Shadow Hearts: From The New World
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: XSEED
Developer: Nautilus/Aruze
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Release: US Q1 2006
Japan 07/28/05
Official Site: English Site

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Que sera sera.
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Patrick Gann
Hands-On Preview
Patrick Gann

After Midway released Shadow Hearts and Shadow Hearts: Covenant (Shadow Hearts II in Japan) in the US, they dropped the ball and decided not to bring the third title to the states. Just when Shadow Hearts fans were about to lose all hope, Jun Iwasaki's new company XSEED announced they would be releasing Shadow Hearts: From The New World in America. And, though this series is not the most popular series in the world, I knew many fans that were on cloud nine because of this news.

As for me, I was at least partially excited (the operating word here being was). I had missed the opportunity to play the first two games, and had only a vague idea about what it was that made the series so special. Now, after playing a good eight hours of the third game in the series, I can say with confidence that I am very excited about this title, and I am anxious to catch up on the previous two titles as well.

As this new title suggests, the series takes a departure from the "old world" (Asia in the first game, Europe in the second) and takes place now in the "new world" (North and South America). The time period is early 1900s: just before the depression, during the prohibition era. Though well-known series characters do manage to make appearances in this new title, Yuri is no longer the series protagonist. You play as Johnny Garland, a sixteen-year-old self-proclaimed detective trying to earn a living with nothing but your camera and your wits. That, and the inheritance left to you by your parents who died in a mysterious accident that you can hardly remember.

Your journey begins when a Professor Gilbert asks you to find a man wanted for attempted murder. As you search New York City, you eventually come upon the man, and it seems he knows your name. However, just as he recognizes you, a beast comes out of a shiny blue portal (known as a "window"), but you are saved by the beautiful Native American woman Shania, who transforms herself into the spirit "Thunderbird" to save the day. She and her "bodyguard" Natan, who uses a technique known as GUN-FU, decide to join you as you head to Arkham University in Boston (a reference to H.P. Lovecraft's "Cthulu Mythos" as well as the asylum in the "Batman" universe) to report back to Professor Gilbert. Upon arrival, you discover that Gilbert is interested in summoning monsters through the window, and has even begun to collect them in cages. When you begin to question him, he runs away, but not without first summoning a monster that causes Johnny's knife to glow red (like a light saber). It is in Arkham that you also pick up your fourth playable character (giving a full battle party) Frank. Frank is a well-trained ninja and an apprentice of Mao, a giant talking drunken female cat who joins you when you meet her in Chicago.

Between Arkham and Chicago, Shania requests that the party venture to her homeland: the Grand Canyon. There she acquires her second spirit, Tatan'ka (a name you may recognize from WWE or Dances With Wolves: it means "Bison"). As an optional quest, you have the opportunity to track down Bigfoot, one of the many paranormal/urban-legend creatures Natan must find to learn new GUN-FU techniques.

In Chicago, while still trying to locate Gilbert, your party gets wrapped up in a fiasco involving the Capone family and their rival gang, the McManus family. Mao (the giant kitty) sends you to Alcatraz Prison to save Al Capone. While the previous dungeons had been veritable cakewalks, breaking in and out of Alcatraz is quite the endeavor.

After doing this favor for Mao, you head to Roswell as this is your only lead for the elusive Gilbert.

Through this adventure, the enemies you fight are primarily demonic monsters that come through the "Window." In scattered cutscenes, you introduced to two probably-villainous characters, "Lady" and "Killer." These two seem to have a connection to the monsters and to a force known as "Malice." Shania informs you early in the game that somebody in the last decade has unleashed 1000 years worth of hatred, and that is the force known as Malice.

The graphics thus far are absolutely gorgeous. Nautilus put an extreme amount of detail into character designs, environments, and motion. The game sports two different kinds of cutscenes; FMVs and in-game cutscenes (complete with English dialogue). The FMV sequences are fewer, but they are gorgeous. The in-games are used often for humorous character interaction and are done surprisingly well. In one in-game cutscene, a guitarist named Ricardo plays a song, and in doing so the motion-captured character places his fingers on the proper frets as the song plays. This goes above par compared when to the average RPG (or even film) where the character is clearly faking it.

Also, kudos to Nautilus for taking a queue from the Xenosaga series and allowing a person to pause in cutscenes or skip cutscenes by hitting triangle after pausing. When getting stuck at a battle that is prefaced by a lengthy dialogue, this timesaving feature becomes much appreciated.

The music in From The New World, scored by series veteran Yoshitaka Hirota, Ryo Fukuda, and newcomer Tomoko Imoto, could not be any more fitting. Though some town themes become redundant (I was especially annoyed by the hip-hoppy music in New York), most of the music is superb. The voice acting thus far has been hit-or-miss, but I have found Shania to be believable, Frank to be over-the-top but still humorous, and Natan to be the "strong silent type." Dialogue does not always take place, only during the two types of cutscenes, but when it's there, it's good. The strange blend of quirky humor and demonic enigma is a series trademark, and it continues quite well in the game.

I have been told that many people struggle with the battle system, particularly the judgment ring. Either I am extremely good at using the judgment ring, or else the ring has been toned down for the third game in the series. The basics of it are simple: a glowing radius spins around a circle, and it's your job to hit X at particular shaded points to execute any command, be it attacking, casting magic, or even using an item. Status ailments can be used against you to affect the speed of your ring or the size of the shaded areas. For those who struggle with the use of the Judgment Ring, one can choose to turn the ring off; for doing so you are penalized in that you can only do one standard attack and your magic can never be used at its strongest or "critical" potential.

Battles are also a place to plan strategy appropriately. Though the initial battles are quite simple and are even guided through use of an excellent tutorial system, things do become complex rather quickly. By using combos, doubles, or double combos (all of which use the energy filled in a "stock gauge," again similar to Xenosaga) one can do massive damage to an opponent. However, using "doubles" puts you further back in turn order, usually allowing the enemy to successfully use doubles or combos on you.

Also, gamers should be aware that there are plenty of interesting characters to meet and things to do. Within a mere six hours of gameplay, I was nearly overwhelmed with the random side quests and potential bonuses that one can achieve throughout play. Taking the time out to conquer these various side quests gives you a much-needed edge in difficult battles, as the smallest adjustment to one's status makes a big difference (the numbers stay low, so even a change from 49 to 51 in attack power marks a noticeable improvement in battle).

Though I have not yet taken the time to play the previous two Shadow Hearts titles, I am already thoroughly excited about finishing this third game. If this title is any indication of XSEED's ability to localize, I have to say that I am already quick to declare them a major contender for RPG Fans of the "new world," already on par with the work of Atlus USA or NIS America. Keep an eye out for our full review of this title after its release in early 2006, and start saving your money now: this one's going to be worth it.


© 2005 Aruze, XSEED Games. All Rights Reserved

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