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   Shadow Hearts: From the New World - Staff Review  

From Brazeel, With Love
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Easy
COMPLETION TIME
35 to 40 hrs.
OVERALL

3.5/5

Rating definitions 

   It seems that the longer the Shadow Hearts series goes on, the stranger it becomes. With a bizarre cast of characters, Shadow Hearts; From the New World continues this trend towards the silly, but the combination of farcical character design, a fairly lighthearted story, nightmarish monster design, and a potentially tragic ending gives this game a highly bipolar nature. The combat system and music do a good job of lifting the game up above these shortcomings, however, giving the game its own place in the series despite an overall lack of consistency.

   Shadow Hearts: From the New World features, on the one hand, enemies who look like hellish piles of bone, snot, and tentacles, creatures with two faces and teeth sticking out at angles which no loving god could have intended. On the other hand, the story involves a middle-aged ninja who claims to be from Brazil, and his master, a talking Kung-Fu kitty. It follows the travels of a young detective named Johnny Garland and a vengeful Native-American woman named Shania as they chase a mass-murderer and her companion, but also involves a pair of stereotypical homosexual bikers who run a shop called 'Just Us Guys'. The game swings wildly between very serious and very silly, sometimes multiple times in one scene. The story develops along lines which could charitably be called alternate history, but the plot largely ignores any pretense of historical accuracy, instead swiping one or two of the more notable figures from the early 1930s and inserting them into the plot while largely ignoring events that may have actually occurred in the time period. Beyond this, most of the characters beyond the main two or three develop very little if at all, and the story itself has no real meaning to it. The characters are likeable enough, but the game simply gives no real reason to become deeply interested in what they are doing or why, and after a while, it becomes just another task to get through in order to reach the next fight.

   As with the previous two Shadow Hearts games, Shadow Hearts: From the New World uses a timing system called the Judgment Ring, in which the player is required to hit a number of colored wedges on a Ring in order to determine an attack’s success and strength of effect. Each characters' basic attack and special skills have their own variation on the Ring, as do the various items and Stellar Magic attacks available to the player. The game’s highly responsive control coupled with items and accessories that can slow the speed of the Judgment Ring’s indicator make it a reasonably easy test of timing, but the Ring gives the player a more active role in combat, making the game as a whole just a little more immersive than the standard combat system.

   SH3 also builds on the combo system introduced in Shadow Hearts: Covenant, making the interplay of Stock Gauge and Stock-reducing attacks far more integral to combat. This variation on the combat system is an almost puzzle-like affair, with the goal being not just to defeat any monsters involved in combat, but to do it without allowing them a turn, preferably finishing them off with a powerful, Stock Gauge-draining Combo Magic attack. Given that a large percentage of the enemies in the game will reward the player with a full Stock Gauge if they are defeated quickly enough, it is usually possible to set up a cycle of events in combat, defeating new foes with the Stock received from the previous fight, allowing the enemy little or no turns. It may seem like this would create a lack of difficulty that should cause problems similar to the attack delaying moves of Grandia 2, but the amount of critical thinking, high-speed reaction, and white-knuckle strategy required to sustain a continuously self-repeating combo makes the combat system a joy to use.

Frank the Ninja, with Marlin Saber. Frank the Ninja, with Marlin Saber.

   With Judgment Ring hit areas that are slightly smaller and more awkwardly placed, and the introduction of Double Attacks, which combine the Ring areas of two different moves, Shadow Hearts: From the New World is slightly more difficult than its predecessors. The game’s balance is also slightly harder to keep up with, as it expects the player to continuously embark on side quests during the main plot of the game in order to maintain the usefulness of their character’s skills. However, even with constant side questing to keep up with, the game is hardly difficult, and the game is only of average length, coming out to around 35 to 40 hours.

   The game’s visual style is a hard thing to pin down. On one side silly, with bright colors and solid shapes illustrating cheerful characters, yet on the other side, dark gray and black creatures covered in shiny slime, the only real colors being putrescent shades of purple and green. Overall, the character design is quite good, and each individual clearly has a unique style all their own. While technically satisfying, the visuals mirror the overall lack of consistency present in Shadow Hearts: From the New World.

Johnny's mysterious past forms some of the more interesting parts of the story. Johnny's mysterious past forms some of the more interesting parts of the story.

   Yoshitaka Hirota, the composer responsible in large part for the soundtracks of the previous two titles, hits something of a stride with SH3, bringing a youthful, melodic sound to the series. The soundtrack mixes fiddles, guitars, and tribal instruments with the normally ambient sound of the series, setting an intriguing, eclectic tone. It isn’t quite enough to reconcile the differences in the combat system and plotline, but the music does go some way towards evening the whole experience out. The voice acting, on the other hand, causes more problems than it solves. A wildly mixed bag, certain voices sound entirely appropriate and acceptable, while others simply don’t work at all. Roger Bacon in particular suffers from his voice actor, looking like a disturbingly skeletal old man while sounding like an asthmatic third-grader.

   The inconsistencies in Shadow Hearts: From the New World make the game world hard to rationalize, ultimately making it difficult for the player to deal with a world that contains both Shania the Harmonixer and Frank the Ninja. While it is possible to create a game which is both extremely funny and very serious, SH3 makes the error of quickly switching back and forth without warning, leading to confusion, a fractured narrative, and a confused overall style. In the end, the game’s combat system is its saving grace and driving force, bringing a mind-bending tactical experience to an otherwise unremarkable game.

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