"Shadow Hearts. A series that really isn't all that mainstream, such as the Final Fantasy, Star Ocean, or Kingdom Hearts series. Back in late 2001, Midway took a gamble, and took the game Shadow Hearts over to American Shores. Though it seemed enough copies were sold, the release date was around when Final Fantasy X was first released. Midway then took up the Shadow Hearts: Covenant project. After it was released, many fans of the series claimed it the best of the Shadow Hearts series, which is e..."
Shadow Hearts. A series that really isn't all that mainstream, such as the Final Fantasy, Star Ocean, or Kingdom Hearts series. Back in late 2001, Midway took a gamble, and took the game Shadow Hearts over to American Shores. Though it seemed enough copies were sold, the release date was around when Final Fantasy X was first released. Midway then took up the Shadow Hearts: Covenant project. After it was released, many fans of the series claimed it the best of the Shadow Hearts series, which is easy to say since there were only two games out there, but many still held the first one dear. Now, the newest installment, Shadow Hearts: From the New World has been released by a new company called XSeed Games. By playing the game, both fans of the series and newcomers to the series can play this game, but newcomers will most likely enjoy the game more.
The game starts off with 16 year old detective Johnny Garland. Johnny lost his memory in a freak accident years ago, and can't remember jack about the incident. He decided to open up a detective agency instead of taking over his father's business. He also opened up in hopes of finding clues to regain his memory. Johnny gets a request from an odd looking man to find someone in the photograph that Johnny is handed. When Johnny encounters the man, things start to go haywire, and Johnny is left in shock and awe. After this, Johnny joins with Shania and Natan to stop the flow of Malice and regain peace in the world, but it won't be that easy. The story itself is a huge downstep from the first game and Koudelka, but the twists inside are good enough to satisfy at least one playthrough.
The graphics haven't changed much from Shadow Hearts: Covenant. The character models still look nice and sharp as ever, but the facial expressions and emotional expressions are rarely seen, if they're ever shown at all. Town environments are a variety of colors and some dungeon colors are also brightly done. Dungeon environments, however, seem to repeat themselves over and over again. The spells and skills that your characters have are somewhat visually nice to look at, but it's not an out-of-this-world type of vision, or anything that makes you say "Holy crap! That was awesome!"
The music in the game is a hit or miss. Fans of the previous games may not appreciate the soundtrack the game has because of the previous two games, which focused mainly on dark themed music, with chanting battle themes and environments. Though Shadow Hearts: From the New World has some of that type of music still, it's noticeably absent from the game in general, but newcomers to the series won't mind that one bit. Since the game is set in the 1920's, during the Great Depression Era, the music for the first half of the game has a jazzy beat to it, since Jazz was very popular back then, and I think that was a great thing to do. Once you reach the second half of the game, the music starts to go downhill. Voice acting is top notch in the game, however. Though emotions aren't expressed through facial expressions, the VAs did an excellent job showing emotion through the characters voice. The voice acting is surely a step up from the previous games, though the battle quotes tend to get very old and annoying pretty fast. Sound effects as well are of good quality. The weapons make the sounds they're supposed to make, and the spell sound effects are just as great.
Now this is where both fans and newcomers to the series can both enjoy the game. The gameplay. When Shadow Hearts was released, many people were quite fond of the innovative Judgment Ring system. For the newcomers to the series, they'll get a kick out of this, as it's something new and fresh to them. The Judgment Ring is everywhere in the game. It determines all of your actions; Attacking, magic use, and item use. Once you choose an action, the ring appears, and there are colored areas. If you're attacking, yellow areas represent the hit areas, whereas red areas represent strike areas. You have a sweeping bar that starts up once the ring is in place. What you need to do is press the action button (X button) to stop the sweeping bar over the colored areas. If you hit the strike areas, your damage will increase. You do this for all the hit/strike areas on your characters ring. Successfully hitting all the areas will allow you to attack as many times as your character can. However, if you miss one area of the ring, your turn is over, and if you only hit one area, your character will only attack once. The same goes with using magic. If you're using magic or a skill, a ring will pop up with a green area or areas, depending on the strength of the skill, and a blue area with a strike zone. When the sweeping bar starts, you need to hit all the green areas, or Step Areas. Once you do that, stop the sweeping bar in the blue area or strike zone to execute your spell. The basics of the ring are really easy to understand, but the depth and meaning of the ring are so great, that it can actually determine if you live or die, depending on how good you are with the ring. Another thing to note about the Ring is that it's gotten bigger and brighter.
Along with the Ring itself, you're able to customize your Judgment Ring like you were able to in Shadow Hearts: Covenant. However, there's nothing new you can customize. The customization options are the same; increasing the number of your attacks, adding status effects onto your attacks, changing your ring type, expanding your hit and strike areas, and putting your ring on Auto. But that's not really a bad thing, as newcomers will be able to easily understand this useful and important section of the ring. Expanding your hit and strike areas are useful still. In order to do this, you need to find Hit/Strike area expands in the game. These make your strike areas and hit areas bigger. Increasing the number of your attacks is what it sounds like. Along the way during the game, you need to find Ring Fragments for the Ring Soul, whom you'll meet during the game. As you bring them to her, you'll get Attack Boosts, which are used to increase the number of times you can attack. However, each character has a limit on how many times they can attack. Putting status effects on your ring can also help a great deal. What this does, is when you put something like Poison 1 on your ring, the character with it equipped has a small chance of poisoning the enemy it hits, unless they're invulnerable to it. There are several more status effects to find throughout the game, and there are three versions of each, which increase the chance of inflicting the enemy with the status effect. Ring type gives you four types of rings. Normal Ring, Technical Ring, Gamble Ring, and Practice Ring. Normal Ring is just the Normal Judgment Ring. Technical Ring shrinks the hit and strike areas, but if you manage to hit the strike areas, your attacks do even more damage than they would with the normal ring. Gamble Ring has one strike and hit area, but if you hit the strike area, the damage done is equivalent if you hit all the strike areas on your ring. And finally, the Practice Ring allows you to keep the sweeping bar moving, so if you miss a hit area, you can still hit the others. However, there are no strike areas.
