Shadow Hearts: From the New World, is the third installment in the Shadow Hearts series by Nautilus. It adpots a new storyline completely unrelated to its predecessors and a lighter tone/atmosphere. Because of these and many other changes, it is regarded by fans as the worst title in the series, but in no way is it a bad game.
Graphics in the game are absolutely stunning. From the fluid character movements to the detailed expressions, eye-popping spell animations, and colourful environments, this game certainly qualifies for one of the best looking RPGs on the PS2. It also sounds great, with quality voice acting and a well-composed soundtrack.
The battle system is an improved version of the first two games, with the use of the judgement ring for attacks, casting magic and shopping for items. When you perform an action in battle, a needle moves clockwise around a ring, with certain areas highlighted. The objective is to press the attack button when the needle is on the highlighted area. The more areas you hit, the more damage your attack does. Furthermore, you can customise each character's ring to include more highlighted areas, wider areas, add-on abilities to increase your chance of winning in battle. Similarly, the enemy can disadvantage your characters by making the needle spin fast, in random directions, or shrinking the ring so it is more difficult for you to perform an attack.
In addition this system, there is an added stock grudge. Both your characters and the enemies have this, and it determines your ability to perform special and combo attacks. It adds strategic value to the gameplay, as you're constantly trying to deplete the enemies' stock and refill your own. The stellar chart is also introduced in this game, which are grids with nodes on them, determining the various offensive, defensive and recovery spells your character can perform. By customising their stellar charts, you have full control of each character's development.
The game's only downfall is the storyline. Players that remember Shadow Hearts, and Shadow Hearts: Covenant's intriguing story intertwined with real world events will be let down by this game's cast of likable, but shallow characters and unengaging plot (which starts out promising but falls apart at the end). The game basically centres around a private investigator, Johnny Garland who gets tangled up in a quest to investigate an evil force called Malice and its relation with the mysterious “windows” appearing around the world which seem to lead to another dimension.
I personally found the plot to be a nice change of pace and a welcome departure from the grim atmosphere of the previous games. Sure, the plot doesn't seem as epic and the characters don't really develop, but the quirky characters and humorous cutscenes will keep any player entertained.
The party in Shadow Hearts: FtNW has to be one of the most unique cast of characters in any RPG. From a pink vampire bat girl with a personality (and weight) disorder, to a Mexican musician who uses his guitar as a flame thrower and a rocket launcher (among other things), to a large talking constantly drunk cat who aspires to be an actress in the cat-film industry, to a self-obsessed Ninja who sticks anything and everything he can find onto a sword hilt and uses it as a weapon… and the list goes on. The characters and logic that this game runs on is so bizzare that words aren't sufficient to describe the oddness of it all. A few familiar faces from the first two games also have minor roles in this game, such as Rodger Bacon, Lenny Curtis, and Joachim.
Another of the game's strengths is the amount of side quests avaliable, most of them are to give the characters powerups and special abilities. These in general are entertaining to play, give more insight into each character and add significant replay value to the game.
Is this game worth playing? My anwser is a definite yes. Its story may not be of the quality of the previous two games (and that's the only thing stopping it from getting five stars), but it took risks that not many RPGs dared to take. While most RPGs are bogged down with complex storylines and characters, this game keeps it simple. If you're just looking for a different kind of RPG with a off-beat, light-hearted, laugh-out-loud story, this is the perfect game for you.