RPG Review #106: Shining Force

NuMetalManiak Well then, well then, well then, I am getting through a ton of games a lot quicker than I anticipated. Makes sense for someone on an extended summer break. I've been looking to play Shining Force for some time, seeing as how it's one of the more revered RPG games for the Sega Genesis. Well?

Gameplay: Think Final Fantasy Tactics on the Genesis except without the potentiality of customization and more along the lines of standard grid-based strategy, simple one-on-one attack on a character/enemy, and limited equipment space. Also very linear playthrough. When not battling, navigation is standard, shops are standard, and there's always an army headquarters to go to to rearrange party members. The church has the save feature, curing of status that may be inflicted, including death, and also promotions which is perhaps the only major caveat. The classes are usually static depending on character, and promoting (which can happen as early as level 10) resets the stats but gives a better class. Terrain in battle isn't really all that important, just annoying in the cases of forests and mountains.

And to be honest, this gameplay is not that great. Aside from the terrain, my biggest complaint is how experience works out. The more damage you do, or if you kill an enemy, the better your experience to get levels. The issue is that characters with very little offensive capabilities, such as the healers, will be very far behind in comparison to the fighters, and in many cases, you can miss targets, which only gives a measly 1 XP. Also not helping is how defensive many of the enemies are, where even the strongest of weapons can deal only 1 point of damage. Add to that the randomness of attacking twice (sometimes characters do it, sometimes they don't) and battles take way longer than they should and aren't as fun. Grade: C

Characters: Well what do you know, there's actually plenty of characters to use.
Max: The main character and the hero, with the best offensive capabilities and the ability to wield the best equipment. Seeing as how he's the main character, it's Game Over if he falls in battle.
Luke: This guy is a warrior and one of the first characters to join. As such he is great offensively with no spells.
Ken: This guy looks like a centaur and comprises the knight class, with decent mobility and offense, again no spells.
Tao: She's a mage, meaning horrific defensive and physical abilities at the balance of having extremely good damaging spells.
Hans: An archer, so can attack from a range. His overall attack power is weak though.
Lowe: An important character to have, for he is a healer and thus helps keep party members healthy. He's also weak offensively though.
Gong: The only character in the Monk class, he can fight with bare hands but isn't too strong. He does possess some healing spells though.
Gort: Pretty much a carbon copy of Luke, a warrior/gladiator.
Mae: A female knight who serves Guardiana's king and joins the Shining Force to avenge his death.
Khris: This horseheaded healer helps the main character get out of prison and joins up later on.
Anri: Princess Anri has access to more damaging spells unlike Tao, who's using Blaze spells usually.
Arthur: Yet another knight. Actually his stats are bad in comparison to others.
Balbaroy: One of the better fighters in that he is a birdman who can fly over obstacles.
Amon: Just like Balbaroy but weaker attack.
Diane: She's slightly stronger than Hans as an archer but not by much.
Zylo: We have a werewolf joining the party with this guy. Pretty powerful.
Pelle: Yeah, another knight. There's about six of these guys.
Jogurt: Here's the weirdest character in the game. A hamster with a helmet, 1 in every stat, can't actually gain anything, but if he SOMEHOW kills an enemy a Jogurt Ring is dropped that can turn another character into a Jogurt. For what reason? I wouldn't know because I never used him.
Kokichi: Old man Kokichi and his flying machine are great for the areas with annoying terrain. He can use the weapons the Knights use.
Vankar: Yet another knight, who's only marginally better than some of the others.
Guntz: This interesting character is lumped with the Knights due to the weapons he uses, but his classes are different and he's a tank defensively.
Domingo: You might think this thing hatched from an egg is INCREDIBLY weak, but in actuality Domingo might be the best mage (and possibly character) in the game. He flies, so that helps with mobility, and learns great freeze spells.
Earnest: Well he's the last knight, not great, not bad, just mediocre.
Lyle: He moves like a knight, but he's a different class altogether. Can actually equip powerful guns, making him much better for ranged attacks than Hans or Diane.
Bleu: A dragon! Actually he has several attacks, but has problems in the missions after you get him due to enemies' high defense and his inability to use equipment.
Musashi: An excellent frontline party member to get due to his excellent attack and defense. Worth using.
Alef: The last mage, but she edges out by starting at a high level and coming with many different elemental spells.
Torasu: Likewise, Torasu edges out over other healers due to his high starting level and starting spells.
Adam: A robot, who can be upgraded to a cyborg. Slow, steady, but lack of equipment means I wouldn't use him.
Hanzou: This ninja is the final possible recruit. Starts out with bad stats, but apparently gains much faster than the others.

