Shining Force

Shining Force is a joy to play and is among the best titles for the Genesis . . . . Though I won’t claim this game has universal appeal, I think even gamers who do not traditionally play FRPGs will find themselves drawn to Shining Force.

It all started with Phantasy Star. That was my initiation into the world of FRPGs (fantasy role-playing games), and from that point on, I was in love with the genre. I followed up with the remainder of the series (the second game being my personal favorite), and hungered for more. Unfortunately, outside of the Phantasy Star series, many of the Genesis FRPGs were rather lackluster. There were acceptable titles such as Sword of Vermillion, but they really failed to capture the epic feel of the Phantasy Star series. Finally, though, Sega gave us Shining Force, and a new and exciting franchise was established.

OK, before you correct me, I should note that there was a previous game released in this franchise titled Shining in the Darkness, but the gameplay is much different in this previous title. Shining in the Darkness used a first-person view similar to the dungeon levels of the original Phantasy Star. For some reason, though, I could never get into Shining in the Darkness. I appreciated aspects of the game, such as the artwork and creature design, but I think I was turned off by the need to create maps as I played, so I gave up. Shining Force used much different play mechanics, though. This game retained the type of design from Shining in the Darkness, but it seemed to be much more of a blend of the strategy and FRPG genres. There were no first-person dungeons in Shining Force. Instead, there were overhead-view villages and cities in which you interacted with non-player characters (NPCs) like in Phantasy Star mixed with battles in which you deployed the members of your party, all of whom had different movement ranges, reminiscent of strategy games. The mixture of elements worked, and Shining Force was a fun and refreshingly new addition to my Genesis library.

One of the things I love about Shining Force is the switch from the overhead battleground view to the close up of characters whenever one of them acts. You get to see your centaur knights charge forward with lances, your elves fire arrows, your dwarves strike with their axes, your mages call forth fire to scorch your enemies, and your birdmen hover then slice with their swords. The character graphics are all well rendered and will change as characters equip new weapons or are promoted (I’ll explain promotions in a bit). The background graphics will also change based on the terrain and include a good amount of detail. For a game of its time, this title provides excellent visuals.

As you progress through the game, you will add numerous different allies to your roster. Though you can only have twelve members in your party at any one time, you will find a headquarters in each town where you can change party members. Part of the fun of this game is finding party members and mixing and matching them to discover which combination works best for your style. Many members are secret, requiring you to search in a particular place at the right time or to use a particular item in order to unlock them. It is unlikely you will find everyone in your first playthrough without resorting to online hints or guides.

As you defeat enemies and use magic and items, your characters will gain experience. Unlike some FRPGs in which experience is shared among party members, your characters in Shining Force will only accumulate experience on their own actions. This can be problematic at times, as your mages and healers get a lot less experience for using their magic than your warriors will for attacking enemies. You’ll often find that you have to wear down your enemies with your strongest characters and then allow your magic users to finish off the enemy in order to help them advance through levels. In addition to this level advancement, though, your characters can also be promoted. When your character is promoted, he or she is given a new title (for example, a MAGE becomes a WIZD). The benefits of promotion are that the character may be able to use weapons which were previously unequippable or may learn new magic. You can promote a character at 10th level, but it is generally a good idea to raise your character higher than this, as the character’s stats will drop after the promotion, though as the promoted character advances, he or she will quickly compensate for this drop.

Though leveling up characters and opening new abilities is fun, you will often find yourself fighting the same battles repeatedly in order to do so, which can become monotonous. There aren’t any random battles in this game, so you are required to leave a battle prior to the last monster (or in some cases, the boss monster or character) is defeated. You may then return to the battle with respawned monsters, allowing you to build more experience.

Another gripe that I have with this game is that NPCs will often get in your way when you are in villages and cities. Since you cannot move through an NPC, they become very cumbersome in small houses and passageways. Often, you will sit and wait for one to move away from a door or staircase so that you may enter or exit. Though this isn’t a huge issue, it is still one that the programmers should have fixed prior to the game’s release.

Aside from those gripes, both of which are relatively minor, Shining Force is a joy to play and is among the best titles for the Genesis. The game balances battles with character interaction well, and people who generally feel that FRPGs are slow and plodding may find the pace of this game much more to their liking. Though I won’t claim this game has universal appeal, I think even gamers who do not traditionally play FRPGs will find themselves drawn to Shining Force.

Highly recommended

Spoiler Alert—the video below shows the game’s ending.

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