Monday, May 15, 2006

VG REVIEW: Shadow Hearts: From the New World

XSeed Games, for PlayStation 2
rated T for Teen (crude humor, mild language, suggestive themes, use of alcohol and tobacco, violence)

It was around the time that I came across the giant talking cat that I began to think "Shadow Hearts: From the New World" might not be taking itself too seriously.

The ninja with the goofy accent who used a bus stop sign as a weapon should have tipped me off, but I can be dense at times.

"From the New World" is the third and latest "Shadow Hearts" title, a role-playing series that has won critical raves but not necessarily huge sales.

While the previous games could never be accused of taking themselves too seriously, "World" jumps headfirst into a big vat of silliness and revels in it.

The plot, such as it is, involves a young lad named Johnny who, along with a sultry American Indian lady, the aforementioned cat and ninja, and a host of other odd characters, trek around North America to stop the dangerous, demonic forces that seek to wreak havoc on all we hold dear, etc., etc.

While the plot might sound overly familiar, the gameplay itself is refreshing. Like past "Shadow Hearts" games, "From the New World" uses something called the "Judgment Ring" to spice up the endless battles that are staple of any basic Japanese role-playing game.

Basically, whenever you make a battle choice, whether to simply attack, cast a spell or down a potion, a "ring" appears with a bar that starts spinning around. Stop the bar in the proper colored areas and your attack (or whatever) is successfully executed. Miss, and tough luck, pal.

It’s a fun and rather cunning way to spice up the traditional and, by this point, dull rpg experience.

Goofy plot and interactive play system aside, "Shadow Hearts" is in many ways a traditional Japanese rpg, with its healing potions, leveling up, boss battles and what not.

Obviously, your mileage is going to vary with a game this silly. There are many rpg fans who might turn up their noses at something so deliberately ridiculous. But I appreciated its willingness to be foolish, even when it doesn’t make sense.

"From the New World" isn’t as good as the first two games in the series. I missed the tongue-in-cheek gothic horror of the previous "Shadow Hearts" titles. Still, it’s refreshing to play a game where you get to control a giant cat who not only knows kung-fu, but also works for Al Capone.

That’s just not something you come across every day.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


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