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Skankin' Garbage's Review of Shadow Hearts: From The New World

Even though Shadow Hearts: Covenant was well received in America, Midway decided not to pick up the new Shadow Hearts game that was released in Japan. Thankfully, a new localization company by the name of XSeed Games has sprung up in the recent months, and took on the task of bringing the new Shadow Hearts to the states. Personally, my feelings are mixed about this game. Stick with me, and I'll try and explain why.

First of all, if you've played any other game in the series, there's not much to be said about graphics and music. The graphics are exactly the same as Shadow Hearts: Covenant, and the music was done by the same main composer. Unfortunately, Yasunori Mitsuda of Chrono Trigger fame didn't contribute to this soundtrack like he did in the first two games; but as long as the original composer is around, the unique style of the music remains very much the same. Fortunately, this is a good thing, and the music is very excellent.

Another thing I'd like to comment on for just a short moment is the voice acting and captions. First of all, the voice acting is significantly better than either of the previous Shadow Hearts games. Secondly, the captions are much improved overall. For starters, you can turn them off (which I suppose people like; I prefer to keep them on). Secondly, the atrocious problem of the captions not matching what was actually SAID has been fixed since SH2.

Onto gameplay...Not much can really be said about gameplay, either. The majority of the combat still works exactly the same as the previous Shadow Hearts games: Everyone has their own specific attacks and special abilities. During any action, something called the "Judgement Ring" appears; it's a circular symbol that has a few indicators on it. A line starting from the center will circle around the Judgement Ring, and you must press a button when the line goes over the indicators to successfully score attacks, cast spells, use items, et cetera. The number and size differ based on characters and attacks used. This spin on an otherwise basic combat system can make normally mundane battles much more engaging without having to go over the top with innovations.

The new aspect of the gameplay lies in the way the combo system works. In SH2, comboing was very tedious, because you had to select all the people you wanted to combo and tell them to combo before even starting, which took an unnecesarily long time, and could be interrupted easily. In Shadow Hearts: From The New World, an attempt is made to correct this problem. First of all, this game introduces a 'Stock Gauge', which is something similar to Limit Gauges: Every time you do an action, or take damage, a meter fills up. When it gets all the way to the end, you have one level of Stock (you can only hold up to two levels). With your stock, you can use them to initiate combos, and chain them together with other people that have stock (the combo will end if you choose a person that can't continue). It also introduces 'Doubles', where a character can use a level of Stock to do two attacks in one turn. If you have two stock levels, you can also initiate a D-Combo, which is a Double and a Combo simultaneously. The flipside of this coin is that enemies also have stock and can use Doubles and Combos also, so you have certain attacks (as well as the enemies) that will deplete Stock.

This is a really nice attempt to work in new concepts without making them seem like too much work; however, it causes a bit of trouble. There's one big flaw in this system: If you don't take full advantage of the new gameplay features, you'll find that random battles are unnecesarily hard. On the other hand, if you DO take full advantage of the system, you'll find that the majority of the game is incredibly easy. Since the game isn't in real time, and you can see the turn order of all characters and enemies, you can effectively use combos to make sure that your enemies almost never get a chance to attack you unless they have the initiative. This made the game a little boring after a while, and was a little frustrating because it felt like the game wanted to be simple yet complex at the same time. You can't have both.

The last thing I want to comment on with the gameplay (mostly because it's a segue into my story criticisms) is that the game is much too sidequest-based. You'll make it to the end of the game in about 20-25 hours. ...And you'll be about 10-15 LEVELS behind the level you actually need to stand a chance against the last boss. This might be cool if you really wanted to do the sidequests (and I admit that I would have done a few, regardless), but having to do practically every sidequest to be strong enough to beat the game (and maybe STILL have to level up after the fact) is really obnoxious. I wanted to see the ending to the story when I reached the end, not after a 5-10 hour level grind. This causes a serious pacing problem in the story, which is the big problem with the story altogether.

