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   Shadow Hearts: From the New World - Staff Review  

What A Long Strange Trip It's Been
by Cortney Stone

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Easy
COMPLETION TIME
35-40 hours
OVERALL

3.0/5

Rating definitions 

   The first two Shadow Hearts titles gave the series a reputation for dark themes of demonic pacts, scheming clerics, and forbidden rituals, but with an irreverent, quirky tint. Shadow Hearts: From the New World flips everything topsy-turvy; weirdness dominates while horror is a mere undercurrent, barely strong enough to be taken seriously.

   The story of Shadow Hearts: From the New World can be summed up as lengthy stretches of mediocrity with a few highlights and nice connections to Shadow Hearts and Shadow Hearts: Covenant scattered throughout. There are a couple of stupid plot twists as well, and the brain-bending anachronisms in this installment are so blatant that they cannot be overlooked. Shadow Hearts: From the New World is less about pseudo-history and more about zany humor, and it's not even that funny. Instead of powerful demons and murderous warlocks, the game has a giant cat aspiring to be a famous Hollywood actress and a Brazilian ninja who can make anything from fish to fireworks tubes into a sword-like weapon. Like the previous games in the series, there is a lot of originality, mainly in character design, but the events of the game are sometimes cliché pitfalls.

   The battle system continues to improve; the Judgment Ring did not undergo a makeover, but it remains as clean as it did in Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Combos have been refined so that they actually require strategic thinking and planning. For example, a certain magic spell will not hit the enemy unless a party member knocks them into the air earlier in the combo attack. There is also a stock gauge to watch. Stock accumulates by dealing or receiving damage, and it is used to execute combos, double attacks, or hard hits, which remove the stock of an enemy or an ally. While this is an interesting aspect of combat, one sometimes has to constantly reduce the stock of an enemy or start off every fight with stock-breaking moves.

If your heart races, you're in love, and there's no escape from Hilda's magic! "If your heart races, you're in love, and there's no escape from Hilda's magic!"

   The stock gauge is also the seat of the game's few interaction flaws; the other flaws in an otherwise excellent localization are a spelling error and a mislabeled ability. When the gauge has been filled once, a small number one represents the first bar, while the stock gauge itself remains empty and ready to be filled again. Unless the player is looking very closely, he or she will not notice this number, as it is hard to see. This means that if the player enters a fight with an enemy that already has one full stock gauge, sees what appears to be an empty stock gauge, and forgoes stock-breaking moves, he or she may be in for a nasty surprise early in the battle.

   Shadow Hearts: From the New World excels in other departments, however. The music has a fresh, diverse range of sounds with jazz, acoustic guitar, tribal drums, and aboriginal vocals. Even the hauntingly beautiful ~ICARO~ theme of Shadow Hearts: Covenant has been remixed and enhanced with aboriginal vocalization. A few notable pieces have been carried over from Covenant as well, although these did not receive the same treatment, and some sound effects were borrowed as well. The voice acting is excellent, although one recurring character has a different actor who is not up to par, and Shania's voice on occasion sounds too much like a stereotypical emotionless noble savage from a black-and-white Western movie. The real treats are the characters who ham it up, befitting the game's overall quirkiness.

Shania would like you to know that Tatan'ka is a Sioux word for ass-kicking buffalo. Shania would like you to know that "Tatan'ka" is a Sioux word for "ass-kicking buffalo."

   Visuals have improved greatly as well. FMVs and in-game graphics are stunning. Almost every scenario is bright and colorful, whether it's a glitzy Vegas casino or the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon. A bit too much screentime is devoted to Shania's striptease fusions, but those who desire less fanservice may avoid these sequences outside of the FMVs by flipping on a handy option. One notable improvement is that characters don't bump into each other in combat anymore, although they still land awkwardly on their necks after being knocked into the air.

   Time for completion varies, just as it did with the previous Shadow Hearts games. The "good ending" is a possible goal, and there are plenty of sidequests to keep the player busy. However, unlike the rest of the series, the required last battles are so easy that one does not have to complete sidequests in order to make them less stressful. In fact, the entire game is rather easy, although it can be quite punishing if one neglects to remove enemies' stock.

   Shadow Hearts: From the New World is a strange trip into absurdity where almost nothing can be taken seriously. Its greatest weakness is its story, and while everything else is above average, this brings the game down overall. Aside from the battle system and the occasional homoerotic innuendo, it just doesn't feel like a true Shadow Hearts experience.

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