PS2 REVIEW: SHADOW HEARTS: FROM THE NEW WORLD

The Shadow Hearts series continues to grow and everyone is invited to come along for the ride. by Mike Chasselwaite

March 17, 2006 - The Shadow Hearts series continues with this third installment, From the New World. Count on more quirky characters, a bizarre storyline that's all over the map and an intriguing and varied style of gameplay that matches the outrageous and occasionally incomprehensible storyline. It expands on the foundation of the original game with new content and characters but still manages to retain its familiar charm. The fact that this is a new game and not necessarily a continuation of the series makes it accessible to new gamers.

Johnny Garland is the young protagonist in the game. After the death of his father he opens a detective agency in New York, circa the Great Depression. Here he meets a strange professor that wants to hire his services to track down an equally strange man. What Johnny encounters is a supernatural vortex controlled by a demon that swallows up humans that have some kind of connection to this crazy case. Johnny teams up with an equally young psychic girl named Shania that has the gift to communicate with spirits and can transform herself into these powerful spirits. With monsters, occult references, serial murderers and a healthy dose of humor, From the New World, takes us on an adventure that is anything but predictable.

Other characters include Hilda, a vampire that needs to feed in order to keep up her powers. Natan is a member of Shania's tribe that uses a form of combat that blends Marital Arts and guns called Gun-Fu. Mao is huge talking cat that uses the "drunken fist" combat technique, and Frank is an over-the-top Brazilian ninja that can fashion a sword out of virtually anything. And speaking of over-the-top, there is a gay duo that will follow you around selling supplies that you can purchase with points earned in the game.

Characters level-up through experience points, increasing their skills, weapons and magic but there are other ways to increase the various powers of the characters in your party. Performing various side quests such as collecting coins and tracking down monsters will upgrade different and unique combat techniques for each of the characters. These skills are a little off center and can't be upgraded through leveling-up. You have to go off on various tangents to access these missions. These special upgrades are not a requirement to progress through the game but they do offer more combat options and hence, variety. There's enough going on in the game to not even bother with these side-quests but they make an excellent excuse to replay the game a few more times. Once you get familiar with all of the characters' normal skills, you can replay the game and add these quirky skills to their abilities, not to mention the new side quests that you'll open up.

The Judgement Ring makes a return as the main component to the combat system. The Judgement Ring has a fast sweeping hand not unlike that of a clock, which circles around various colored segments arranged within the circle. To access different actions and moves, you have to press the X button when the hand moves into these sections. If you miss, you will lose your turn or otherwise compromise the strength of your attack. It takes a good deal of practice to get your timing down so that you can nail these areas. They are also dynamic, rewarding you for getting the timing down perfectly by making your attacks more powerful if you press the button when the hand moves directly into the center of a colored section. If you land to the outside of the intended area your attacks will be weaker. For those spastic gamers that can't get the timing down, there are upgrades in the game that can slow the hand down or increase the size of the various colored regions.

A new feature to the combat system is the Stock Gauge. Once filled, you can team up with another character to launch a combined attack that will be two times as strong as a regular attack. You can also use it to execute combos or to take away the energy stored up in an enemy's Stock Gauge. Keep in mind that the enemy can unleash some combos and double strength attacks just as you are able to, so you will definitely want to knock out his Stock Gauge before he gets too powerful.

Magical abilities come in the form of Stellars which act like stars in a constellation. These stars are called nodes and form a Stellar Chart which are made up of different Zodiac signs. These charts and nodes can be transferred to different characters to help upgrade their magical abilities. The only character that can't use this ability is Shania.

It can be confusing at times to keep track of all the characters and their upgrades, as well as their unique attributes, not to mention all the other features and elements in the game. Fortunately there are in-game help menus that will give you immediate assistance with any problems you may encounter. You can always call up a particular character's stats to see what level they are at and what powers and skills they still require. Later in the game you will have more trouble with the puzzles than you will with the actual monsters. These puzzles can be obscure and require some trial and error. They are essential to solve if you want to do some dungeon crawling. The dungeons are a fair size and will relinquish some nice goodies.

The maps are huge looking but there are invisible walls that restrict your ability to explore. The towns are a little on the small side and function more like checkpoints than virtual mini-cities. The backgrounds have nice details, with clean looking textures and a bare minimum of recycling. A lot of effort was put into the character models to make them appear different, not only in looks but in their mannerisms and voice. The music is good but it does get recycled a little too much. The sound effects are stock and while there is a good range of sounds, they are nothing to get excited about.

The story in, From the New World, may be completely whacked but it keeps things interesting while adding a lot of unexpected elements to the gameplay.

Features:

  • Series trademark Judgment Ring battle system makes a return with improvements - "Stock System" allowing players the option of executing a "Combo" command with a second character or "Double" command enabling a character to perform two different actions in one turn.
  • A completely new story and set of new characters will make the title easily accessible to newcomers of the series with its unique style and sense of humor.
  • A cast of well-drawn, entertaining characters with distinct personalities and reappearances by a few of the series' favorites.
  • Experience a higher level of realism with easy to navigate, visually-stunning backgrounds, special lighting and illumination effects.
  • Huge production values with dramatic events unfolding through high quality graphics, CG cut scenes, impressive sound effects and voiceovers.

By Mike Chasselwaite
CCC Freelance Writer

Rating out of 5
Shadow Hearts: From The New World (PS2)
4.3
Graphics
The character models are very diverse. The backgrounds are nicely detailed and the environments have a lot of depth to them although you can't always explore everywhere you see.
4.5
Control
The Judgement Ring is a lot of fun to play with and even the most uncoordinated of gamers can find ways to make it pay off by enlarging the colored sections or slowing the sweeping hand down.
4.0
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
All of the characters have different personalities that are expressed mainly through the voiceovers. The music is good but repetitive.
3.8
Play Value
With so many different moves, powers, spells and weapons you can replay the game several times for a new experience.
4.2
Overall Rating - Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
System: PS2
Dev: Nautilus
Pub: Xseed
Release: Mar 2006
Players: 1
Review by Mike

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best