Shadow Hearts: From the New World PlayStation 2
Published by: Ghostlight Ltd.
Developed by: Aruze Corp
Release Date: Out Now
I think it's fair to say that I have a soft spot for well made RPGs. It's rather odd then that until now I haven't experienced a Shadow Hearts game. The previous two games in the series were well received by gamers and critics alike but with the many titles that have to be reviewed, I never found time to buy and play the previous two games. It's also fair to say that I was rather pleased when the latest in the series, Shadow Hearts: From the New World, arrived for review. At long last I could get to see what was so refreshing about this RPG series that seems to have a loyal core of followers which is no mean achievement when you consider how many RPG games there are on the PlayStation 2.
In Shadow Hearts: From the New World you'll play as Johnny Garland, a teenage boy who has not only recently lost his father but also his younger sister in an accident and to make matters worse he has also suffered memory loss. With his father gone Johnny should have taken over the running of his father's business but instead he decides to form his own detective agency. For a year he doesn't get anything but useless jobs until one day when a teacher from Boston asks him to find a man named Marlow Brown. Brown was released on parole and decided to make a run for it. This teacher claims he had been the bond guarantor for Brown and therefore it's in his interest that he does not simply disappear. Despite the story being a rather fishy one, Johnny decides to accept it. On finding Brown, Johnny barely has time to speak to him before a demon appears and kills Brown. Johnny would have been killed himself if it wasn't for the intervention of Shania, a 21-year old Native American woman and her spiritual powers. Naturally this rather disturbing turn of events causes Johnny to investigate matters further. With the memory loss he has suffered he also has his own reasons for finding out what is going on. Throughout the course of the game Johnny will have all kinds of companions, including Shania, who will fight alongside him.
Those of you who have played the previous games in the Shadow Hearts series will know that one of its defining features is the Judgement ring battle system. Although the battle system in the game is essentially turn-based, all your actions during a battle require you to use the Judgement ring. When you perform a standard attack, for instance, the Judgement ring will appear and a line will rotate around the ring. On the ring there is a zone known as the hit area and next to it is a very small strike area. The idea is to press the X button as the line passes over the hit area and preferably on or as close to the strike area as you possibly can. The closer to the strike area you are, the more powerful the attack. Should you hit the much smaller strike area you'll perform a perfect attack but the risk of missing the strike area completely is far greater and if you miss the areas completely you won't perform any attack. There are many different Judgement rings with some having multiple hit areas. When performing a special ability you'll have to press the X button when the line is over a zone known as the step area before pressing again when it's over the modulate area (or taking a gamble on the strike area for a more powerful attack). Even using a health item during a battle will require you to use the Judgement ring. The Judgement ring is a strange concept at first but it helps to keep the battles interesting as you have to constantly focus on what you're doing and can't simply relax and get away with casual button presses as you would in most turn-based RPG titles.
In addition to the Judgement ring you also have the Stock system and the stellar chart. When you carry out attacks, and when you are attacked, your Stock gauge will fill up. Once the Stock gauge has filled, you will have access to double and combo attacks. These attacks are far more powerful and essential against some of the stronger enemies in the game. The twist is that your enemies can perform Stock attacks so you'll have to make sure they don't get a chance to unleash them upon you. The magic attacks you can perform are determined by what stellars you have fixed to your stellar chart. The stellar charts are based on the zodiac signs and have sockets that you can place stellars in. These stellars give your characters magical attacks and healing powers. You can't just equip a stellar in the sockets however; as each socket (or node as the game calls them) has elemental properties and these properties must match those of the stellar. As the game progresses you'll gain more stellar charts and stellars and you can choose between your available charts at any time.
In terms of how it plays, From the New World is very enjoyable and the above game mechanics work together very nicely. The inclusion of random battles is slightly disappointing but perhaps the biggest disappointment of all has to be the standard of the game's graphics. The game certainly isn't the most visually appealing RPG I've ever played on the PlayStation 2. The game is set in 1930's North America and the game makes a rather weak attempt at recreating this look. The majority of the textures in the game look poor and they have the appearance of a game that arrived early in the console's lifespan rather than it its latter days. The various dungeons you'll trudge through are quite bland looking too. In contrast the character designs are both original and quite impressive from a stylistic point of view. The battle animations are good and are never too drawn out so as to bog down the pace of the battles.
From the New World won't give deaf gamers any problems. A lot of the game's dialogue isn't voiced but you will have to enable subtitles in order to enjoy the cutscenes. The cutscene subtitles are simply displayed in white text with no character names or portraits being shown to indicate who is saying what. During the rest of the game you will see the speaker's name placed above the text and for the main characters there are also character portraits. The cutscene dialogue progresses without any presses but otherwise you'll need to press the X button in order to move the dialogue forward which means you can read it at your own pace. For each of the game's concepts there are tutorials that you can view. All of these are in text only and these tutorial messages can be recalled at any time should you need to go over any points again. The game makes good use of icons and uses them to show status effects during battles and there are icons to show objects that can be interacted with.
Shadow Hearts: From the New World is definitely one of the more unusual RPGs we've played in a while. The game mechanics all work well and are certainly interesting and are quite different from those you'd find in most other RPGs. The look and feel of the game as a whole is certainly different from other RPGs that I've played. The storyline and character models are a little wacky at times but this is part of what gives the game its appeal and it's nice to have a storyline that doesn't feel like one you've experienced many times before. The game offers around 50 hours of play time and to add replay value there are a number of different endings for you to experience. Some may be put off by the inclusion of random battles but they aren't as irritating here as they are in some RPGs we've played. In short, Shadow Hearts: From the New World is an essential purchase for those who like original and well made RPGs.
Shadow Hearts: From the New World is an unusual and very enjoyable RPG experience. The Judgement ring battle system works very well but it's not the only aspect of the game that's impressive.