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A step backwards
on 17 February 2008
Despite being a massive fan of Shadow Hearts 1 and 2, 3 turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Gone are the well-received cast from the previous games, something entirely expected but nonetheless disheartening as their replacements are not even on the same level.
You play Johnny Garland, a young boy in New York playing detective, who takes on a case that leads him into more trouble than he was banking on. The usual themes, of the forces of malice, bizarre characters coming together, and an around-the-world quest come quickly into play. The harmonixer this time around is Shania, who transforms into numerous godly creatures much like Yuri and Kurando.
After a fairly good beginning sequence in an atmospherically creepy abandoned theatre, the game loses steam and increasingly fails to impress, with plot, graphics and characters all pretty much bog-standard and lacking the charm of the previous games. The graphics seems rushed and unrefined, and despite a few pretty areas they are largely uninspiring. The environments are equally disappointing; non-combat areas are often unrealistically tiny and limited, while the combat areas themselves are all very similar, tedious and unimaginative. The dungeon puzzles of the previous games are no longer a challenge, but a frustrating impediment to your progress.
One of the series' continued strengths is the soundtrack, utterly unlike any other RPG I've played and mixed this time with some great tribal beats to reflect the Native American themes in the game. The voice acting is pretty good and does the job.
Since they're prominent in the reviews so far and certainly present in the game, I'll briefly cover the technical issues. I played it at 60hz and despite no crashing, the graphics were constantly leaping and twitching all over the place in battle. They are very glitchy, and so distracting at first I wondered if I'd got a dud copy. In the end, though, the issues are endurable, but they only lend weight to the rushed, unpolished feel of the game in general.
The story and characters themselves are also generally a let-down. Where the game tries to be serious it is failed by its silly and weak concepts, and where it tries to reinforce the trademark SH humour, it comes across as trying too hard. The staple 'bizarre' characters, like Hilda the fat vampire and Mao the giant cat, again just feel like someone trying too hard to be weird and fun, with little payoff. The one exception is Frank, the BrazEElian ninja. Quite possibly the most guffaw-worthy, hilarious and entertaining character in any RPG to date, and almost a selling point for this game in and of himself.
The main character, Johnny, feels too weak to carry the story until much later in the game, and besides her utterly unattractive personality, Shania is only in the game to get naked ~every time~ she transforms, be it in FMV, battle or a cutscene. As a woman playing the game I frankly got sick of the sight of her rather early on and was entirely put off using the fusion system at all, but besides a few key plot points you can probably manage without it. She's strong enough in her regular form and the battles are not exactly difficult - the difficulty level in general is really lax.
Ultimately, while I don't regret playing Shadow Hearts 3, it is annoyingly average, and the series' strengths are not very prominent in this one. I give it 3 stars because it wasn't ~bad~, but neither was it very memorable.