Once again, my personal RPG theory (that there is no such thing as an RPG series that will not, sooner or later, terribly disappoint you) has been vindicated with the third and most recent installment of the Shadow Hearts franchise. Set in a very close alternate reality of our world's past, the first two Shadow Hearts games spanned Europe and Asia and brought two great casts through innovative plots which tied in with real world events while maintaining a very healthy amount of creativity in their general direction. You got to fight restless spirits in the Vatican, hand Rasputin his creepy evil ass, visit important locations from Hong Kong to London, and fight alongside people like Princess Anastasia Romanov and Mata Hari. They were fun, funny, and full of deep and touching ideas, moments, and characters. So, when I found out that the third installment would be set in North and South America, feature Native American characters, and at some point involve the legendary vicious gangster Al Capone, I was pretty damn psyched for the best installment yet.
One of these days I'm going to stamp out that vicious, sadistic little spark of hope in me, that without fail only shows up when the worst of disappointments is forthcoming, just to make it all the much worse. Shadow Hearts 3 is a tedious time-waster, a long-winded telling of a story which only has any real significance right near the very end, and even that being somewhat dull and anime-cliche. I mean, hell, I've played RPGs which have been uninspired and boring enough that I find myself just not caring that some mystical fantasy world is doomed to oblivion, but Shadow Hearts 3 is the first time I've ever felt total apathy toward the imminent destruction of my own world.
Nautilus, the company which created the game, seemed to have the good sense not to unleash this mediocrity on us, but XSeed decided to translate it and release it here anyways. This and Wild Arms 4 make up XSeed's record of RPGs translated and published for companies which wouldn't port them overseas themselves. Jeez. To XSeed: come on, there must be some GOOD RPG over in Japan that you could bring us instead. At this rate, I'd have to say you're a strong argument for the idea that ignorance is bliss.
But I digress. It's not outright offensively awful like Grandia 3 or Wild Arms 4 were, so I'm not going to pick apart the whole game like I did with them. I'll stick to just the usual cast ridicule method today.
Johnny: Johnny, our "hero" (I use the term loosely), is a licensed detective, who consistently needs his companions, who are not themselves terribly bright, to explain each and every extremely obvious switch and lever for each and every extremely simple, usually color-coded dungeon puzzle.
Shania: Nautilus was too busy inventing ways for her to be more naked to actually give her a character.
Natan: Also known as Chief Running Stereotype.
Lady: Lady is the main villain in the game. In a startling display of honesty, Nautilus gives her essentially no lines of dialogue, no personality, and no conscious reason to be trying to doom the world. While this makes her a boring, lackluster antagonist about as memorable as a street sign and only half as noticeable, at least they're not trying to cover up their inability to invent a decent villain with dumb motives ("HUR HUR I'LL SAVE EVERYONE FROM BEING UNHAPPY BY KILLING THEM") or something.
Frank: A middle-aged ninja from Brazil who uses cactuses, bus stop signs, and dead fish as swords. The novelty wears off pretty quickly, leaving you with a gag character who's mildly amusing at best.
Hilda: Hilda is a girl who gains weight when she eats too much and gets fat, but loses weight when she eats healthily and stays thin.
If you're waiting for a punchline, you just got it. I really, truly cannot think of a better way to ridicule Hilda's gimmick than to just tell you about it.
Ricardo: In most other RPGs, Ricardo might be the low point of the cast. In this one, the fact that he has any history and motivation at all, and that it's not completely half-assed, makes him easily the best character in the mix.
His guitar being a shotgun, flamethrower, and missile launcher kinda balance out whatever seriously redeeming qualities he had, though.
Al Capone: Al Capone is not actually a playable character, nor is he a villain, so including him is kinda a breach in protocol here, but he embodies one of the most annoying aspects of the game so perfectly that I really just had to put him in. I have exhaustively compiled a list of all the things that Nautilus got right in their representation of the infamous 1920s American gangster:
He has an accent.
Yeah. As the list above suggests, there's not a whole lot of resemblance (Hell, I can't even say for sure that the accent is right). Rather than take the ruthless, relentless, scarred pioneer of organized crime that the real Al Capone was and go somewhere with him from there, Nautilus takes the name and just does whatever the hell they want, making him into a good-hearted pretty-boy concerned for the well-being and safety of the public. They take a concept with all kinds of potential, and twist it into anime crud. This blatant disregard for accuracy is all OVER the game. Exploring the Grand Canyon? Expect no more than a short walk. Cell phones, television, security metal detectors, and robot guards in 1929? No problem! And for God's sake, I've had more trouble navigating McDonald's Playplaces than I had escaping Alcatrez.
I was expecting--hell, eagerly anticipating--a game that would make interesting, innovative, and (reasonably) accurate use of its cultural backdrop, the way the first two games did. But Nautilus just decided to take their best setting yet and whiz it down their legs here. The disclaimer at the beginning of the game isn't even needed; there's no way anyone could seriously mistake this for a portrayal of anything real.
Mao: There are two kinds of people in this world. People who think that a 6 foot, talking alcoholic cat who uses drunken martial arts and wants to be a movie star is a stupid idea, and people who work at Nautilus.