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Reviewed: Shadow Hearts: From the New World
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: March 20th, 2006
Page: 2
Like its predecessors, Shadow Hearts: From the New World runs not on serious storyline (although it exists) but on comedy. The characters in design are parody archetypes of characters seen in most RPG titles. Johnny Garland, the main character, has a power to make his weapons glow with an ethereal sword, gaps in his memory, and fancies himself a private detective (complete with camera). Shania, the second protagonist, is a shape-changing voluptuous woman hunting her tribe's killer for revenge. Accompanying her is Natan, a tall soft-spoken Native American whose fighting style is "Gun-Fu". The rest of the crowd are Hilda, a vampire bat whose form changes by sucking blood from enemies, a talking cat named Mao who just "happens" to be a master of drunken kung fu, an American in a garish ninja outfit named Frank whose schtick is pulling up objects from the ground and sticking a sword hilt on them to make new weapons, and a mariachi guitarist named Ricardo who uses music (along with various weapons concealed in his guitar) to help his friends or attack enemies.

Yes, just like the previous titles, it really IS that silly. And don't worry about reviews saying that it's shorter than the last title; although this is true, it's only true if you're ignoring the side quests, and for the most part the side quests are fun and enjoyable (not a whole lot of "grind to level 99 to beat the big baddie" style quests).

Short version on the storyline: Johnny is in search of answers on why his parents died and what happened to them. Shania wants revenge for the death of her family; Natan is her protector. Frank is worried about threats to America, the Mariachi Man wants revenge for his dead girlfriend, the Cat just wants to have fun and make a movie, and Hilda the bat (relation to our previous vampire friend from previous titles unknown) is traveling with the party whilst Roger Bacon repairs their flying machine. Stereotypical? Yes, but pleasantly so. The overarching storyline is even quite familiar, as the characters race across the world to stop a party of evil adventurers from unleashing Malice (there's the connection to the previous game) and thus destroying the world by merging it with the spirit world and unleashing crazy-looking monsters everywhere.

The designers also made an interesting (and well thought-out) decision this time; instead of being able to name your party members, you get to name one person - Roger. While the original idea behind letting people name characters might have been sound, it would have been horrid for this, as too many cutscenes rely on actual spoken dialogue; this both eliminates the button-push-movie feel of games like Xenosaga, and allows cutscenes to flow more naturally. Most of the cutscenes are also prerendered at a relatively high quality, too.

Graphically, the designers of From the New World have really kicked the game up. The setting might have something to do with it (mid-Depression America) but it's solid throughout; New York, Chicago, Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Machu Picchu, and more are all rendered remarkably well, with no washed-out shades and very well-considered camera angles throughout. The system of popping up icons when hidden items are found is there too, but it works about as well as in the last title; walking through environments and tapping X as you travel can still net a few items that either aren't detected or that are in cleverly concealed chests.

Sadly for series fans Yuri and the rest of the old crew of the first two games, save for Roger Bacon, don't show up at all and have almost no connection to the story. Their adventures are set on the other side of the globe. The good news is that there's plenty to do on this side. Breaking Al Capone out of Alcatraz is actually the tamest of their adventures, which include hunting down mythical beasts, making a movie that features an all-cat cast, hunting down obscure old magazines, and of course battling some of the craziest monsters I've ever seen.

The battle arena, to battle previously defeated enemies and bosses, is back, run by a "Professor Lovecraft"; so too are the very, very flamingly homosexual shopkeepers, who manage to pop up along with their motorcycle in every place imaginable, including not 100 feet from the site of a boss battle. Regrettably no fighting style involves a doll this time, so the "stud cards" and dresses are gone; in their place is the new magic system, which uses "stellars" which are placed onto star charts, which characters then equip. Making a good magic user isn't so much a matter of equipping the right stellars; instead, it's carefully choosing (and spending lots of cash) which slots in which charts to have upgraded for added effect, less magic point usage, and to equip the highest level stellars available.

In addition to the judgement ring, the battle system's added a few more items of flavor. Attacks can now hit low, medium, or high areas, as well as knocking an enemy up or down; combo attacks have to be carefully arranged so as not to move an enemy out of the way of a followup attack. The stock system allows for single attacks, combo (one attacker following another), "Double" attacks (two attacks from the same character), or even "Double Combo". The quad magic option is also still available, but not nearly as useful; every quad attack only does one hit, while a good Double attack can do nearly twenty if properly executed, granting more bonus damage as well as bonuses at the end of combat for executing high-combo-number attacks.

Thankfully for new players, this is a Shadow Hearts game. That means that, although there are an insane number of ways to trick out your characters and multiple layers of complexity to the combat system, you don't necessarily need them all. The judgement ring can be set on autopilot, the magic system worked fairly safely, and buying equipment is almost entirely optional for most of the game. Since you can make it as detailed or as simple as you want it to be, it's likely to remain fun. The game's pacing also eliminates most of the tedious level grinding present in many RPG installments, which helps greatly; there's nothing worse than sitting in a dungeon trying to level up for 100 hours, unless you're into that sort of thing.

If you haven't picked up Shadow Hearts: From the New World it should definitely be on your to-buy list. There aren't many RPG's on the market that are this fun, nor that can keep a good storyline going while remembering not to take themselves too seriously.

Added:  Monday, March 20, 2006
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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