Review – Shadow Hearts: From the New World

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Platform: PlayStation 2
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Developer:  Nautilus
Release Date:  March 7th, 2006

Premise

Set in late 1920’s America, a young detective named Johnny Garland takes on a missing persons case, given to him by a strange professor. After finding the missing man, Johnny is unable to save him from a horrific monster. Johnny’s life seems over as well until he is saved by another monster, who afterward changes into a woman named Shania. The two decide to travel together to look into the mysteries of these monsters, as well as Shania’s hunt for a woman known only as ‘Lady’.

Story

This game is commonly known as Shadow Hearts 3, as it is somewhat related to the events of the first two games. While it does help to play the previous titles to understand some of the story, it’s not completely necessary.

What I can say about the game is that there are not really any surprises when it comes to plot development. Everyone you suspect is a bad guy, is usually a bad guy. Everyone’s reasons for being a part of the story are obvious, and I did manage to figure out the big plot twist near the end rather quickly. On its own, the story may not keep you hooked, but the gameplay and combat elements, combined with the story still make it an enjoyable experience.

Characters

Shadow Hearts is very well known for some over the top characters, and From the New World is no different. In fact, it probably has the most ridiculous cast of characters I have ever encountered in an RPG. Apart from Johnny, almost every other character is a walking stereotype. Your party includes two Native American warriors, a Bishoujo magical girl vampire, an old ninja with a french accent, a Spanish guitarist who reminds me of Antonio Banderas in the movie Desperado, and an anthropomorphic cat with a penchant for liquor. All of these characters have side events that help you progress their skills, but only a few of them have an actual connection to the main story. You don’t learn too much about them overall after recruiting them, so they are just there to be used for combat more than anything else. The more meaningful characters in the game are actually the NPC’s, as they help explain most of the situations as they happen.

3D-Frank

It’s also good to point out the heavy sexualization of Shania’s character. Not only is she dressed rather skimpily, but her transformation sequences also involve her stripping down to her underwear. What’s worse is that there is no practical reason for this. When she changes back, her clothes are already on. This is nothing short of fan service. since the sequences also slow down combat, it’s a feature that can be turned off to speed up gameplay.

Visuals

From the New World uses the same graphics engine that was used for Shadow Hearts: Covenant, which is classic 3-D models. Combat is full motion, so fights are enjoyable to watch. There are some major cut scenes in the game, and the graphics for those are more refined, allowing for the more memorable scenes to look pretty good.

Audio

The musical score for From the New World was composed by Ryo Fukuda, Yoshitaka Hirota, and Tomoko Imoto. Overall, I enjoyed the background music during the game. Each setting had fitting music to add to the expected atmosphere. A Chicago night club had some upbeat club music, and a Haunted doll house had a creepy score to fit its setting.

The game includes an English only voice dub, and includes voice actors such as Jamie McGonnigle, Kelly Ray, and Sean Schemmel (Most known for his role as Goku in DragonBall Z).

Gameplay – Exploration

Travelling between locations on the world map is done with a menu. Each time a new location is made available, it’s a new point on the map. Areas to visit include Chicago, Roswell, and even parts of Central and South America.

Towns can be explored freely, and are large enough to get around without being so large as to have difficulty finding what you’re looking for. The shop is painfully obvious to find.

Dungeons are elaborate, each eith its own unique puzzles to get through in order to advance. These puzzles can sometimes be frustrating when there are also encounters to deal with while running around figuring them out. The amount of exploration is useful, as there are treasure chests all over dungeons, as well as the occasional hidden item that is found when a “?” icon appears over your head. Dungeons also have access to shops, as the shopkeepers of the game spend most of their time following you wherever you go (Not really sure why).

Gameplay – Combat

While combat uses a turn-based system, there are several things about the system that is different and interesting. The first is the Judgment Ring system. When attacking, using a skill, or using an item, a Ring appears on screen and a dial spins like a clock. There are zones to hit in order to successfully hit or perform your action. If you miss a zone on an attack, you will only hit the number of times you succeeded. If you miss a zone on a skill or item use, it will fail. While I enjoyed this mechanic, I can understand that it could be frustrating for people who don’t enjoy anything requiring reflexes. The good news in all this is that there are ways to increase your success rates through character customization, which I’ll get into later.

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The stock system is another neat mechanic. As you give and receive damage, a gauge fills up for each character. Once this stock gauge fills fully, a character can use it to either perform a double attack, or start a chain attack with other members of the party. The chain can continue if the next party member also has a full stock gauge. The more chained hits, the more damage is dealt. Conversely, all enemies have a stock gauge as well, and can do these same things to you. Some skills can reduce an enemy’s gauge, so it’s very useful to do these things during boss fights.

Most of your party has the ability to use magic, but Shania cannot. Instead, she has fusions. Shania has the ability to transform herself into a spirit, which increases her stats, and grants her specific skills. As you progress through the game, you will receive more Spirits, granting different skills and benefits.

The last unique feature is the implementation of Sanity points, which will from here on be referred to as SP. Each character has a total of SP, and it goes down every turn. If a character runs out of SP, they go berserk. They will no longer be under your control, and will attack indiscriminately. They may also run from the fight, leaving you one member short. This is another mechanic that may frustrate people, but I honestly liked it for two reasons. First, it’s easily manageable with items and skills, and combat rarely goes long enough for it to be an issue. Even boss fights get close, but rarely over. Second, it’s excellent for the story setting. The horrific things you are fighting all the time would usually make the average person go insane. It’s only fitting for there to be consequences for everything that you experience in this setting.

Gameplay – Character Progression/Sidequests

Normally I write about these sections separately, but with this game, they go hand in hand. The sidequests in the game allow for your characters to gain new skills. Some of these are dungeons, while others are fetch quests, and some also include one on one battles. You can do the sidequests just for the characters you use most often, or you can go for full completion. There’s no actual wrong way to do this.

As I said earlier, the Judgment Ring for each character can be manipulated as well. There are items in the game that will add hits to the ring, or expand the success zones for each hit. This widens the degree of successfully hitting the zones when attacking. This does not affect skills or items, but this does simplify the basic attack patterns for each character.

Shania also has the ability to level up her fusions. Each fusion has four statues you can obtain through the game that will increase a specific fusion’s stats, add skills, reduce MP cost of her skills, or increase the power output of existing skills. This levelling costs soul points, which are obtained at the end of battle along with EXP and money. The levelling costs do get high, so grinding does tend to be a requirement if you want to max out a fusion. It’s also fair to note that there is a good and bad ending of the game, and its outcome is decided by how much you have levelled Shania’s fusions.

The other piece is the Constellation charts. These are picked up as you go through the game, and each has different points. on these points, you can equip Spells, and then equip the chart to a character. Each point has a prerequisite. For example, a red circular point can only have a Fire magic stellar, while a white triangular stellar can equip curative stellars. These can be modified and enhanced, but it costs money to do so. Luckily, you don’t really have to do it all that much to get through the game.

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Final Thoughts

This is another example of a game where the combat and gameplay do outweigh the story. The story itself was interesting enough, but it didn’t do anything new for its time. I also would have very much preferred having a Japanese voice option, as the English voice acting was a bit much (Still way better than other games, though). If you have played the other Shadow Hearts games, I do recommend it as it is still a complete experience, and closes what few plot holes were left over from Covenant. If you haven’t played them, I still say give it a shot, as it’s still a unique experience that will keep you entertained, if only for Mao and her drunken fist techniques.

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Review – Shadow Hearts: From the New World

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