Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Review #414: Shadow Hearts - From the New World

 It's a new Shadow Hearts and a brave new world.
 The Shadow Hearts franchise had proven itself to be a top-notch series of JRPGs for the Playstation brand, and what started as a spin-off turned into the final installment in the series: From the New World. It's... it's a mixture of familiar and new things, of which your mileage may vary depending on what you liked about the series.

 Eurasia was an interesting setting, but now we turned our eyes to North America and South America. You play as Johnny Garland, the game's protagonist... although he only becomes the protagonist on the game's final stretch. After a run-in with the occult, he joins Shania, a Harmonixer that strips down in order to fuse, something that Yuri didn't need to do, because Japan and her bodyguard, a gun-tooting native american named Natan. The cast only gets crazier from there, Mao, a female giant cat that knows drunken kung fu, works for Al Capone and trained Frank, our resident American trained in Brazilian ninjutsu, and then we've got Hilda, the game's resident Vampire who has a slim form, curvy form and a third peach pink bat forms depending on how many calories she sucks from her enemies, and lastly, Ricardo, a Mariachi that plays serenatas for the entire party in order to buff them.
 The game almost never takes itself too seriously, and even when it does, the game relishes in its ridiculousness. Which is a bit disappointing, I loved Shadow Hearts horror elements, and they are almost gone from the game, it seems only bosses show vestiges of its horror roots. The game also tried to make you feel sympathetic towards Lady and Killer, the latter being named simply 'Killer' because he is a Serial Killer... yeah, it didn't really work. It also went full Japan on the fanservice, of which I'm not a fan. The game is almost unrecognizable as a Shadow Hearts game, and the characters weren't very compelling, although the game's final hours are a bit interesting. It's a bit short too, I clocked little under 30 hours, and I did everything in the game except Mao's subquest and even spent some time grinding.

 If you've ever played a Shadow Hearts game you know the deal: Explore towns and dungeons, random encounters, turn-based battles, the Judgement Ring to perform attacks, spells or use items. The Judgement ring is a timing-based mechanics of sorts in which you must press the X button when a marker passes over a highlight area of the ring, if you wish to deal extra damage or even pull off your action entirely. Why change what isn't broken? It works well, it's fun and not even half as tedious as it sounds. It also brings back the customization aspects from Covenant, so each character can have different types of Judgement Rings, enlarge the highlighted areas or add secondary effects to your attacks.
 Spells work a bit differently, now you must find 'Stellar Charts', of which each character can equip one of them, this being charts with different slots in which you can put spells into. Slots have different levels and affinities, so you can't just put spells willy nilly, although you can tweak this slots, for a fee, at the store. It's alright I guess, I think I preferred the crest system, but I've not complaints with the charts. The Sanity system returns: Characters have three gauges, Health, Mana and Sanity, and every turn a point of sanity is lost. Lose all your sanity and your character goes berserk. To be honest, this is the Shadow Hearts in which Sanity mattered the least, I had Johnny, and only Johnny, go berserk once, and only once in the entire game.

 What changed, for the better, was combos. Now characters can store 'Stocks', up to two of them, by attacking or receiving damage. Stocks can be used to pull off combos, so characters no longer need waste a turn, and with it sanity, or stay close together. You just use a stock and boom, combo. Stocks can also be used to perform a double attack, or even a double attack combo. If you play your cards right you can even defeat bosses before they even get a change to do anything! The system is beautiful, but be careful: Enemies run under the stock system too! There're special forms of attacks(Heavy Attacks) that consume stock in order to take away stock from the enemies(Or from you, if an enemy does it!) and even a few spells that steal stocks. You must also think out your combos, since different attacks and spells will change the altitude of your enemy: Air spells won't work on a grounded enemy and ground spells or attacks will miss on a floating enemy. The combat system is easily the best it's ever been thanks to all the different, and fun, mechanics and depth.
 Sidequests are numerous and varied, and every character has his and her own handful to complete. And you should, at least for the characters you use, since it's the only way for them to earn new special moves and their ultimate equipment. That said, a ton of these have been made rather inconvenient. Take the Ring Spirit, the NPC that grants you modifications to add more attacks on the Judgement Ring, now you must bring every Ring Fragment that you find back to New York, whereas in Covenant you just had to find the Ring Spirit and be instantly rewarded. Or Natan's subquests, it's not enough to talk to the NPC once, then you must hunt the UMA, then you must return once again to the NPC for your reward, then you must progress through the story some more and go back to the NPC's location, rinse and repeat. There were a few too many 'Go to A then B then A then C' subquests too. I mean, some of Covenant's quests could be a bit tedious, like the one involving ghosts, but it seems that most From the New World's sidequests are as tedious as those few boring quests from Covenant.

 From the New World was a bit hard for me to fully digest. It's got the best combat system in the franchise, and making combos is a blast, but the story was so forgettable and as amusing and unique as the characters were, I still didn't feel engaged with them, I had a hard time being invested in their plights or shenanigans. Losing almost every horror element was also a tough pill to shallow, everything is so cheery and happy now, even more than Covenant. So many sidequests were annoying too, and as much time as they make you waste the game still ends up being rather short for a JRPG. Still, this is a quality JRPG, it simply falls short of the bar that Shadow Hearts 1 and Covenant set.
 8.0 out of 10

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