, and some of which is done during combat. But all together, it sounds impressive.


In order to fully complete Shadow Hearts: From the New World, chances are you will be spending at least 40 hours or so. Similar to the other games, each of the characters in the game have their own little sidequests available that help them obtain extra skills or their ultimate weapons. Not only will these sidequests be enough to keep you busy for a while, the game also features two different endings. Like the original Shadow Hearts, this latest installment has both a good ending and a bad ending. Playing through the entire game also unlocks the theater mode located on the opening menu. Theater mode allows the player to view all of the game's previously viewed cutscenes and cinemas.


Veterans of the Shadow Hearts series will be happy to know that there are occasional appearances from previous characters from the series. Some of these include Roger Bacon, Lenny, and the two "strange" salesmen that constantly followed you around in Shadow Hearts: Covenant.


Overall Shadow Hearts: From the New World feels very similar to its predecessors, which definitely is not a bad thing. If you liked Shadow Hearts: Covenant then I would highly recommend giving this one a try. Even if you haven't played any of the previous games, I would still highly recommend it. What’s not to love about this game? It has beautiful graphics, great sound, a fun combat system, and long-lasting gameplay that can easily entertain any RPG fan. If you’re a fan of the genre, then Shadow Hearts: From the New World is a must have!


Final Grade: 87%




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