Speaking of which, the story isn't all too bad. In 1929 in New York, you are Johnny Garland, a 16 year old detective trying to make a name for himself. One day, you get a client that asks you to look for an escaped prison convict. When you finally find him, some crazy events occur, nearly resulting in Johnny's death, and a strange power awakens within Johnny. He goes off with Shania and Natan, two Native Americans which saved him that night, to find Johnny's client and get some answers about what happened, and what latent power lies within Johnny.

Now, the basic plot is really good, and the plot twists are really nice. But, much like Shadow Hearts: Covenant, Shadow Hearts: From The New World has a lot of basic problems in its story.

  • Can't decide whether or not it should relate itself of set itself apart from the previous two games. If you've played the previous two Shadow Hearts games, which were direct sequels to each other, you'll know that THAT particular story arc is over. SH3 takes place years after, and in a completely different part of the world. In a lot of senses, it tries to set you apart from it, but take place in the same world. On the other hand, it uses so many of the same jokes, characters, old references, etc. that it feels like a hollow shell of a Shadow Hearts game at times. It feels kind of like a Wayne's World 3 that wasn't starring Wayne and Garth. If that isn't bewildering to you, then you've probably never watched Wayne's World. If you can look past this without much trouble, then it's no bother, but they make it very difficult to do so when they wave all the delightful memories of the previous two games right in your face, but make no mention of the events that occured in the games.
  • Poor pacing. The game goes really well for the first half, but for the entire second half of the game, you're just exploring ruins and not learning of any new developments until near the very end of the game. It gets boring.
  • Too many 'joke' characters. SH2 started a trend in its series for having characters who were solely there for comic relief. In SH3, though, they go overboard by making half of the cast serve this purpose. It's a really strange and unwelcome contrast when the central plot is very serious. The previous games made it effective by making the main character very human; Yuri Hyuga is just a person who got caught up in everything; he, himself, was not actually a dire serious person, but not a ridiculous luchador or a talking cat, either. He was realistic and believable. This game attempts to interject humour in a very forced manner, with varying results.
  • The 'serious' characters are very boring. Besides Johnny, who is very interesting, the remaining cast is not very talkative, and are VERY static throughout the entire game. They're just a lot of revenge-driven people that have come together for the same reason, and don't have much of a personality at all.
  • Villain motives very hard to discern. I finished the game for crying out loud, and I can't tell what two of the three main villains' motives were. The other one didn't have any motives other than helping the other two out, and he was every bit as boring as I'm making him sound. Makes it hard to see what my incentive is for stopping them.
  • Putting in characters from the previous games and giving them little significance. I don't wanna spoil too much, but there's a chracter or two from the previous two games that are introduced fairly early into the game, and wind up being really significant in solving the big mysteries of the plot, but that's ALL they're there for. It seems almost like they're there as gimmick characters. "Oh, it makes sense that THIS person would know." But, on the other hand, "It doesn't make sense that they didn't bring this up when they met me, or didn't play a bigger role in the game; it's VERY uncharacteristic of them." That's more of how I felt. This also ties into the point I was making about trying to be the same, yet different from the previous installments of the series.

Overall, it's better than SH2 in my opinion, which was just a series of completely nonsense events with funny and clever dialogue - a brittle straw house that fell apart right at the end, but was never too sturdy to begin with. But, it's not even close to the original Shadow Hearts, which was one of the most impressive RPGs I've seen in recent years. I personally hope they don't make another game. This one had a lot of story issues (which is funny, because story is a lot more of the focus in this game than any other aspect), and I think the series loses its touch when it doesn't focus on the main characters of the first games (especially when it can't make up it's mind about whether or not it wants to separate itself from the previous games or make itself familiar with them). It doesn't have glaring problems like SH2's "Why does the second half of this game even exist?" problem, but the problems of this game don't slip by the radar unnoticed. I'm not dissatisfied with my purchase overall, but it's time to make a new game, Nautilus. This series had a good run, but now, you guys should put it to rest. It's a good time in my opinion to call Shadow Hearts done, but only time will tell what happens.