Single player RPGs are a dying breed in the day and age of online gaming but developers seem determined to ride the PS2 till the wheels fall off. Shadow Hearts: From the New World is one of those determined little RPG’s that refuse to concede defeat to the MMORPG Goliath and the next generation, and for better or worse it makes a statement.
Set in America during the great depression you take the helm of Johnny Garland, your typical spiky-blonde anime hero with a thirst for adventure – sound familiar? After the tragic death of his father and sister, Johnny uses his inheritance to start up a detective agency and is offered his first real assignment (aside from rescuing cats), by a mysterious professor who looks remarkably like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Bouncing to Johnny’s aid is Shania, an American Indian girl with the power to fuse with ancient spirits and oozing sex appeal. Along for the ride is Shania’s guardian Natan, a silent giant sworn to protect his charge at the cost of his own life. Together these three set off on the trail of the hunchbacked professor, in search of the truth behind the strange occurrences and behind Johnny’s own clouded past.
Shadow Hearts boasts a unique combat system appropriately dubbed the Judgment Ring. The ring operates kind of like Russian roulette; each time you select an action to perform in a battle a disc will appear with a sweeping line and coloured segments, and the trick is to hit X when the sweeping line enters one of the coloured zones. If you miss your technique will completely fail. On the other side of the spectrum you can hit X in what’s called the critical zones to considerably increase your damage output or technique effectiveness.
Using the Judgment ring you can also perform double and combo attacks linking characters’ actions together to further punish your foes. All your characters each have their own special ability trees as well as their basic attacks and customizable spells called “Stellars”, and you will need to call on your whole arsenal in most battles as the AI is ruthless and tends to identify the weak points in your party.
The graphics leave a lot to be desired when you compare Shadow Hearts: From the New World to some of the alternatives, looking heavily pixelated at the best of times and at the worst, blocky. However, the combat system is the true star of this show and makes Shadow Hearts’ weaknesses forgivable considering the amount of satisfaction to be had from kicking ass, Judgment Ring style. If you’re a fan of RPGs this one is well worth the go.