Rating:4 out of 5
Pros:A fun game with a nice blend of strategy and role playing Cons:Minor control & sound issues, no real storyIntroduction
There weren't very many role playing games made for the Sega Genesis. The most popular of course being the Phantasy Star series, Beyond Oasis, and the Shining Force series. Many people credit Shining Force as being the first strategy/role playing hybrid of it's type. This is not entirely true, Nintendo's Fire Emblem holds that honor, though it was never released in the United States.
Other role playing strategy games may have came even before Fire Emblem, but that is not the point here. The point is not to say whether Shining Force or Fire Emblem did it first, the point is to say that they were both among the first to do so.
It seems that everyone either loves Shining Force, or hates it. Not very many people take the neutral ground on this one. I tend to side with the former, though I wouldn't go so far as to say it was one of the best role playing games of it's era. Not with so many other great games having been made around the same time, even if they were for the Super Nintendo instead of the Genesis.
Well, apart from Fire Emblem or Ogre Battle, Shining Force isn't like most other role playing games. Ok, so that's not entirely true either, but at least it's not exactly like the rest of them. You still have your standard light versus dark, good versus evil setup. You still have the hero's home town being attacked and (somewhat) destroyed. You still have knights and mages and archers and all of your other, standard characters.
What sets Shining Force apart from all the Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger games of it's generation, was the strategy type battle sequences. Instead of lining up characters on one side of the screen and enemies on the other, your characters all can be moved around like you're playing a strategy game. Oh, and speaking of characters, unlike typical role playing games, you can have more than four of them.
There are about 30 different characters available in Shining Force, 12 of which can be used at the same time. You always have a "headquarters" where you can pick and choose which 12 of the characters you have recruited that you wish to have active, and they will stand in formation in the corner of the headquarters. Heading up this headquarters, is an old guy named Nova. He don't actually do any fighting, but will give you advice if you ask him.
There really isn't much of a plot or story line in Shining Force. The main character is a young swordsman in the kingdom of Guardania. One day an evil dark knight comes and kills your mentor, as well as the king. He is a dark knight of Runefaust, and they are trying to awaken the dark dragon that was put to sleep a thousand years ago. Unoriginal, uninspired, and underdeveloped.
The game does at least control well, aside from one minor annoyance.. you have to push a button to bring up a menu, then push it again to talk to someone. The C button, in fact, is rarely even used in Shining Force. They could have very easily used one button for talking, or if nobody was around, used the same button for searching. The remaining two buttons could be used for the menu to select spells and items and such, and the other to cancel.
The artificial intelligence is slightly lacking as well. Sometimes you can have one character standing by himself, and all of your other characters in one big clump, both the same distance away from a group of three enemies. Instead of going after the single character who is sitting all alone, the enemies will charge head first into your other eleven characters. It's not always quite this bad, but it's never all that great either.
Most of the game controls like any other role playing game on the face of the earth, except that you fight no battles and no random battles while you wander about. The only time you enter a battle is when you leave a town, or go into a cave, or something of significance. When this happens, Nova gives you some lame dialog, your characters appear in a clump on the map, and the game shifts into strategy mode.
All characters from either side take turns moving, depending on that character's speed. One character moves and/or performs an action, then the next character moves and/or performs an action, and so on. The main character can also cast "Egress", which will teleport your team back to the previous town, and leave the battle. Since there are no random battles in Shining Force, if you want to do any sort of level raising, then you should probably make use of this.
One more annoying thing is a character's inventory. They have exactly four slots to hold things, one of which is obviously going to be their weapon. There aren't really any armor, helmets, shields or anything in the game, but there are rings that increase power or speed or whatever. Even if you have no rings, this leaves one slot for your weapon, and only three more for everything else.
You may have a lot of characters, so you have enough space.. but it sure is a pain when you try to open a treasure chest, but can not carry any more items yourself. You must open the menu, select item, select give, scroll down to another character to give the item to, then close the menu, then re-open the chest. Just way, way more complicated than it has to be.
Graphics & Sound
The graphics are pretty average. They are the short squished little sprites that are so common in these old console role playing games. You walk around in a top down kinda view during regular game play, and it's exactly the same during the battles as they take place on the same maps, not unlike Final Fantasy Tactics. They are cute and colorful, if nothing else.
The graphics aren't as bad as, say, Ogre Battle, but at the same time they can not compare with the likes of Chrono Trigger or Secret of Mana. While I admit that these games are for different systems, the Super Nintendo and the Genesis are both 16 bit systems, and both have the ability to create pretty decent graphics for their age. It's not like I am comparing them with the Gamecube or Xbox.
The sounds, too, are a mixed bag. Most of the background music is exactly what you would expect to hear from any other role playing game, while some of it is rather annoying. For instance, the battle music is exactly the same for every battle.. even the final boss battle. Most of the music is very short, and set in a repeat loop. While this is pretty standard, the samples seem to all be too short, and become slightly irritating.
As for sound effects, they are little better than the music. The only bad thing that comes to mind, is the little doot doot doot blip blip blip sound that every single character makes when they talk. That is one of the most annoying sounds I have ever heard. The rest of the sound effects are average or better, matching the cute-ness of the graphics blow for blow.
As there weren't very many role playing games released for the Sega Genesis, if you still own one you need to get a copy of Shining Force. On top of being one of the few role playing games available, it is also one of the best. You should be able to find it at a pawn shop, or on eBay for a relatively low price, and it's certainly worth a few dollars.
If you beat it once, and never play it again, you will get a month's worth of decent game play out of it. However, if you are like me, you will pick it back up and play through it again a couple years down the road.
While Shining Force is not as good as some of it's Super Nintendo counterparts, it is plenty good enough earn a place beside them. Role playing and strategy fans alike will find something worth while this game. If you like Shining Force, you might also want to check out Final Fantasy Tactics, Ogre Battle, Shining Force 2, or Fire Emblem.