Shining Force CD: Towards the Root of Evil

The Shining Force games were among the earliest tactical roleplaying games released in North America on the Sega Genesis, at which time both Nintendo and rival Sega were mulling compact-disc additions to their sixteen-bit systems. While such talks fell through at Nintendo, which would stick to cartridge-based media until they released the GameCube, Sega did follow through with its CD attachment, the Sega CD, which allowed for enhancements such as voice acting, better quality music, and, while not most of the time, better graphics. Shining was among the series to receive Sega CD installments, in its case remakes of the Shining Force Gaiden games for the Game Gear, only the second of which saw an official English release, collected as Shining Force CD. The first book, of course a remake of the first Shining Force Gaiden, Shining Force CD: Towards the Root of Evil, proves a good start for the side-story collection.

A score has elapsed since the events of the original Shining Force, with Anri, playable in the first entry, now Queen of Gardiana, although villains from the Kingdom of Cypress make her fall asleep, with a new Shining Force led by the enigmatic Nick and family members of characters from the initial title tasked to defeat the enemy and awaken the sleeping Queen. That many of Book #1’s party members are related to those from the original game is pretty much the only development the cast gets, although there is a twist partway involving Nick. Somewhat marring the continuity, moreover, is that one character that shows late into the game has his original Japanese name instead of the changed name he had in the English version of the initial Shining Force. The plot definitely isn’t bad, but could have definitely used a once-over.

Where Book #1 excels, much as in the original entry of the tactical franchise, is its turn-based battle system, with twenty-two story battles total that occur between cutscenes and towns, much simpler than in the first game, with a headquarters and sometimes a shop to purchase weapon upgrades. On the battlefield, characters and enemies take turns depending upon agility, with boss units sometimes getting multiple turns, thus making them risky to attack with characters low on HP. Combat is largely the same as in the original Shining Force, although some elements derive from the second game such as counterattacks, characters promotable upon reaching level ten, although waiting until higher-level weapons become available is a sound idea. Overall, aside from the lack of a turn-order meter and a chain of two battles at the end where egressing causes players to repeat the first fight, the battle system definitely helps the game.

Book #1 has a linear structure that pretty much prevents players from getting lost, with the menus being generally easy in spite of interrupting dialogues, and the tedium of reviving dead characters especially if all the player’s characters but Nick are deceased. A feature that makes the game somewhat ahead of its time is that if the player quits the game mid-battle, they can pick up where they left off when booting the game back up. Ultimately, the gaiden interfaces decently with the player.

Whereas Shining Force and its official numbered sequel contained somewhat inferior audio on the Genesis especially compared to the rival sixteen-bit Super NES, the CD medium allows for higher-quality music provided by Motoaki Takenouchi, which is simply excellent, with sweeping epic battle themes and other memorable tracks. There is also the rare voiceover narration that is further superb. Granted, the gaiden does retain primitive Genesis sounds when performing actions such as promoting and saving, but otherwise, the game is a delight to listen to.

The graphics are largely the same as in Shining Force II, with plenty anime character portraits and occasional full-fledged designs that grace cutscenes such as the pre-game intro, with a great attention to detail during the battle scenes that play whenever a unit, enemy or player, executes a command, with things such as actual dodge animations, although palette swaps abound with both sides’ units, though the player’s characters do change in appearance during the mentioned battle scenes when the player has promoted them. Overall, a decent-looking game.

In conclusion, Towards the Root of Evil is a great introduction to the Shining Force CD collection, retaining things that made the franchise great once upon a time such as the simple but enjoyable tactical battle system, with plentiful other positive aspects such as the general inability to lose oneself given the linear structure, the excellent soundtrack, the pretty graphics, and the adjustable difficulty providing plentiful lasting appeal. There are, however, some strikes against it such as the daunting endgame, the sometimes-unfriendly user interface, the weak narrative and inconsistent translation, the primitive sounds that clash with the orchestrated music, and occasional graphical palette swaps, but fans of the series are sure to delight in this gaiden, although given the continuity with the original Shining Force, newcomers may wish to start with its predecessor.

The Good:
+Simple but solid tactical battles.
+Impossible to get lost.
+Excellent soundtrack.
+Nice visuals.
+Adjustable difficulty provides plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Somewhat daunting endgame.
-Interface could have been user-friendlier in some regards.
-Weak story and localization.
-Genesis-era sounds clash with orchestrated soundtrack.
-Some visual palette-swapping.

The Bottom Line:
A good start to Shining Force CD.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Sega CD
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 6/10
Localization: 5/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 9/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 22 battles

Overall: 7.5/10

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