In Shadow Hearts: Covenant, there were something called Crests, in which you could assign magic to a character. Many people loved this feature. In Shadow Hearts: From the New World, you have something called the Stellar Charts. What a Stellar Chart is, is that it's a chart that allows you to put Stellars on it to give that character a magic spell. For example, Johnny has a chart equipped. There are several nodes on the chart that represent what kind of spell you can put in the node. Colored squares represent elemental attack spells, whereas circles represent healing nodes, and triangles represent stat buffing nodes. If you open up your Stellar Chart, and highlight a node, the available stellars that can be used for that node appear on the right, but each stellar requires a level. Basic spells require Level 1 Nodes, whereas stronger spells require nodes that range from Level 2 to Level 4. In order to put those Stellars into the nodes, you need to upgrade your stellar chart. Newcomers to the series will have no problems with this, but those that played Covenant may not like this, as the Crest system was much easier to handle, and it was cheaper as well.
Also new to the Shadow Hearts series is the Stock Gauge. What this is, is if you look underneath your characters stats during battle, you'll see a bar, and a number to the right of the bar. This indicates your stock gauge. It can hold up to two stock at once, and you can earn stock by attacking enemies, being attacked, or just getting it as a prize for doing so good in a battle. Your stock is used for either three things. One is a Double attack, which allows you to attack twice in one turn, but you're not able to use the same command twice. Also, your next turn will take longer to come to, as it takes a bit to recover from a Double attack. Next is the Combo attack. The combo attack was introduced in Shadow Hearts: Covenant. The combo attack this time around has taken a step back, as every character needs at least one stock in order to perform the combo. A combo allows you to combo an enemy with all of your party members. You get to choose who goes next in the combo. At the end of the combo, you have the option to use Combo Magic. At first, Combo Magic appears as a ??? option, as you've never used it yet. Each Combo Magic takes 64 MP to use, but are quite powerful if you use it on the right enemy. However, to use Combo Magic, the last person in the Combo needs to have two stock. Lastly, there's the new Double Combo, which is a mix of Double and Combo. You're able to attack twice in one turn with each character this way, but your next turn won't be for awhile if the enemy isn't defeated. When you're in the middle of a combo, you have to press the corresponding button in order to execute your attack. Missing the Judgment Ring will break the combo.
The thing that adds difficulty to the game, is that the enemies have a stock gauge as well, and are able to pull of Double attacks and combo attacks, but if they do those, they suffer the same turn delay as you do, so it works both ways evenly. To find out an enemy's stock gauge, during battle, look at the enemy's data window, and it'll show the stock gauge. In order to knock off the enemy's stock, when you're about to attack, you'll need to choose the Hard Hit option, which will drain your enemy's stock by 100%, but it takes up 50% of your stock gauge to use. This is very important to remember during tough boss fights, and even normal fights in the late portions of the game. The game, because of this, is more difficulty than Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Enemies also have the ability to knock off your stock as well.
The cast of characters, like in all Shadow Hearts games, is interesting to say the least. Ranging from the stereotypical Mexican ally with a gun in his acoustic guitar, to the two male partner shopkeepers, to a big, talking, drinking, mob boss cat, the characters are never the same, which is always a good thing. Each character tends to have a difference background or past from the other ones, and sometimes the match ups can be a bit confusing, such as a drinking cat to a pink bat. No one knows why that's a good match up, but it seems to work nonetheless. However, the character development in the game is rather stale. Most of the characters keep the same attitude throughout the game which can be a bit boring.
There are a handful of sidequests to complete as well. Some of the sidequests are available during certain parts of the game, whereas most of the sidequests are unlocked late into the game. Each sidequest forces you to use all of your characters at least once, which is why you should NEVER neglect any character. The sidequests are plentiful, and can also challenge you to think, and have a nice amount of puzzles for you to solve, but they're all so short, and the rewards you get make it seem that having a short sidequest is a great thing, as you won't need to work to get what you want.
Needless to say, Shadow Hearts: From the New World is a good addition to the series, but after what Shadow Hearts: Covenant brought to the fans of the series, there are people that think the series took a step backwards. Though this may be true, newcomers will certainly enjoy this game, as the functions of the game will be new to them and will be able to enjoy the game without having to compare things from the previous games. Fans of the game can also enjoy the game, catching references from Shadow Hearts: Covenant, but they may not be able to fully appreciate the game like the newcomers can. Either way, both should pick this game up, as it's worth at least one playthrough, maybe two.
Community review by peterl90 (June 09, 2007)
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