MUSIC & SOUND
40 to 60 hours
Normal ninja are rather mysterious, secretive fellows from Japan;
Frank is a Brazilian ninja with an odd penchant for ripping objects
from the ground and making weapons out of them. Normal cats are
small, fluffy creatures, loved by their owners; Mao is giant, talking
cat who spends her days as a Chicago mob lieutenant and moonlights
as an aspiring actress. Normal private detectives are cynical, wise-cracking
retired cops; Johnny Garland is a sixteen year old rich kid with
an unexplained past and the ability to form a lightsaber from a
knife. Normal is a setting on the dryer; Shadow Hearts: From
the New World is not, by any stretch of the definition, normal.
The Shadow Hearts series has a reputation for being different,
both in content and form. Not only are they set in a tantalizingly
familiar version of the real world, but the series tends to deal
with darker themes than most RPGs. From the New World is
a departure from the previous incarnations in some aspects, but
fans of the series will find that it is not a complete removal from
what they have come to expect and enjoy.
As the title indicates, this third Shadow Hearts title takes
place in the New World, following the adventure of Johnny as he
crisscrosses the Americas in search of the truth surrounding the
strange fire that took the lives of his family. The story starts
in New York with Johnny taking on a simple missing-persons case,
but things quickly take a darker turn: people dying, ominous red
lights, supernatural vortexes through which demons appear to swallow
mortals whole. That sort of darker turn.
But with the bad comes the good, and the good goes by the name
of Shania. A Native American princess, she searches for an elusive
being named Lady who single-handedly destroyed her village three
years ago. Accompanied by her stoic guardian Natan, she seeks out
the Spirits of the land to form pacts. These pacts not only allow
Shania to tap overwhelming power by transforming her body into the
form of the Spirit, but they also present an opportunity to witness
the sheer awesomeness that is Shania's nearly nude body
that is the beautifully detailed and jaw-droppingly realistic FMV
After comparing notes, the three decide to team up and try to find
Lady and the hunch-backed professor who sent Johnny on that seemingly
innocent missing-persons case. Along the way they'll bust Al Capone
out of Alcatraz, uncover the real identities of the Roswell aliens,
get captured by cute pirates, explore several ruins in South America,
and save the world from total annihilation. The story will come
with a few twists and turns, but it drags a bit in the latter half
of the game, especially when the gameplay devolves into one ruin
exploration after another.
Of course, the trio will also find more traveling companions. Alongside
the aforementioned Frank and Mao, Ricardo joins the group as the
archetypal Hispanic guitarist who would look perfect in the cantina
of any cheesy Hollywood Western. Finally, there's a vamp named Hilda
whose weight oscillates from curvy to slim. Appropriately enough
her skills and demeanor change also: the curvy form is an endearingly
cute child afraid of her own strength, but the slim version is a
bizarre cross between an anime magical girl and a dominatrix. And
those are just the playable characters; NPCs will include Eliot
Ness, a 700 year old magician, a blonde ninja named Britney, and
a pair of Village People bikers who follow Johnny around the world,
ostensibly to provide a storefront but really just wanting Johnny
all to themselves.
One of the notable features of the Shadow Hearts series
has been its usage of the Judgment Ring to facilitate player involvement
in battles. Quite simply, the Ring is a small circle that pops up
during combat and gauges if and how well any action will be performed.
A line will rotate around the circle, and players must strike all
of the hit zones in order for the action to be performed perfectly.
Rings may also have strike zones, small areas at the edge of a hit
zone which allow for greater damage but with the added risk of missing
entirely. Different actions will have different types and numbers
of zones, but all actions revolve around the Ring, so mastery is
essential to success.
Why yes, it does get bigger.
New to the series is the stock gauge which fills up during battle
when a character completes an action or is damaged. Stocks can be
used to perform double attacks, combos, or double combos. Comboing
allows the player to daisy-chain attacks together with up to four
characters, each successive hit causing more damage, but it also
requires the player to correctly identify a rapidly rotating symbol
within a short time and strike its corresponding button. If the
fourth character is reached in a combo, that character may execute
a massively damaging final attack.
Each character also has some form of special attack that corresponds
to their nature; Ricardo offers a number of support spells by playing
his guitar, Mao is a master of Drunken Fist, and Natan's Gun Fu
can rip the enemy to shreds. Every character, save for Shania, can
also equip a stellar chart that allows for the usage of magic. These
charts have a number of slots and can be customized to suit need,
though not without cost. Magic comes in three types: support, healing,
attack via one of six elements, and while all characters can utilize
magic, some are obviously better at it than others.
No RPG would be complete without a few sidequests, and From
the New World dishes out quite a number of them, many spanning
the entire game. Johnny has the ability to snap pictures of the
monsters that he encounters, and these snaps can be traded to collectors
for various items. Each battle yields Soul Energy that Shania uses
to power up her fusions, and Natan hunts down a number of legendary
monsters in order to gain their power for his Gun Fu. Mao can gain
Cat Coins which are used to further her ambitions as a movie star.
The visual environment is well designed and will satisfy all but
the most demanding. The in-game engine is quite good, but it pales
in comparison to the FMV sequences. It is unfortunate that these
sequences are few and far between. Musically, the game neither shines
nor disappoints, but it does become repetitive by the end of the
journey. The voice acting is solid, with a few exceptions, and adds
greatly to the characterizations.
Fear the Drunken Fist.
The main story clocks in at around 30-40 hours, but adding in sidequests
could easily push that to 60. The sidequests are hit-or-miss, but
the good ones provide some of the funniest moments of the game,
and it is recommended that at least some of them be completed to
provide maximum enjoyment. The game features two endings, but it
is not necessary to make two complete playthroughs to achieve both.
There is some replayability due to the fact that certain items carry
over in a New Game+ option.
Veterans will find that much of the humor and style has remained
intact, and they will also enjoy the cameo appearances by previous
characters. It is not, however, necessary to have played either
of the previous games, as this third title is more spin-off than
direct sequel. Overall, From the New World comes recommended
both to veterans of the series and to newcomers.