Shining Force

Ages ago, Light and Darkness fought for control of the world, with the Light led by the Ancients and the Darkness led by the Dark Dragon. The Ancients defeated the Dark Dragon, who vowed to return in a millennium. During that intervention, peace reigned across the land of Rune, although afterward, the Kingdom of Runefaust brings war to the land, although a hero from the Kingdom of Guardiana leads the Shining Force against Runefaust’s evil minions. Sega’s Shining Force for the Genesis was one of the first console tactical RPGs to see its release in North America, holding up nicely even today.

Shining Force is divided into several chapters, with the hero able to move through towns to purchase items, manage his party, talk with NPCs to advance the story, occasionally walk around on the overworld, etc. Despite this, the gameplay is generally linear, as towns and the overworld vary from chapter to chapter, with the player unable to revisit previous areas as the game advances, and battles, of course, regularly occurring throughout the course of the game.

Battles take place on various fields, with the player’s party of up to twelve characters of different classes and abilities sparring with enemies strewn across the battlefield. Characters and enemies take turns presumably based on agility, with the player moving around his or her units, when they reach their turns, across the field within a certain range, where each is able to attack enemies, use magic, use an item, change equipment, or stay put for the turn. Character and enemy actions typically take the player to a separate screen where they execute their commands.

Characters gain experience from performing most actions, leveling upon gaining a hundred experience points and in most instances gaining increases to various stats. When a character has reached level ten, the player can promote him or her to an upper class, in which case that character’s level resets to one and stats are decreased slightly; however, class promotion is necessary for characters to equip more powerful weapons late in the game, and by extent to continue the leveling process since levels are capped at twenty in their initial classes.

Combat is enjoyable for the most part, with a degree of strategy largely having to do with character movement and spacing on the field playing some part, especially late into the game. Shining Force is also by extent more playable than many future tactical RPGs in that the player, for instance, even when losing a battle, is never actually wasting his or her time, since the hero can cast a spell to return to a town to heal dead characters, buy new weapons, and so forth, and while his death marks the end of the battle, the game, rather than dumping the player back to the title screen, instead takes away half the player’s money. There are certainly some flaws in the gameplay mechanisms, such as area-affecting spells needing to be centered on characters and enemies in order to work, but the battle system is one of the game’s high points.

Interaction is acceptable, with a menu system that’s not too confusing, and while the player can’t see how new equipment affects the party’s stats before buying it, this really isn’t too big of a problem since generally, weapons sold in shops become more powerful the further the player advances through the game. There are, however, certain annoyances, such as the fact that the player can only check each character’s status at headquarters, the tedium at times of exchanging items among characters, and the endless barrage of dialogue when shopping and performing duties at churches, but still, the interface isn’t terribly game-breaking.

Being one of the first tactical RPGs to see its release in North America, Shining Force naturally deserves credit for creativity in terms of gameplay and story, with its mechanisms influencing its successors and in some instances a few other future tactical RPGs. It does borrow the idea from the Dragon Quest franchise that losing a battle cost a player half his or her money, but was otherwise a distinctive title in its time.

Story-wise, Shining Force doesn’t excel, somewhat suffering from the brevity that most RPG stories did in its time, although it certainly has more plot than many other RPGs did then, and a decent cast of characters that, while certainly not fully-developed, is quirky nonetheless. The general backstory largely serves to move things along throughout the game, alongside many story events that do contribute at least something to the plot. In the end, Shining Force doesn’t have a superb story, although it’s far from a distraction from the game.

The soundtrack has some nice pieces, such as the overworld theme, although their quality leaves something to desire, and the sound effects aren’t anything spectacular, at that; while the sound isn’t a draw to the game, it certainly isn’t a repellent.

The visuals were more than adequate for a Sega Genesis game, with decent colors, decently-proportioned character and monster sprites, nice character art, and solid combat visuals, despite some occasional palette swaps of the player’s characters in battle. Still, Shining Force is hardly an eyesore.

Finally, playing time can somewhat vary, taking somewhere from twenty to thirty hours depending upon several factors such as luck and how much the player needs to level up his or her characters to progress through story battles. In the end, Shining Force, while over a decade old, has aged gracefully, having some solid aspects such as its visuals and being more playable than even many modern tactical RPGs, and thus a nice diving board into the subgenre. It would receive a remake for the Gameboy Advance, although owners of the Nintendo Wii can check out the original version via the system’s Virtual Console.

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