Archive for December, 2011

The Shining series is a massive set of RPGs which began with シャイニング&ザ・ダクネス (Shining and the Darkness; released in America as Shining in the Darkness) in 1991, later to span a wide variety of consoles and systems and entering multiple RPG sub-genres (action RPG, strategy RPG, dungeon crawlers, etc). The most well-known and oft-played of the 20 or so games in this series is シャイニング・フォース 神々の遺産 (Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention), a turn-based strategy RPG originally released in 1992 on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive.

I have not played more than a few minutes of Shining in the Darkness. Shining Force however was my introduction to RPGs. My sister rented it from Blockbuster, and suggested that I try it out. The moment I started to play it, I was hooked. Back then, the video game trope of “evil arises after 1,000 years and you must now save the world as the Chosen Hero” was new to me. Even so as I watched/read the opening I distinctly remember blushing from embarrassment at how corny the main premise was. Nevertheless, I played. And played. And played. I became so wrapped up in the game that when I beat it, as the ending played out I was so overwhelmed that I cried. The credit roll is spectacular, as it shows snippets of all of your prior battles throughout the entire game. I remember that I felt an immense sort of pride as I watched these “flashbacks.” When it was all over and little Simone (the trademark elf girl with whom you interact on the Start screen) appeared and finished reading the “story,” I felt entirely crushed that it was over. That things ended the way that they did. That there was no more.

The only other game to make me respond that way was ルナ ザ・シルバースター (LUNAR: The Silver Star), originally released on the Mega CD also in 1992 (1993 for America’s Sega CD). It, like Shining Force, has seen various remakes, prequels and sequels. LUNAR was the highest-selling Sega CD game as well as the second highest-selling Mega CD title of all time, selling nearly as many copies as the system itself. But that is for another review!

Before LUNAR, there was Shining Force. Sadly, Shining Force saw one of the weakest translations in the Shining series, and so several plot points which were explained in the Japanese original were left out entirely in the English-language version. The main character, Max, had a bit of backstory: he was found washed up on the shore with amnesia by Lowe, who thereafter became his best friend. Later on in the game, Lord Kane of Runefaust expressed his regret that Darksol caused him to fight Max, but this was never explained. In the Japanese original (and the Game Boy Advance remake, Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon), however, you were told that Kane and Max were actually brothers. Nevertheless, translation FUBARs aside, the game is very fun to play and has a high replay value.

The races of the Shining world include humans, elves, dwarves, centaurs, foxlings, wolflings, and kyantol. The kyantols are a race of canine-like humanoids who are very intelligent and caring and generally fulfill the role of healers. There have been no named or playable male kyantol, however, suggesting that the kyantol race is female-dominant or that only female kyantols wield the powerful healing magic for which the race is known for. There are other races found throughout the series, but they are relatively rare.

Playable character classes include warriors, knights, archers, mages, priests, monks, winged warriors (birdmen) and wing knights (in Shining Force, this is a human in a mechanical suit; in later games, there are pegataur – pegasus centaur — knights), as well as a large number of outliers whom you only ever get one of such as a werewolf, steam knight, ninja, samurai, cyborg, dragon, and mage knight. Each class possesses different strengths and weaknesses, and suffer mobility issues in certain terrains. Additionally, individual characters have different ways of developing and will improve at different parts of the game, at varying speeds. You can have up to 12 party members (including Max, who must attend every battle as the leader) in your party at a time, and can switch out characters in between battles. I have always tended to level up every character to keep them all current, within a few levels of each other. As aforementioned there is a certain amount of variegation in the characters, and some are simply not as (and never become as) useful as others. Your most powerful character, however, is unquestionably Max. But if Max dies, the battle is lost regardless of how many enemies or allies are left on screen.

After a character gains 100 experience points, he or she will gain a level. At level 10, you have the option of promoting your character to an advanced class. Although this promotion ends up making the character weaker at first, after a few levels the promoted classes develop considerably faster and more effectively than the base classes. One frustration which I have always had is that although new characters generally start out a level or two below yours, the game introduces several characters in later chapters who are significantly below your level, but who develop well and are extremely useful if you can get them up to speed (these characters include but are not limited to Adam, the cyborg; Torasu, the priest; and Alef, the mage). However, the grind to level up these characters is tough as pretty much any attack against them will kill them, and they deal little damage. I always end up going through the motions to level them up in either case, although you certainly do not need to do so in order to complete the game as you have plenty of other characters to use.

