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ups: enjoyable storyline/characters, humorous antics, sound
downs: somewhat frustrating battle system, confusing management

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Shadow Hearts: From the New World Review
game: Shadow Hearts: From The New World
four star
posted by: Amanda Bateman
publisher: XSEED
developer: Nautilus
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ESRB rating: T (Teen)
date posted: 12:30 AM Fri Apr 7th, 2006
last revision: 12:29 AM Fri Apr 7th, 2006

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Click to read.As mentioned in my preview for Shadow Hearts: From the New World, I am a newbie to the Shadow Hearts series in general. And for a while now my fellow gamers have chimed in with \'Buy Shadow Hearts!\' when I ask about looking for something new to play. I\'m kicking myself for not listening to them sooner and for taking this long to finally get into the series.

For those of you, like me, who have been out of the loop, let me just say that Shadow Hearts can be easily assumed to fit in with the slew of traditional Japanese RPGs that are already out there. Why is it different from the others? What stands out? Plenty. But you have to play it to see it.

Shadow Hearts: From the New World follows a young detective named Johnny Garland and his adventures across Prohibition-era America. While on a missing persons hunt for a client known only as Gilbert, Johnny is attacked by a bizarre monster in a theatre. Before he is eaten like his client\'s colleague, a bird-like girl breaks through the glass window on the ceiling and rescues him from danger. This shape-changing girl later reveals herself as Shania. Shania and her friend Natan are on a quest to defeat the source of the monsters, Malice. Johnny, having a connection to these strange creatures and events, travels with them in hopes of finding Gilbert and discovering the answers to all of these strange questions.

Things only get stranger from there. Johnny\'s thrown into a historically-influenced fictional representation of North America, where he meets a colorful range of characters, like Frank, the American ninja; Hilda, a vampire with an unusual metabolism; and Mao, a cat who is skilled in the Drunken Fist technique. Did I mention these guys are part of your party? Well, now you know. The plot, while interesting, can never be taken entirely too seriously. I\'ve never laughed so much at an RPG, I will say that.

Shadow Hearts also stands apart from its brothers and sisters due to its Judgment Ring battle system. This turn-based fighting relies on good strategy as well as good timing. After selecting an action, you must strike the cursor in the colored areas of the character\'s judgment ring at the right moment, or else your character is just a sitting target for the monsters to defeat. If you\'ve played Magna Carta: Tears of Blood and haven\'t played Shadow Hearts, it\'s somewhat comparable to its Trinity System in terms of timing strikes to execute moves. It\'s a tricky system to get used to. Once you have it down it\'s not too bad... but the trouble doesn\'t end there. The characters\' judgment rings, like their bodies, can be inflicted with status effects. These can make the rings do things like spin faster, spin backwards, or cause the strike areas to disappear. You\'ll either love it, or hate it. Judgment rings can also be customized outside of battle with related Ring Items. Using them, you\'ll be able to do things like increase the number of times a character can attack and widen the color areas that can be struck.

Magic abilities are governed by Stellars (Shania being the only exception to this) and Stellar Charts. You can customize your character\'s spells by plugging your Stellars of choice into the corresponding peg holes on the chart. The nodes can be upgraded or altered by paying a fee at shops to facilitate even stronger Stellars as time passes.

The gameplay can be very overwhelming at first to new players. Tutorials are provided when a new option or skill is picked up, but the best way I know to learn about the game\'s workings is to just sit down for a while and get to know the menu and how things go. You can make a lot of silly mistakes or overlook important character maintenance if you don\'t. This might scare impatient players away.

From the New World doesn\'t skimp on the extras. There are several side quests and special items that you can hunt down and complete while working through the game. Doing these tasks will entitle you to things like special weapons and armor, stronger battle moves, and even an alternate ending. But don\'t be intimidated by it; most of these side quests are just part of routine battle. You won\'t have to go out of your way all the time to complete some of them. For example, if Johnny takes photos of monsters and bosses during battle, he can trade their photo cards in for special items. Mao can also earn money for actors in her upcoming movie by taking Cat Coins from near-death enemies using her Cat Touch ability. You\'ll want to definitely try some of the quests out, even if you don\'t finish them completely. The rewards are all worth it.

The graphics in Shadow Hearts are beautiful. There is a nice balance between realism and the \'anime\'-style art throughout the game. The scenery makes the 1920\'s look a lot more colorful and attractive than we might have pictured it before. The music is just as good, with a lot of standout tracks that have me looking for the soundtrack now. (Not too often do you search out music because you like the random battle encounter theme, hehe.) From the New World benefited from a talented voice cast for the dub. Some of the voices require a bit of repeated exposure to get used to, but most of the dialogue was portrayed well. Shadow Hearts also has a suitable difficulty in that you don\'t die easily, but it can catch you off guard if you\'re not careful, even when dealing with \'grunt\' monsters.

Shadow Hearts: From the New World is out now. I really urge you to give it a try, especially those of you who haven\'t gotten into the series yet. Don\'t make the same mistake I did by waiting so long!

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