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Shadow Hearts From the New World (PlayStation 2) artwork

Shadow Hearts From the New World (PlayStation 2) review

"Remember the year 1929, all kinds of horrible things happened back then. We just got out of World War I, prohibition of alcohol became a law, and worst of all, women’s suffrage was realized a few years ago. Not to mention in a couple of years the stock market will crash and the nation’s economy will be screwed until FDR comes to save the day. In the midst of this, strange monsters are appearing through dimensional rifts and in general, hell is breaking loose. While most RPG’s are useful for Engl..."

Remember the year 1929, all kinds of horrible things happened back then. We just got out of World War I, prohibition of alcohol became a law, and worst of all, women’s suffrage was realized a few years ago. Not to mention in a couple of years the stock market will crash and the nation’s economy will be screwed until FDR comes to save the day. In the midst of this, strange monsters are appearing through dimensional rifts and in general, hell is breaking loose. While most RPG’s are useful for English and Literature classes, Shadow Hearts: From the New World’s story could also be used for your U.S. History class.

Upon powering the game up you’ll see this message appear: This story is fiction. All characters and settings are purely fictional. They bear no relationship to actual countries, associations, or people. It humored me since the game seemed somewhat realistic for the first hour.

You’re Johnny Garland, an energetic 16 year-old who lost his family and a portion of his memory in an accident several years ago. He now works as a private detective whose cases usually involved finding missing cats, but one day he’s given a new case by a strange old man named Gilbert. His mission is to locate a man who is responsible for the murders in New York, but Johnny fails when he witnesses a monster appear through a rift in time and space and eats the man. Then the monster turns towards Johnny when suddenly a bright shining bird-like creature appears and defeats the monster. The creature then transforms into a scantily-clad Indian woman named Shania, who is escorted by a strong Indian man named Natan, who protects her.

They learn that Gilbert has knowledge about these dimensional rifts and gives Johnny a power which allows the knife he wields to power up into an energy sword, in the same fashion that Liono wields his Sword of Omens from a dagger to a sword. Gilbert then runs away and now our heroes pursue him throughout the western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In addition, it appears that a mysterious woman named Lady, who has a “Midas touch kiss,” gives life to people who are at death’s mercy but gives them the curse of summoning monsters from the dimensional rifts. She’s accompanied by a serial killer who acts and looks like a total badass.

Johnny’s group will visit many “real world” locations and partake in some interesting events and meet some of the strangest characters I’ve seen in an RPG. Including Frank, a middle-aged European ninja with a light bulb attached to his head like an angler fish and wields pretty much any large object that he can attached a sword hilt to. Some of these objects include a giant comb, a bus stop sign, and a giant fish named Mike.

Frank’s ninja master is a large talking cat named Master Mao, or Master Meow as Johnny likes to call her. She’s also behind some of Al Capone’s schemes in Chicago and assists you as you break Capone out of Alcatraz. Aside from being a kung-fu kitty, she’s acting in a movie at Purramount Pictures in Hollywood.

Speaking of Capone, his sister is secretly in love with a mariachi named Ricardo, he plays a guitar. His music can restore health and fire bullets from the shotgun he has concealed within the guitar, perfect for school bus and Laundromat hijackings. Every time he fires the shotgun I feel like saying “Buenos dias” prior to each shot because it sounds like something you would say as you shoot a shotgun. In addition, my Spanish teacher greets us with that saying like ten times everyday because the students in my class are retarded and don’t pay attention when they’re supposed to repeat it.

Finally there’s Hilda, a vampire alien thing who travels with an alien in a spaceship, which crashes in the same location where all the unsold copies of the Atari game E.T. are buried, also known as Area 51 in Roswell, New Mexico. She changes her appearance based on her calorie intake. Under normal conditions, she’s slim and pretty. When she goes anorexic she becomes a pink bat, and when she loads up on the Twinkies she becomes plump but has the most adorable eyes, you’d have to believe that she isn’t an alien!

There are seven characters in all but it never seems like you get a chance to play with all of them except when forced to. It’s a trend in RPG’s where you have more characters than necessary, and not all of them will participate in battle. You can form up to three teams of four characters, but you can only use one team at a time for battle. It would have been nice if this used a feature similar to Final Fantasy X, in which you could swap characters in on the fly. Generally, I used Johnny, Shania, Natan, and Ricardo.

