Shadow Hearts: From the New World was shipped to stores earlier this month, as the third (or fourth…whatever) title in its series. As one that flies somehwat under the radar, the Shadow Hearts series can be hard to discuss with friends who aren’t as seasoned in their RPG tastes as you are. Thus, I am going to try my hardest (which, honestly, isn’t very hard) to provide you with one simple column with which to educate your friends.


The series technically saw its beginning in 1999, with Koudelka. One might say that Koudelka is to Shadow Hearts as The Hobbit is to the Lord of the Rings trilogy on many levels; Shadow Hearts contains several common characters and locations with Koudelka, to name some ties. Battles in this game took place on a grid somewhat similar to those common in tactical RPGs, granting one movement and one action per character per turn. Navigation and story progression felt very much like that of the Resident Evil series; or, to relate it more closely to other RPGs of the time, it felt a bit like Parasite Eve. Even with that in mind and its dark atmosphere (something uncommon in RPGs, especially at that time), Koudelka didn’t make a slash on the RPG scene, and faded into cult obscurity, having sold about six copies in North America.

Perhaps this was one of the reasons why the name of the second game seemed to cut ties with Koudelka, taking the name of Shadow Hearts. It would be perfectly logical, from a publisher’s standpoint, to want to let people know that they could pick up a new game and not be left missing out if they weren’t one of the six people who played a super-niche game from three years (and a console generation) earlier.


But what’s in a name? The real defining difference between Shadow Hearts and Koudelka lies in the gameplay. This is the first game to feature what has now become a series staple: the judgement ring. Story and themes still connected the game to Koudelka, but there had clearly been an evolution.

Shadow Hearts took place in 1913, 15 years after Koudelka, and centered around one Yuri Hyuga, who gets caught up in a whole mess of RPG-like adventure because of a voice in his head. I can’t count the parallels between Yuri and myself.

Anyway, Yuri meets this girl Alice (whom he’s carrying on the cover) on a train in East Asia after a warlock named Roger Bacon (a name taken straight from history books) nastily decapitates the guards to try to kidnap her. Alice is the daughter of a French priest, which explains her toting a bible around. She uses said bible to bludgeon enemies, and has a knack for healing magic. This Yuri guy is what’s called a “Harmonixer,” another thing that would become a staple in the series. Harmonixers possess the ability to fuse with other creatures, and Yuri carried this title through both Shadow Hearts and its direct sequel, Covenant.


In the fall of 2004, Shadow Hearts: Covenant picked up the storytelling right when its elder had left off. It also kept running with other perks of Shadow Hearts, such as the judgment ring and the obligatory cast of unique characters. Again like before, Covenant kept with the almost-historical storytelling, using real names and places relevant to history, but putting a science fiction spin on certian events and building more stories around said events. In regards to characters, a female co-lead named Karin stepped into the spotlight alongside Yuri in this installment. All of this along with updated graphics and sound helped make the game a rather outstanding sequel, generally pleasing veterens of the previous game(s) as well as inspiring a few newcomers.

Shadow Hearts: From the New World is the latest installment in the series. As the title may indicate, the historial locations this time around are within the Americas. This new game actually doesn’t have deep story ties to the other games, but rather series-traditional connections such as the jugement ring and again, way-out-there characters. The role of the Harmonixer is now played by Shania, an Indian (the native American kind) princess. Kids, I was about to talk more deeply about Shadow Hearts: From the New World, but then I was like, “Nah, I’ll just link to the review.” And that’s exactly what’s about to happen, right here.


What this installment means to the series as a whole remains somewhat unclear. If there will be more games in the franchise, will any of them be connected, or will they tell more standalone stories such as the one featured in From the New World? The future remains unclear.

What is clear is that, in my very biased opinion, Shadow Hearts is a grantastic series, and my research shows that nine out of ten people who don’t play Shadow Hearts games are lame. If you’re one of these people, there is time to repent, as Shadow Hearts: From the New World is sitting on retail shelves the continent over. I know there are many people out there finding the RPG genre somewhat stale lately. For those gamers especially, I strongly recommend taking a look into the Shadow Hearts series, perhaps even starting with the newly released From the New World.

Thanks for reading this feature, and I hope you’ll excuse my gushing near the end there. I’d definitely appreciate any comments you have, whether by email or forum post. Mad props to Quinton Alexander for making that decidedly awesome banner graphic, and forum community member “Cloudcent” for helping me decide what all to include here.

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