Shadow Hearts: From the New World Review 2023

Shadow Hearts: From the New World almost dips into the realm of sheer terribleness, all thanks to its wildly strange characters. Now, shaking things up from the usual sword-wielding heroes and dainty princesses of RPGs is a great idea, but only if the new characters aren’t downright bizarre.

Take, for example, a giant chatty feline, who’s not only skilled in tipsy martial arts but also works part-time for Al Capone. Then there’s a devoted ninja schooled in the “Brazilian ninja arts” and a lady vampire who can switch between being a chubby pink bat and a trim version of herself.

With voice performances ranging from okay to irksome, this cast of Shadow Hearts: From the New World is quite a handful.

Sole Heart, No Company

While the Shadow Hearts franchise may not be as renowned as other RPGs, it has been steadily around since the PlayStation days.

Koudelka: This dreadful game tried to mix Resident Evil’s spooky elements with traditional RPG aspects but ended up botching both genres. Thankfully, it doesn’t share much with the rest of the franchise. Looking back, I should have given it a lower score.

Shadow Hearts: Although its graphics were lacking, this globetrotting adventure had an appealing dark aura.

Shadow Hearts: Covenant: A visually beautiful game with even Rasputin featured as a big bad guy. It made a bunch of failed attempts at humor, which wasn’t a good sign for the upcoming sequel. Nevertheless, Shadow Hearts: From the New World felt the most rounded in the series.

Shadow Hearts: From the New World Characters

Shadow Hearts: From the New World

Strange characters like these would be okay if the game world was equally eccentric, but Shadow Hearts: From the New World is set in North and South America in the late 1920s. Unearthing treasures in downtown Manhattan and sneaking into a military base in Roswell, New Mexico is much more striking than another made-up world.

But these real-life settings make the characters and their quirks stand out more, and not in a good way.

The game’s tone sways wildly. There are gay shopkeepers who flirt with Johnny, the 16-year-old main character, along with a smattering of other awkward comedic scenes. All this is supposedly “funny”.

On the flip side, there’s a serious storyline involving black magic, hideous creatures, and a duo of serial killers. The prior game, Shadow Hearts: Covenant, awkwardly balanced between comedy and drama, and this sequel fares even worse.

The stark contrast with the humor is especially noticeable when characters and events from previous games show up.

Shadow Hearts: From the New World Battles

The one thing that remains consistently good from the past games is the random battles, with the exciting Judgment Ring mechanism. Any action, item, or spell calls up a rotating bar that needs to be halted on each orange hit space. If you miss the orange space, the move flops.

There are certain moves in Shadow Hearts: From the New World with a tiny red strike area. It’s common to miss these, but that’s the trade-off for stronger attacks. The order of turns for the party members and enemies is shown at the top of the screen, so strategizing is crucial as some battles can be tough. The Judgment Ring adds a layer of engagement not typically found in console RPGs. Though it’s not as thrilling as real-time action, turn-based combat doesn’t get much better.

The battles are even more fun thanks to the stock attacks. Beating someone up or getting beaten fills this bar, allowing for two actions in one turn. Another bonus is the ability to use combos, letting characters take their turn earlier and unleash some heavy chain attacks. Most battles don’t need stock attacks, but they do have their benefits. If an enemy is defeated in a few turns, more experience, money, and items are rewarded. The stock gauge can also increase.

Perfecting the strike section of the Judgment Ring, among other goals, can also yield rewards. The downside is that sometimes battles can stretch on, particularly if the party is surrounded by enemies and the characters’ stock gauges are empty. Luckily, Shadow Hearts: From the New World not only rewards quick battles but also demands them. Every character has varying sanity points which decrease each turn. If these points run out, the character goes wild and doesn’t gain any experience once the fight ends.

The one silver lining of such over-the-top characters is that their moves are all quite distinct. Shania, a surprisingly blonde and blue-eyed Native American, can transform into a mighty monster, but this costs more sanity points per turn.

Johnny, the moody main character, snaps photos of enemies to discover their weak points and can then swap them with people all over the world. One of the more bearable of the seven playable characters in Shadow Hearts: From the New World is Ricardo, a mariachi wearing a sombrero who wields his guitar as if he’s in a Robert Rodriguez film.

“Still, there’s the annoying giant cat and a host of other bothersome characters that spoil it.”

Each character’s skills and looks are so different that during battles it’s easy to forget just how bothersome they are in the storyline of Shadow Hearts: From the New World. While their irritating personalities can’t be changed, there is a good deal of customization for the battles.

The Judgment Ring for each person can be tweaked to make attacks easier to land or more potent at the expense of simplicity. The magic skills of each character can be adjusted by fitting and altering Stellar Charts. Each chart has a fixed number of nodes for different attack and support spells.

Each spell is decided by fitting a stellar in each node. Instead of being constrained by each character, anyone can become a healer if needed. Also, the nodes on each Stellar Chart can be changed, but for a hefty price. Each character still has varying prowess in casting spells, but the freedom is refreshing even though it can take a few minutes to personalize each Stellar Chart.

The test of all the modifications comes in the many dungeons. Initially, the settings are diverse, like a Las Vegas hotel and the Grand Canyon.

There’s even a truly creepy haunted opera house in downtown Manhattan in Shadow Hearts: From the New World.

The great graphics breathe life into each setting, like the sunny Rio de Janeiro and a calm New England university. Later, there’s a tiresome chain of temples in the Latin and South American part of Shadow Hearts: From the New World that even the breathtaking views of Machu Picchu can’t salvage.

Each of these dungeons has overly simple puzzles worsened by short-cut scenes that spell out what to do as if a toddler was playing. By the end of Shadow Hearts: From the New World, there’s the opportunity to undertake a bunch of side quests. Each character has their own set of quests and each one is quite in-depth. Some of the new dungeons are a bit frustrating, but they’re far more intriguing than most of the ones in the main storyline.

Speaking of side quests, the main storyline of Shadow Hearts: From the New World often just feels like a bunch of nonsense. There are parts involving pirates in the Caribbean and freeing the infamous Al Capone from Alcatraz that do little to bolster the overall plot.

It’s not until after 20 hours that one of the subplots mentioned in the beginning is even addressed. At this point, there are only a couple of hours left in the game, unless the optional quests sound enticing. The events really gain momentum here, but it’s too late. No matter how engaging the final few hours are, there’s still the exasperating giant cat and a host of other obnoxious characters that spoil it.

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