The types of enemies you face in the game range from your traditional goblins and dwarves to zombies, cyborgs, and a variety of robots, chimeras, possessed dolls and clowns, worms, sea creatures, and so on. Certain enemies cast magic, inflict poison or sleep status, have a high chance of attacking twice per turn or dealing critical damage. You may find incredibly strong weapons and rings which are cursed and cannot be unequipped, afflicting your character with damage after every turn or stunning him/her. (The curse must be removed by a vicar in a town or outpost.) The battles take place in forests, hills, towns, aboard a ship, inside a circus, in a sanctuary, inside caverns, on cliffs, and so on. Some of the most memorable battles for me include the fight against the Marionette and his dolls and clowns in the circus of Rindo, the fight against the Kraken on the ship, the battle against the Laser Eye on the cliffs, the fight against Chaos and his cybernetic minions, the battle at the Tower of the Ancients, and countless more.

Although it’s an old game, it somehow elicited a feeling of growing paranoia and creepiness when I first arrived at Shade Abbey and the occupants followed me into the sanctuary, simultaneously blocking my escape route just prior to turning into zombies and ghouls. In Manarina, I was turned into a chicken and all of the characters I interacted with as a chicken had special hen-only dialogue. I pushed a cart into a girl in Alterone and she got mad and pushed me into the water. I talked to a silly hamster in a helmet in a little cottage by the Gate of the Ancients, and he later joined me and became the most pointless character ever as all of his stats (except movement) are 1, and he is incapable of gaining a level. I rescued a werewolf from the brink of insanity and he joined my Force. I encountered a man named Boken (in Japanese, 冒険 {boken} means “adventure”) who is seeking thrills and excitement and subsequently reunited with him countless other times in further towns I visit during the course of the game. Many great gems of interaction happen in every village, to where it’s priceless to walk around talking to people before and after each battle. It is also entertaining to go to your headquarters to interact with your party members, who will divulge different bits of information about themselves throughout your journey. Not to mention, of course, that talking to people is how you end up getting several secret party members. The game manages to make you laugh, sets up scenarios which are ominous and foreboding, and brings into play so many fun elements that the game is beautiful simply for its variety.

The music is one of the strongest aspects of Shining Force. This is something that its descendants lack. The music in the games that came after the original Force had good soundtracks, don’t get me wrong, but nothing quite as powerful as the score for the 1992 game. Even now, I have some of the battle themes on my iPod and always feel myself spurred into action by them.

Many people loved Shining Force II more than the original game as the sequel improved on several aspects of the mechanism, featured many of the same scenarios (such as for example the popular kraken battle), and expanded the length and breadth of the game style. In America, few of the Shining titles were released at all, or released on popular systems. Being an almost exclusively Sega title — Sega of America making several poor decisions which made later consoles bomb — its various non-Force titles were most popular in their home country. In Japan where Sega was more successful, fans played the whole series of games.

The Shining series came out on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, Game Gear, Mega CD/Sega CD, Palm Pilot, Sega Saturn, and at length moved to mobile phones in Japan with multiple releases that were entirely inaccessible outside of that country. Eventually, too, the series continued on the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation Portable. The original Shining Force game is now available on iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod), Steam, and Wii Virtual Console. Steam also has Shining in the Darkness and Shining Force II available. There was also a Shining anime OAV series, called Shining Tears x Wind.

Bridging the gap between Shining Force and Shining Force II were Shining Force Gaiden and Shining Force Gaiden II. Gaiden II was released in America on the Game Gear as Shining Force: Sword of Hajya, but the original Gaiden was never released Stateside. Both of these games were remade on the Mega CD as one title, known in America as Shining Force CD. Gaiden/Shining Force CD takes place 20 years after Shining Force, and details the adventures of some of the original cast as well as their children.

