I’ve ranted and raved in the past about my love for all things Final Fantasy VI. It is, indeed, my favorite game of the past 33 years of my existence. There’s many, many good things about it, but seeing’s how it’s RPG Week here on the pond, I thought I would focus on another series of fantasy adventure that really turns my crank.
In fact, it was the first actual role playing game I ever played.
It was Shining Force, on the Sega Genesis.
To explain Shining Force isn’t overly difficult. If you’re a fan of strategy RPG’s like Fire Emblem, than you’ll be able to dive right into the series with ease and enjoyment. It’s what you’d call a turn-based, tactical RPG. It requires strategy, forward thinking, and deploying your heroes in such a way that you’re not overmatched or overwhelmed when attacking or being attacked by the enemy.
As far as the story, well, here’s how the first game breaks down, courtesy of the Internet:
The game opens in the Kingdom of Guardiana, in the land of Rune. The protagonist, Max, is sent on a mission to prevent the evil Kane, who commands the hordes of Runefaust, from opening the Shining Path and resurrecting Dark Dragon. Along the way, Max recruits a number of allies to join the Shining Force. They eventually find that both Kane and King Ramladu are under the control of the manipulative Darksol. Darksol ultimately succeeds in reviving Dark Dragon, but Max seals the creature away using the power of the Chaos Breaker, a sword created by merging a sword of light with Kane’s sword of darkness.
It’s not the most original storyline, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s heroes, mages, knights, paladins, wizards and more battling goblins, giant bats, ogres, flying…stuff, and other original and fun creatures.
No different than any other RPG of the time, you’re able to find new allies to join you on your quest (some of which are hidden, which means you can go a whole game without aligning yourself with all of the available heroes). You buy, upgrade and equip weapons, items and the like. It’s pretty standard fare.
One unique element of the game that I enjoy is that once your character reaches level 10, they can be ‘promoted’. You can have the characters promoted so that their class changes ever so slightly, but it ultimately allows your heroes to improve their attributes and stats, or, in the case of a mage, learn spells that otherwise wouldn’t be available without the promotion.
The one aspect of the promotion that is kind of wonky is when you DO promote you character at level 10, their upgraded class then rolls back to level 1. This results in your character being significantly weaker until they begin to gain experience and raise their levels again. The good thing is that your stats improve quickly as your promoted class regains levels, but it is something to consider prior to promoting characters. Because you can reach level 20 prior to promoting a character, I recommend you do that because when you finally do promote them, their stats don’t drop off quite so dramatically upon the reset.
There’s not a lot of guess work in terms of progression. While some RPG’s can tend to lead to moments of “WTF do I do next and where do I go?!”, Shining Force is pretty linear and straight forward. You’ll spend more time talking to NPC’s in each town you visit than wandering the open plain. Battles usually begin after the story progresses inside the town/castle, and once you leave, the battle erupts on the map. There’s no way to get lost and it pushes you in the direction you need to go each and every time. If you’re a fan of exploring, this may be something that deters you, but it allows you to enjoy the battles and storyline that much more.
Listen, it’s not as if this game re-invented the genre, nor does it do anything fancy or flashy. But it’s fun. The story flows nicely, nothing is long or drawn out, but you’ll enjoy playing it over the 8 chapters it lays out for you.
Like any RPG, there may be moments where the game feels a little monotonous, or stale, but rest assured it’s worth the investment of time. I really enjoyed the game.
Finding the cart is relatively easy too. If you can’t find a copy of the original Genesis/Mega Drive release, the game is available on a variety of platforms. It’s included on compilations on the Dreamcast, the Ultimate Genesis Collection on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and even on the Wii Virtual console. Or, if you’re a PC guy, you can snag it on steam for about $3. (There were even remakes on the Game Boy Advance and you can grab it for your iOs for more handheld convenience)
The game also spawned a few sequels. Shining Force II was also released on the Genesis and was every part as good as the original, and in some opinions, even greater than the the first iteration. I personally enjoyed the game play on SFII a little bit better than the original, simply because the animations, text, and overall movement was just that much faster and allowed you to roll through the game a little bit quicker. The game play and graphics are very similar to the original, but it provides a new adventure which is familiar, but satisfying as hell in it’s own right.
There were also Shining Force releases on the Game Gear, Sega CD and Sega Saturn. An exclusive IP, you needed to own all of Sega’s platforms and consoles to enjoy the series, which is a bit of a shame, especially now as these games are getting more and more expensive, although not too ridiculous for the Genesis carts. (Don’t bother looking up how much a copy of Shining Force III goes for…)
SF: The Sword of Hajya for the Game Gear is easily accessible. I downloaded it off the 3DS eShop from Nintendo, and enjoyed it thoroughly. I had never played it before, as I never owned a Game Gear, nor with any desire then or now. Still, it’s a shorter game than the original two, but every bit the Shining Force experience and worth acquiring at a small price point.
Earlier in 2015, I started playing Shining Force CD which, once again, was very similar to the original Genesis releases but with some small upgrades and changes. Despite playing the original three that shared the same elements of style, SF:CD didn’t feel stale. The only reason I didn’t finish the game was because my save file somehow got corrupted and I just haven’t gone back to playing it again. It’s on my backlog for 2016.
Then…there’s Shining Force III. My white buffalo.
The game (as far as I know) was only released on the Sega Saturn. To this day, it’s the only Shining Force game that I have yet to play, and I NEED to change that. I’ve often considered purchasing a Saturn strictly to play the game. The game itself can run anywhere between $130-$150 for a loose copy.
And yet, I’m determined to own it. I’m not against emulation, but such is impossible with the Saturn. (Stupid Sega and their stupid complex Saturn hardware) To play this game will run me upwards of $300, and that’s just downright nutty. I won’t do it. I WON’T!
Regardless, this series is more in-depth and detailed than I’ve laid out for you here, and one day, I plan on doing a whole retrospective review of the entire Shining Force series. The games all link together in some form or another, for the most part, and it’s quite an interesting story once you dive into all of it.
If you’ve never enjoyed all that is Shining Force, I highly suggest you find a way. It’s one of the major foundations of the Temple, and your gaming experience will be made better for having enjoyed it the way I have many times over the years.