Shadow Hearts: From the New World
PlayStation 2
Reviewed: 02/23/2006


Shadow Hearts: From the New World, being the latest entry in the rather unique Shadow Hearts series, is a game that can be hard to describe. It’s like a fan fiction of reality. Set in the American continents during the 1920s, the party will meet people and places that should be familiar to most players. However, don’t be surprised if they’re a bit romanticized. I don’t think the real world has any evil force called Malice that brings monsters from another dimension, either. If I’m wrong in this, please e-mail me. I’d want to be prepared for that.

The characters in Shadow Hearts: From the New World are the biggest draw. This game has some of the coolest characters to be found anywhere. Many of them lack very detailed back stories, but coming from the gameplay perspective they’re just a blast to play. Johnny, our protagonist, is a sixteen year-old detective trying to break into the business. Shania, the hot love interest, is a Native American princess hunting down the source of Malice. Natan, the stoic gunman, is Shania’s protection during her journey. Frank, the Brazilian ninja, is an odd character who can make a sword out of just about anything, including bus stop signs. Mao, the giant talking cat, is a master of the Drunken Fist and an aspiring movie star. Ricardo, the traveling mariachi, is out to avenge the one he loved. Hilda, the vampire, is a person obsessed with being a heroine. They’re a unique bunch, to say the least. Every character has a unique ability and a sidequest to go with it. By completing parts of this sidequest, they can learn new abilities and power up existing ones. Some of the abilities are definitely better than others, but they all prove useful at one point or another. There isn’t a useless character in the bunch.

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Frank enjoys fishing when he’s not ridding the world of evil. Ninjas can have hobbies too.

The story, overall, is a bit mediocre. For the most part the characters are just traveling all over the world looking for a man named Professor Gilbert, who seems to know something about the strange “windows” that open between this dimension and one full of monsters. They often get sidetracked by one thing or another, and the story overall lacks some continuity. Most of the actual plot is reserved for the last few hours of the game, so it seems all jumbled up at the end.

The battles in Shadow Hearts: From the New World are very engaging and fun. There are many diffrent systems going on, but the learning curve isn’t too steep and there’s plenty of in-menu help available for those who need it. The Judgement Ring is, of course, still the main element that marks the Shadow Hearts tradition. Physical attacks, magic, special abilities, items, and even shopping all use the ring to some effect. Being able to time button presses to the spinning arrow is key to playing this game. This adds a nice change to the standard turn-based formula and gets the player a bit more involved. However, at times it can be a burden for those who do not have the timing skills required. There is an option to have the ring done automatically, but it will seriously limit abilities.

The magic system consists of finding “Stellars” and equipping them to a “Stellar Chart” that is made up of various nodes. Each chart has a different formation of nodes based on a zodiac sign, and can have its attributes edited at shops. In additon to magic, which everyone but Shania can use, there are special abilities for each character. Ricardo can play songs on his guitar, Mao can use her Drunken Fist moves, and so on. Whatever the type of attack, they all have a range and affect a certain height. Using ground-based attacks on flying enemies or air-based attacks on ground enemies will usually yield no results. There is also the combo and double system to think about. Every time a character attacks or gets hit they gain some stock. This stock can then be used to pull off combos between characters, or execute two moves at once in a double. When doing combos, it’s important to note that the previous attacker can change the height of an enemy. During a combo, if the first member of the combo launches the enemy up into the air and the second member delivers a grounding blow, damage will be increased. It’s also important to watch enemies’ stock guages as well, since even normal enemies can be a threat if they’re allowed to combo insane amounts. Hard hits, which cost half a bar of stock, can remove stock from the enemy during an attack. There are also special abilities and spells that allow this.

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Mao just wants to reach out and touch someone.

One of Johnny’s abilities, called Snap, allows him to take pictures of enemies. These are then turned into snap cards, which can be traded to different people all over the world for items. It also has the benefit of revealing the vital statistics of the different monsters, which can be used to take them out more efficiently. If someone should want to play the game a second time, there’s also the New Game+ option available, allowing the carry over of stellars, snaps, and a few other things. Levels and equipment will be lost, but it’s better than nothing.

Towns can sometimes be a bit on the small side, with only two or three screens to them. They often appear to be much larger, but the dreaded invisible wall syndrome crops up. It can be frustrating to have this really neat area and not be able to explore it more. Dungeons, on the other hand, are fairly good sized. Much of the dungeon exploration in the later part of the game relies on puzzles. These puzzles usually range from simple to downright difficult, with not much in between. Some of the more complicated puzzles wouldn’t be out of place in a game like Myst. That’s not neccessarily a bad thing for some people, but throw in a fairly good random encounter rate and we have a recipe for annoyance. The squeamish may want to bust out a FAQ or two.

From the New World looks gorgeous. The backgrounds for the different areas are very well designed and rendered. The in-game cutscenes are well animated and have the characters moving fairly realistically. The FMVs, though few in number, are also of excellent quality. The battle animations are also a sight to behold. Sometimes the camera will shift suddenly while a character moves through an area, which can be confusing. I often found that I was heading back the way I came by accident.

The music is very atmospheric and appropriate to each area. Most of it is probably stuff that wouldn’t be listened to outside of the game, but works very well in context. The music doesn’t get in your face, and really brings the player deeper into the game. It’s catchy in a different way than most RPG music. There did need to be more songs, though. There were plenty of battle tracks, but some of the town and dungeon music was a little overused.

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Ricardo lets loose with some music. And rockets. Many rockets.

The voice acting is a fairly mixed bag. Johnny sounds fine, if a little older than he should. The other main characters are mostly good, though some may take a little getting used to. It’s not the best RPG voice acting I’ve ever heard, but thankfully it’s nowhere near the worst either. An overall excellent effort.

While possessing a somewhat lacking story, Shadow Hearts: From the New World is rich in atmosphere, gameplay, and cool characters. It should please fans of the series, and wouldn’t be a bad game for neophytes either.

-Orie House

Score Breakdown
Very Good
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Great
Story Very Good
Graphics Great
Sound/Music Very Good
Replay Value Very Good
The Verdict: 7