I had a tragic encounter with Shining Force CD. I’d found it at Toys R Us as a child, and it was the last copy available. I eagerly bought it. While my mom was driving me home, I tried to take the game CD out of the case. It broke in half! (T_T) There were no other copies of the game to be had, and so I never did get to play it. Later on down the line the game proved completely impossible to locate, and so to this day I have never experienced the story of the children of the original Shining Force. As you might gather from the tragedy of my copy of Shining Force CD, I have not played every Shining title. However, some of the spin-offs actually contain snippets of story which tie into the canon, with characters and basic elements that come into play in the main games. Shining the Holy Ark, for example, ties into Shining Force III.

My favorite game in the series is Shining Force III. It was released on the Sega Saturn as a three-part game, where each game is separate but intertwined. The save data from Scenario I, for example, can be carried over and used when you play Scenarios II & III. It features one large, overarching storyline that involves THREE “Shining Forces” and their journeys towards a common goal. There is a heaping load of political intrigue, strong characterization for your party members that develops over time, crossing paths where the Shining Force leaders interact with one another and help each other, and the grand finale in Scenario III is a massive battle utilizing all three Shining Forces. The gameplay is set up in the traditional Shining Force strategy RPG style, but brings a lot more to the table in terms of battle scenarios where you had to really time your movements, split your forces to tackle multiple objectives or gain bonuses, and so on. One very memorable battle in Scenario I was a fight at a railway switching point just outside the town of Railhead, where two trains move slowly towards each other with each turn and you must move wisely so that your characters do not get separated and eradicated. There is also a time limit, as you need to stop Imperial soldiers from killing refugees who were attempting to flee the Empire.

Another addition is bonus tombs and treasure hideaways on the same map as the main battle. You cannot enter these locations unless you have a map for the ruins. As soon as you open them, a thief comes along and enters, starting a tomb raiding race. In order to get the treatures, you must send in your swiftest troops to either reach the chests first (provided they aren’t locked), or to attack the thief after he unlocks the chests, making him drop the treasure (your attacking party member immediately picks it up after the exchange). However, there are also guardian monsters in the tombs and hideaways that you must defeat or avoid. If the thief exits the ruins with the treasure, the ruins close off and your party members are returned to the main map empty-handed. It’s another element to the gameplay that you will certainly want to participate in as some of the best bonus items and weapons are found in such locations. In addition to new play elements and a further expanded game, the storyline itself trumps anything that the first or second installments could hope to offer.

In Japan, if you bought all three games and sent off the UPCs to Camelot (the game production company), you would receive Shining Force III: Premium Disc, a not-for-sale promo bonus disc with tons of fun extras. On Premium Disc you can mix and match party members from all three Shining Forces, replay battles, view artwork and the character models, and fight certain creatures and bosses that were exclusively released on this game disc.

Unfortunately for American and European players, only Scenario I was released on the Sega Saturn before the game system met its demise everywhere but Japan (it continued on for some time there; that’s why the Saturn is great for import titles). However, should you own a Saturn or have an emulator for the Saturn on your computer, and further get a hold of copies of the games, Shining Force Central features scripts for most of Scenario II and Scenario III in addition to detailed information on EVERY Shining game.

As a Shining Force fangirl and in particular a Shining Force III fangirl, I am very proud to say that I own the US and Japanese versions of Scenario I, as well as Scenarios II and III and the Premium Disc. I also have copies of these import books: Shining Force III artbook, Shining and the Darkness guidebook, and the three official Sega guidebooks for Shining Force III (one for each Scenario). I also have the Shining Force III soundtrack CD. 😀 If I could find it, I’d certainly have more Shining Force stuff, although I’m not interested in fanatically collecting everything that has the game name affixed on it (just stuff that I find useful in some way).

As much as I love Shining Force III, the game would not exist without Shining Force (the first game). I love all three of the direct installments of this series, and have special memories of each. I’d definitely recommend all three of these (Shining Force, Shining Force II, Shining Force III) as well as the remake of the first game (Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon) to anyone, although other games in the Shining series are more difficult and harder to get into (Shining in the Darkness) or are just not as good (Shining Force NEO, Shining Soul, Shining Tears, etc).