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   Shadow Hearts: From the New World - Staff Retroview  

1929 Without a Great Depression
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

Click here for game information
PLATFORM
PS2
BATTLE SYSTEM
5
INTERACTION
4
ORIGINALITY
3
STORY
4
MUSIC & SOUND
3
VISUALS
4
CHALLENGE
Hard
COMPLETION TIME
20-40 Hours
OVERALL
4.0/5
+ Superior combat mechanics
+ Story picks up steam steadily
+ Varied and interesting character growths
- Early part is aimlessly goofy
- Super-strong final foe
Click here for scoring definitions 

   The Shadow Hearts series got one more installment after Covenant's positive reception. Shadow Hearts: From the New World was the recipient of big expectations, and it doesn't quite fulfill them. At least the game comes pretty darn close, and ought to be experienced by anyone even tentatively interested who hasn't yet partaken. It's too late to bring another in this series into existence, but the last entry in the series is nevertheless extremely entertaining.

   Combat in From the New World takes most of its mechanics wholesale from that of Covenant, but the few changes it makes refine the system to an even keener edge. The essence of battle remains proper use of the Judgment Ring, something that resembles a clock face with a spinning hand that the player must press as it passes through colored zones. Success enables actions to be carried out; failure results in a wasted turn. Covenant added the ability for characters to chain their attacks into combos, some of which were dependent on pushing an enemy into the right area with several varieties of physical strikes that would force foes into a different position. From the New World retains all of this delightfully involving material, along with the continual temptation to try hitting the narrow Strike zones on the Judgment Ring to increase the effects of actions by twenty percent. A very useful turn order meter is constantly displayed to make planning easy, and attacks affect specific zones on the field instead of everything, so that the tactics of the player must be a paramount consideration.

   From the New World doesn't drastically alter what was in place for the series, but its addition of a meter to tell what elevations enemies occupy and whether they will be affected by altitude-dependent spells is very handy. A major change is the institution of Stock, which is accumulated by dealing and receiving damage. Gathering the maximum two bars of Stock is quickly done, and expending some of it is now the means of launching combos, instead of gathering the characters into a tight-knit formation first. Sufficient Stock also enables characters to use two actions in one turn, although they cannot be identical. Enemies have the same capabilities, making the game's display of Stock on everything in a battle vital for planning. The result is a combat system that manages to alter Covenant's already-superlative fighting for the better.

   Purchasing new items is as engaging it was in the two other Shadow Hearts games, allowing the player to use the Judgment Ring in an effort to alter prices in a favorable way. Adjusting each character's Judgment Ring for battle is also possible, allowing alteration based on the player's preference for how sensitive it should be. The new dimension to From the New World is its magic system, whereby spells are placed onto a number of charts named for Zodiac signs, which are then equipped by characters. For a price the player can decrease MP use, increase potency, broaden the range of spells, and alter the applicable element of each slot on the magic charts. Doing this for any one slot is cheap, but the number of potential modifications to be made will run up a massive bill. This system is a bit more complicated than simply having characters equip spells directly that Covenant used, but the compelling ability to tinker with magic performance makes up for it.

What does Captain America have in common with ninjas?  I used to think What does Captain America have in common with ninjas? I used to think 'not much,' but not anymore.

   The spells they use may be interchangeable, but the individual abilities of characters in From the New World are definitely not. Acquired through a variety of variably bizarre methods such as fighting cat-themed movie references or tracking down legendary beasts in the Americas, they ensure that each character has distinct capabilities in battle that cannot be wholly replicated. There is the moderate downside of considerable effort often being necessary to reap these rewards, but busywork in From the New World never crosses the line into obnoxiousness that some games do.

   References to earlier games in the series are plentiful, but From the New World's taking place in the Western Hemisphere of 1929 precludes it from being too tightly tied to the preceding Covenant. Johnny Garland is the protagonist, and his putative New York detective business seems to have finally gotten a case more involving than finding a lost cat. Johnny isn't quite prepared for his exploration of a Chelsea movie palace to be interrupted by a shapeshifting Native American woman named Shania doing battle with a creature from another dimension, but he can't forget what transpired and determines to stay on the case. This involves seeking the now-absent man who initially hired him, a goal Shania temporarily shares. Elsewhere, a serial killer named after his crimes is rescued from the brink of death by a mute woman he dubs Lady, a true femme fatale with a penchant for leaving piles of corpses behind. It doesn't take long for Johnny's search to start encountering the effects of this rampage.

   From the New World includes quite a bit of silly material, hardly unusual for a series that already featured a character who taunts the player with a naming option only to rescind it immediately. Goofiness serves as the major driving force in the earliest part of the plot, though it takes a back seat to ominous material before much time passes. In terms of craziness involving the United States, From the New World pales next to Tengai Makyou IV's vision of villains carving their faces onto Mt. Rushmore and heroes driving the Alamo into Florida to attack a cable network's power station. From the New World's bizarre touches aren't quite insane enough to carry the proceedings before its journey becomes more purposeful, which makes the early part more aimless and odd than it should.

   Midway's bankruptcy meant another localizer would have to handle this game, and a fresh-faced XSEED handled the job quite well. The few recurring series characters are now voiced by different performers, but their work is merely dissimilar instead of inferior. A few errors slipped through, but the text flows well and propels events along without being unwieldy.

The Valentine family continues to defy vampire stereotypes in more entertaining ways than Twilight. The Valentine family continues to defy vampire stereotypes in more entertaining ways than Twilight.

   The visuals of From the New World are roughly on par with those of Covenant, though the use of almost entirely new assets makes clear that the developers weren't resting on their laurels. As Covenant was a feast for the eyes, so is From the New World, except its many tropical locations allow more bright colors than the series is known for. The music continues its tradition of being wholly compelling in battle, with multiple eerie compositions while fighting. The music outside of altercations is on the whole more engrossing than that in Covenant, and is often quite catchy.

   Multiple options for side quests are available, some only at the end. These can easily extend the game from thirty hours to more than forty for completion, but they also serve to make level grinding more palatable. The game is generally tough but fair, with powerful ordinary enemies and bosses that pack a punch yet are perfectly vanquishable. The final boss rewards the underleveled by tearing them apart with no real way to survive, however, and only getting stronger will allow survival. Many other games are far more egregious with such an event, but the brute force of this final encounter is nevertheless quite real.

   Nautilus is no more, and the Shadow Hearts development team is now scattered across Japan's gaming companies. This makes any further titles in the series extremely unlikely to ever exist, which is a damn shame. From the New World doesn't quite match Covenant's quality, but it comes close enough to make it anything but tiresome to play. Shadow Hearts: Stalin's Purge or Shadow Hearts: Afrika Corps will probably never come to be, nor anything quite like them, and that is unfortunate.

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