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Shadow Hearts: From the New World - Impression

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Developer: Nautilus
Publisher: XSEED
Release Date: Q1 2006
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Shadow Hearts: From the New World is the latest in a series that has been growing in popularity since its humble beginnings as Koudelka on the Playstation. With a healthy dose of the successful formula from the last two games and a nice dash of new twists, From the New World is shaping up to be a gorgeous adventure of continental proportions.

The main story centers around sixteen year old Johnny Garland, a private detective living in New York City during the Prohibition. Johnny's past is a mystery, even to himself, and is likely to provide the driving force for the main story, but a few tidbits are dolled in the introductory sequences. Scion of a rich family lost in a burning blaze during his childhood, Johnny has turned his back on his father's corporation. Opening a detective agency with only his loyal Lenny at his side, he seeks to remember something - anything - about the conflagration that stole his family from him. There's obviously something deeper here…

Of course, no RPG main character would feel at home unless he had a slew of allies attempting, however obliquely, to help him. Johnny first meets Shania's breasts, followed somewhat closely by the rest of her. Shania pulls double duty in From the New World, acting not only as general sexpot but also as Harmonixer with transformation sequences that make Final Fantasy X-2's Rikku seem like a chaste Vestal Virgin. The sultry voiced Native American princess is accompanied by a warrior named Natan who fights with dual pistols and speaks little. They join Johnny shortly into his quest and offer tantalizing details about a mysterious entity called Malice that may be linked with Johnny's past.

"...From the New World is shaping up to be a gorgeous adventure of continental proportions."

From the New World manages to balance both a serious storyline and sporadic silliness with a deft touch. The recurring storefront is provided by leather-clad, rainbow-helmeted, effeminate male bikers who constantly hit on Johnny.

Another of Johnny's companions is Frank, a ninja trained in the Amazon. He's a few shuriken short of a complete set, and he has an odd habit of ripping random items out of the ground and declaring them weapons. The writers clearly enjoyed themselves for much of the dialogue, slipping in one-liners, puns, and a variety of other humorous gags.

Like the rest of the Shadow Hearts series, From the New World is set in a version of the real world, a version that plays fast and loose with the rules of reality. Historical settings will seem both familiar and peculiar. Al Capone may have ruled Chicago, but it is doubtful that one of his main lieutenants was a giant cat named Mao who had mastered the art of Drunken Fist. Johnny and his cohorts even solve the mystery of the 1929 Roswell crash, all the while fending off mysterious creatures bent on devouring them.

Veterans to the series will be delighted to see that From the New World continues the tradition of having a deep battle system. The Judgment Ring makes itself known in nearly every aspect of gameplay, from standard attacks to item usage, magic spells to shop haggling. While the Judgment Ring can be set to auto, most players will opt to take their chances at scoring Perfects. From the New World introduces the stock gauge system; the stock gauge is increased every time a character makes a successful attack or takes damage. Once the stock gauge is at level one, then the character may perform a double attack, essentially performing two different actions in one turn.

Additionally, the stock gauge allows for the formation of combos. Characters with enough stock can initiate a combo and, through some tricky button pushing, manage to continue the combo with all of the characters. The last character, assuming a maxed stock gauge, can even pull off a finishing combo magic that deals massive amounts of damage. Of course, a single wrong button, mistimed attack, or missed enemy will halt this proliferation of pain. Players will also need to keep track of the height of the enemy, as attacks come in three different levels: ground, mid-range, and air. Using a ground attack against a flying enemy usually results in a miss and a minor bit of swearing by the player.

The above explanation only begins to scratch the surface of the battle system. After every battle Shania gains soul energy which is used to customize her transformations, and Natan hunts semi-mythical creatures to power up his Gun Fu. Johnny needs to snap pictures of monsters to fulfill an on-going sidequest, and Mao must defeat enemies in a certain manner to gain Cat Coins which are used to further her movie star ambitions. Most characters can equip a fully customizable stellar chart, the nodes of which serve as magic slots; think of Final Fantasy X-2's Dress Sphere grid, and you'll start to have an idea of what that entails. Additionally, the Judgment Ring itself can be customized with a variety of effects. Mix in the fact that characters go berserk - you lose control of them - after a certain number of battle rounds, and From the New World quickly shows itself to have a deep, complex battle system sure to please RPGamers.

Visually, the game does not disappoint. While the in-game graphics may not push the PS2 to its limit, the FMV sequences are jaw-droppingly gorgeous. While there is plenty of freedom to explore, game environments are rather small; do not expect a giant sandbox environment in which to play. Aurally, expect a variety of soundtracks in diverse styles that suit the atmosphere well. Voice acting is well done and adds to the overall immersion.

From the New World is a title to keep an eye on. Of course, keep an eye on RPGamer for a full review closer to street date.



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