From the New World uses the Judgment Ring; this was used in the other Shadow Hearts games which determine the outcome of all events. Basically, a ring will appear with a bar that will travel around the ring, you’ll have to press the X button as it reaches the Hit Areas on the ring, yellow wedges scattered on the ring, which will mark a successful action. It’s not really difficult to hit the Hit Area, but the skill comes from hitting the Strike Area, a narrow red wedge located at the end of each Hit Area. Hitting the Strike Area will deal a bit more damage from attacks or restore more health from items.

However, the Judgment Ring can be altered to your benefit by equipping Hit Area and Strike Area expansions which you find in treasure boxes and are given to you in exchange from the Ring Spirit when you give it Ring Shards. In addition you can add more Hit Areas to the ring, which gives you more attacks, as well as special effects such as decreasing an enemy’s attack power or defense. After much Judgment Ring activity, you may get dizzy (I see rings in my sleep), so there are some accessories you can equip on your characters which affect the movement speed of the bar. If you want to hit the Strike Area every time, you’ll either need stoner reflexes or equip a Coral Necklace, which sets the movement speed to 50%. On the contrast, some enemies have special attacks which can manipulate your Judgment Ring such as speeding it up; reducing the size of the ring which makes it more difficult to hit the Strike Area.

Not only is the Judgment Ring used in battle, but also when you are buying and selling items. When you purchase an item, you can choose to either buy it at the given price, or you can go for a discount price in which you must hit the three Hit Areas in the Judgment Ring to successfully gain the discount. The only thing you have to lose is a few points which are used to reach higher ranks for discounts, and hence give you higher discounts. This same method is used when selling items; you can get a little bit of a bonus if you’re successful with the Judgment Ring.

Now that you know how the Judgment Ring works, you pretty much know how the rest of the game works. In battle, you have your regular attack, a character-specific skill (Johnny takes a picture of the monster, Shania transforms into one of her spirit forms, Natan uses handgun kung-fu techniques called GUN-FU, and so on.) Magic is also present but the way you equip it is very confusing. Every character is equipped with a Stellar Chart, which is basically a constellation and magic is allotted to each point of the constellation, only certain magic will work on certain points. Stellar Charts can be modified at special store which allow different magic to be used and can also reduce MP cost.

As battles progress, your Stock Gauge will fill up (caused by dealing and receiving damage.) When a Stock Gauge bar is filled up you can do uber attacks like combos with all four characters, but after the Judgment Ring for one character’s attack you’ll have to press whatever button appears in the Combo Trial, which passes the combo to the next character. There’s also a double attack where a character will make two different attacks in one turn but only one kind of attack can be made; for example you can’t make two physical attacks, instead it has to be a physical attack and magic attack or whatever.

If you’ve played an RPG, you know that there will be an abundance of awesome CG cutscenes, and this game is no different. These CG cutscenes are pretty common which is a plus, since we usually get those teasers we see once in the beginning and never again. The rest of the game looks pretty good, with a variety of character models ranging from Johnny with the bad hair day (a piece of his hair always sticks up) or the scantily-clad stripping of Shania as she transforms into her spirit forms (she removes her clothes and some weird flashes cover her like in Sailor Moon.)

Character voices are well done, making the story more historically accurate, even though it isn’t. Master Mao’s voice sounds more like a masculine man-cat rather than a female, but it fits the role for the character, while Frank’s awkward foreign accent offers a good laugh. The soundtrack is forgettable, nothing really sticks nor are there any melodies, then again this is a pretty dark-themed game so that would explain the lack of emotional themes. However, I did like the pirate island theme; a tropical-mambo background theme you’ll hear as you’re venturing through the Caribbean.

All in all, Shadow Hearts: From the New World is a memorable RPG, with its strange yet mature storyline and reaction-based Judgment Ring. Whether you want to form a pact with an earth spirit in the Grand Canyon or solve switch puzzles in the ruins of Machu Picchu, I highly recommend this game and it was possibly my pick for best game of 2006.

Ness's avatar
Community review by Ness (February 28, 2008)

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