Shadow Hearts 3: From the New World - PS2 - Review

Although it may never reach the massive status set by role-playing king Final Fantasy, over the past several years Shadow Hearts has managed to accumulate a cult following of its own. With the uncanny ability to take real-life locations and transform them into a twisted demon-filled apparition of their former self, it’s easy to see why reaching this status is possible. But Shadow Hearts has something that many other niche titles don’t; not only does it have a wonderful cast of characters, an intriguing battle system, and one of the most immersive worlds to date, but most importantly Shadow Hearts is a technical achievement from the ground up. After last year’s Shadow Hearts: Covenant, the second game in the series, won several awards, developer Nautilus knew they had to incorporate some new ideas to keep things fresh and stop the series from losing momentum, and thankfully, that’s exactly what has happened.

 

The first two games in the series whisked players all over Europe, taking them from western China all the way to the dark and treacherous hills of France and Germany, making dark undertones a must to help set the mood. Keep in mind, however, that even with this setting the developers were able to implement an enormous amount of humor that helped make Shadow Hearts one of the most unique series around. So instead of revisiting former lands, this time the story makes the jump from East to West by taking place in numerous locations throughout America. But don’t worry; just because places like Chicago, the Grand Canyon, and even Roswell offer up lighter moods for the most part, From the New World still has the ability to jump from the normal to the completely twisted in only seconds, despite the new setting. Of course, no Shadow Hearts game would be complete without a unique cast of characters, and From the New World delivers in this department as well.

This time around the story follows young 16-year old Johnny Garland through the streets of New York, who despite his young age, is hired to find a missing person located somewhere in the city. And as unlikely as it sounds so far, this is actually the normal part of the story, as shortly afterwards things make a bee-line towards the sick and twisted. In the dusty confines of an abandoned theater the story starts to unfold; the located missing person is soon eaten after recognizing you, a beautiful angelic apparition comes to your aid against the demon, and together you partake in a journey across America. And after meeting a seductive Native American, an oversized cat proficient in drunken martial arts, a ninja who apparently cannot speak Japanese, an Antonio Banderas wannabe, and a female vampire who gets her shape-shifting ability from eating, it’s safe to say that From a New World not only tops its predecessors in originality, but also everything this side of a Shin Megami Tensei title.

The story isn’t the only draw to the series; in fact many fans will tell you the superb battle system plays a big part in Shadow Hearts success. This is mostly due to the game’s Judgment Ring, which seems to become more fine tuned as the series goes on. Each and every action requires the Ring, even smaller tasks like using items and moving around the battlefield. After selecting the appropriate action you wish to use, the Ring will appear in the upper right corner of the screen, which will differ depending on what action you chose to perform. Shortly after appearing the Ring’s needle begins to spin, where stopping it over the correct color can mean the difference in accomplishing your action, or missing it all together. Not only is the Ring system very clever and engaging, but it also makes you pay attention throughout the whole game, rather than just when you want to.

 

The impressive combo system also makes a return, and has seen a slight facelift as well. During battle each player has a stock gauge that slowly fills up after inflicting damage on your enemies, which then the player can use the gauge to perform several different actions. Players have the option of not only executing combos and double-attacks, but you can also use your stock points to damage your enemies gauge, therefore keeping him/her/it from inflicting some major pain on your party. In fact, many of the game’s harder boss battles require you to keep an eye on their gauge, as they possess some serious power and allowing them to fill it up is almost certainly suicide. The magic system is also done very well, and allows for a great deal of customization on the players' behalf. Each spell is represented on what is a called a stellar chart, which can be modified and allows the player to add more spells, or even change things like HP effect and elemental classification. Overall, there’re very few negative things to say about the battle system, and with the slight improvements to almost every feature, From the New World is nearly perfect in this regard.

While the mediocre voice-acting won’t make you a believer, the background music and soundtrack will have you excited throughout your adventure. Each situation is greeted with its own unique style of music that ranges from classical to rock to something that could only be conjured up by Trent Reznor himself. Visually the game is stunning as well, and what cutscenes that do exist are on par with the best in the genre, and are quite simply stunning. Each location you visit is nicely represented as well, and each animation, enemy or not, is fluid and matches the environment appropriately. 

In the end Shadow Hearts: From the New World will surprise newcomers, and will likely only add to the hardcore fan’s belief that the entire series is underrated. With a third impressive release, the Shadow Hearts franchise has officially joined the ranks of the RPG elite. Let’s just hope that the rest of the gaming world figures this out as well.

 

Review Scoring Details for Shadow Hearts 3: From the New World

Gameplay: 8.9
Some noticeable improvements to some already existing features make the battle system in From the New World that much better. The unique cast of characters and off-beat story make every RPG this side of a Shin Megami Tensei title seem boring. There’re more than enough side quests to keep you occupied, but the story does suffer slightly from poor pacing, and it is likely that the uninspired dungeon layouts and punishing random battle frequency may cause more frustration than necessary.

Graphics: 8.4
Visually the game is right on par with the top of its class, and the few cutscenes that exist are absolutely stunning. Each location resembles its real-life counterpart closely, but overall the character models and environments could’ve used a little more polishing.

Sound: 8.3
Most of the main character’s voices are very well done, but it seems like the minor characters got neglected a little bit. The soundtrack, however, is brilliant, and often shifts tones in a matter of seconds. Sound effects in battle are just as good, too. A few disappointing tracks and some disappointing voice-overs are the only drawbacks here.

Difficulty: Medium/Hard

Concept: 8.5
Shadow Hearts prides itself on its originality, and From the New World takes that notion to extremes. Everyone who may be a little tired of the typical RPG will definitely want to give this game a try. 

Overall: 8.5
Developer Nautilus definitely tried to keep the series from growing stale by taking it in a new direction, and even with the new cast of characters and Western setting, FTNW is able to execute nearly perfectly. While it may not be neck and neck with the big boys yet, the series has however now become a legit contender in the RPG genre.

Great

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