1. What are the hallmarks? Beyond the artwork
2. Do lots of japanese characters want to molest the heroines? Smile Shocked It's one of the weirdest things I've ever seen in a game...Unusual and uncomfortable Razz Sad
3. Is the FF series considered JRPG? If so, is it worth playing this late in the cycle? Will I dig it?
1. Hallmarks generally include a turn based or semi turn based battle system with two rows of combatants lined up facing each other, linear storytelling, random battles, and angsty teenage male leads.
As with any hallmark, there are many exceptions to the above and, indeed, JRPGs are almost defined by the ways in which they deviate from this core. There also seems to be a general trend moving away from turn based battles and random encounters.
2. As noted above, I think that is the result of a poor and inconsistant translation for the first SH game. Japan *is* a different culture and it is certainly something to keep in the back of your mind but Yuri's interaction with Alice at the beginnig of the game are still rather bizarre even by the standards of the genre. This behavior is minimized as SH1 progresses and is pretty much entirely absent from the following games thanks to superior localizations.
3. Final Fantasy is pretty much the standard of the genre. Dragon Quest, too, but that series has stayed remarkably true to form in the two decades since its debut while Final Fantasy has had a very clear evolution as the series progressed. It's pretty amazing how closely Dragon Quest 3 (released in something like 1988) matches up with Dragon Quest 8 in terms of play mechanics.
If you are enjoying Shadow Hearts, I can unreservedly recommend Final Fantasy X, VII, and IX to you (and recommend VIII with some reservations). And if you like what you are seeing so early on with SH then you should love
Shadow Hearts Covenant.