Yep, I counted right, that's thirty characters who join the titular Shining Force. Neat collection of misfits against the evils that are Runefaust, and, yes he's back, Darksol. Sadly no real mention of ANY character development for any of the characters, including the main. It's all just "Max, go after the enemy" all the time. Grade: B-

Plot: Hooray for chapter-based plots! I can tell with eight chapters it's gonna be quite the trip.
Chapter 1: Runefaust Invasion. With a title like that you can bet that the hero's hometown gets invaded! After Max spares off with Lord Varios, he later goes to Guardiana Castle and receives orders from the King to find members willing to join the Shining Force, with the wolf guy Nova accompanying them as a strategist. While finding new recruits, Guardiana is razed, and Lord Varios and the king are dead. The neighboring kingdom of Alterone have surrendered to the evil Kain, but Khris helps Max get out of prison and they fight to save Alterone before journeying on.
Chapter 2: Spirit of the Holy Spring. The Shining Force seeks out Anri and a mage named Otrant, who enlists their help to go to the Cavern of Darkness to retrieve the Orb of Light. With this in hand, Max meets a spirit and then later gets a boat after a fight at the circus, although the boat gets burned too soon. A nearby chapel is where the chapter ends, after undead monsters overrun it.
Chapter 3: Secret Weapon of Runefaust. The Shining Force must stop Runefaust from using a secret weapon, and are naturally too late to prevent them from retrieving it. They do get a Moon Stone to trade for a Lunar Dew which will help get Zylo to join. The secret weapon is some huge cannon called a Laser Eye.
Chapter 4: The Great Fortress of Balbazak. The honorable general known as Elliott fights for Runefaust, but knows that Darksol is corrupting his king. Nevertheless, he is the next opponent in this chapter. While going around a moving town, the Shining Force finds their way to Uranbatol, where they rescue Earnest and defeat Balbazak to move on to a boat.
Chapter 5: Gateway to the Hidden Shrine. After an ambush on the boat, a mermaid invites the Shining Force to Waral, and after a journey into a shrine inside Ring Reef, the journey continues via boat.
Chapter 6: Descendant of the Sacred Dragon. At a town run by kids, the Shining Force makes their way to Dragonia to recruit Bleu, who helps the Shining Force against Kain. Kain's mind control is broken after he is defeated, and him and Max together try to defeat Darksol but fail. The Shining Force then heads to Demon Castle to defeat Mishaela and get the Sword of Light.
Chapter 7: The Lost Civilization. At Prompt, Max is arrested again but gets out immediately, then he sees a wounded Kain. He then journeys with the Shining Force to the Tower of the Ancients where with Alef and Torasu in tow he confronts Darksol who plans to resurrect a Dark Dragon. Kain dies in this scene and Max gains the Sword of Darkness. Underneath Prompt, Max meets Adam and Chaos and defeats the latter, then combines the Sword of Light and the Sword of Darkness to become the Chaos Breaker, which can defeat the Dark Dragon. The chapter ends with the Shining Force invading Runefaust.
Chapter 8: Rise of the Ancient Castle. At Runefaust, people are glad the Shining Force is gonna liberate them, but first Max and the Force have to defeat King Ramladu, who of course is mind-controlled. After his defeat and death Max uses the Chaos Breaker to make the Castle of the Ancients rise up, where it is now time to defeat the Colossus, then Dark Sol. Just in the nick of time, the final battle involves the three-headed Dark Dragon. The ending of this game sees Max make a sacrifice with the Chaos Breaker as the castle sinks into the sea once more. Thus ended Shining Force, as the hero is presumed lost by his forces. Most of the plot sees little development in the characters, and is rife with cliches. Grade: C+

Music: A Genesis game, so it will have plenty of music. Well not so much, the themes are all very fantasy/royal sounding for the most part, with the town theme being generic. Having a separate screen for the battles that happen with the music happening creates some suspense, then you deal with it multiple times. I really wish it was better, but it wasn't. Grade: C-

Overall Grade: C

Yeah, this isn't as good as I expected. It's very slow-paced, and not really friendly to characters who lack offensive capabilities. I thought it would actually be pretty good, considering how many games in the Shining series were made.