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   Shadow Hearts: From the New World - Reader Review  

Time to lay low
by Solon

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Very Easy
COMPLETION TIME
20-30 hours
OVERALL

3.0/5

Rating definitions 

   Back in 1999 an obscure, innocent title called Koudelka hit the shelves around the world. Its audience was small, but most of the people who gave it a shot enjoyed it. About two years later its indirect sequel, Shadow Hearts, was released. The title was originally planned for the Playstation, but was given more development time and made it to the Playstation 2. It was met by harsh critics and considered one of the worst RPGs of the early PS2 era. It wasn't until its sequel, Shadow Hearts: Covenant was released in 2004 that the series got the attention it deserved. This game set new trends, with a setting that included contrasts and bizarre events never before seen in any game. It had the whole package and more; stories of love, war and friendship, humor, tragedy, extraordinary music etc. With a success like this behind you, it naturally becomes hard for a developer to make the next installment better, or even just as good as its predecessor. Long story short, this shows in the case of Shadow Hearts: From the New World. Why? Read on and find out.

   Unfortunately, Shadow Hearts 3 especially falls short in the story department. We are thrown into the life of Johnny, a freelance kid detective who runs his business in New York. On this particular day Johnny gets thrown into a case that differs a bit from the usual finding the neighborhood's missing cat. During his investigation a dimensional gate, a so called "window" opens out of nowhere, and a monster comes out and targets Johnnny in particular. Coincidentally this evening, Johnny also meets up with a female indian with the ability to fuse into powerful monsters. For those familiar with the series, she's a Fusion Master, much like Yuri was in the previous titles. There's something about Johnny, and what's his connection to the Fusion Master, Shania? Who's the mysterious girl we see slaughtering guards without blinking, and who's the guy following her? From the beginning the questions might seem many, but as we proceed through the game it becomes way too predictable. Most importantly, the story offers absolutely nothing new to experienced players of the genre. It all comes down to saving the world from eternal doom in the same old traditional manner. In the end I ended up playing around with the battle system, laughing at the humoristic, satiric events of the game and almost completely ignoring whatever happened in the main storyline.

A refreshing touch of cat... A refreshing touch of cat...

   This brings us to a specifically important issue about this title - originality. With a game with predecessors that offered a very original setting, satiric events and very special, original characters that differed a lot from each other, can a third part still keep up the refreshing feel of the others? Yes and no. The team does manage to present a few characters that has such twisted, weird personalities that they cannot be compared to anything ever seen before, especially in the case of Ninja Frank, Mao and Hilda. It's things like the world map, town design, the judgement ring and such that brings the originality down a bit, seeing as they're either identical or very similar to what they were in Covenant (or even the original Shadow Hearts).

   The Judgement ring does return, as mentioned. A few changes have been made, but the base of the concept is the same. To execute each action, the player has to strike a hit on various areas of the ring. This applies for everything: regular attacks, magical spells, even using regular items. What's new to the Judgement ring is the use of combos and double combos. First off, there's a stock gauge for each character that increases when recieving and giving damage. In order to execute a combo (which works just like in Covenant, each character in the combo executes one action each directly after each other, while the damage bonus increases the longer the combo lasts) at least two characters need to have their stock gauge set to 1. However, if you save up on stock until everyone has at least 2, you can execute a double combo, which works just as a regular combo, only every character can perform two actions after each other instead of just one. It might not sounds like much, but this actually leaves quite a bit to experiment with.

   The magical crests from Covenant have been replaced this time by so called Stellar charts. These are a type of maps with empty nodes on for you to place magical spells on. Later on in the game, you also have the ability to find new Stellar charts as well as refine those you already own and upgrade them in various ways. Aside from all this, each character has (just like in the previous installments) a private style each that you gain new skills for a few times throughout the game, usually through sidequests or secret chests.

Spells are as flashy as ever Spells are as flashy as ever

   Another part of Shadow Hearts 3 that unfortunately is a bit watered down compared to the previous games in the series is the music. As usual, Yoshitaka Hirota is the main composer for the game, and he does a decent job at that. Most themes are very fitting to their setting, especially the dungeon and town themes. Some tracks are a bit overused and become slightly repetitive towards the later parts of the game (this was a slight problem with Covenant as well). The style is similar to the previous titles, but it lacks that little extra touch that both SH and Covenant had to make them get the higher scores. It's still a solid soundtrack nonetheless.

   Small details that can easily destroy an otherwise solid gaming experience are bad translations or poor, clunky interfaces. Fortunately, Shadow Hearts 3 suffers from none of these issues. The base of the interface is pretty much identical to the one found in Covenant, but seeing as it works excellently, there's no real reason to make any big changes here. Menus are fast and smooth and the controls are easy to handle. Translation-wise, the game is pretty much flawless. I especially applaud the translators for this, as many of the satiric and humoristic scenes overall must have been particularly hard to translate.

   In the graphics section, Shadow Hearts 3 does a good job, but still doesn't really blow me off my chair. The art and design is overall very similar to Covenant's. While the quality of the visuals is a bit better this time, whenever I compare the two games I always tend to think they looked the same. There's the occassional glitch, and the character models may seem a bit unpolished when looking closely.

   Following the trend of the series (and most other series as well these days), Shadow Hearts 3 offers practically no challenge at all, not even in the sidequests section. Wether this is good or bad is entirely subjective, but in my point of view, we've had enough easy games in the past few years. Every other game we recieve is a cake walk which you can basically play in your sleep without worrying too much. Shadow Hearts 3 is such a game, and it's yet another issue that brings down the score slightly.

   When it comes down to it, Shadow Hearts 3: From the New World takes around 20 to 30 hours to complete. The sidequests section is significantly smaller than it was in Covenant, but a lot bigger than it was in the original SH and Koudelka. Many of the sidequests (and even some parts of the main plot) have references to the previous SH games though, which certainly makes them worth their while. Some long lost characters even make cameos, which was nice to see. Even with all the sidequests completed though, you'd hardly spend more than 40 hours on the game in total.

   Thinking back on Shadow Hearts 3, I can't help but to feel slightly disappointed. It might be because of my huge expectations after playing the masterpiece that is Covenant, but there's no doubt that other factors played a big part here as well. To put it harsh, SH3 feels a bit sloppy and thrown together, and it lacks the deep atmosphere that all previous installments have had. It is certainly not a bad game in any way, but it does lack that special touch its predecessors had that made them games to remember forever.

   I recommend this game for fans of the series, but I warn them not to let their expectations get the best of them.

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