Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon

In 1991, Sega started their Shining series on the Genesis system with Shining in the Darkness, a traditional turn-based roleplaying game. Two years later, they released its first sequel, which was quite different as a tactical RPG, Shining Force, one of the first of the genre to see its release in North America. A little over a decade later, the game saw an enhanced remake for the GameBoy Advance entitled Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon, which mostly provides a solid tactical experience, with the storyline in particular benefiting the most from the rerelease.

As in most tactical RPGs good and bad, fights are necessary to advance the main storyline, with the player brining twelve of an army of characters into combat to engage in battle with the enemy, with each unit taking their turn according to agility, and a new turn order meter showing who goes when. Characters can execute commands such as attacking, using MP-consuming magic, each spell able to have multiple adjustable levels affecting area of effect and strength, using one of four equipped items, or ending their turn after moving around. Allies obtain experience from performing any action, and level upon reaching a hundred points, proportionately gained depending upon their current level.

When characters reach level ten, the player can promote them to an advanced version of their current class, although doing so is only recommended when weapons only upper classes can equip become available, or in the case of allies that don’t wield weapons, until they reach their initial class’s maximum of twenty levels, necessary to maximize stat increases from leveling. Victory comes when the player fulfills the battle’s objective, either killing all enemies or a specific one, and defeat comes when protagonist Max meets his end, with the player consequentially losing half their current money (although one can soften this blow by putting money into the bank at headquarters).

The battle system works well for the most part, given that the game is pretty much a straightforward tactical RPG, and the difficulty really depends upon which characters the player puts into their party. The playable cast is massive, so this question can definitely be perplexing, with many having their advantages and disadvantages, such as archers promoted being able to kick butt from a distance and magicians being effective against enemy clusters, though the player has to center spells on enemies or allies to execute them. A few fights can also somewhat drag on, given the territory that affects character movement, but otherwise, combat is the remake’s highlight.

The game has a linear structure that keeps players always moving in the right direction, and the menu system is easy to get a handle of, though doing things such as reviving all deceased characters at churches can take a bit of a while, especially late in the game when Max outpowers his confederates, and buying and selling equipment and items can take some time, given the dialogues and confirmations when doing so. Even so, the remake interfaces decently with the player.

Although the original Shining Force was fairly unremarkable in terms of narrative, what with the restrictions of 16-bit videogame systems, its rerelease ups the ante in this area, with the gameplay actually being best described as “rewarding” in this area, with the character getting additional tidbits about specific characters that they use often in battle, and in some cases backstory, although not all allies universally provide their backdrops. The translation is above average, as is the case with most Atlus games, although it still retains the “1 experience points” howler, and changing the name Lug to Luke, in one character’s case, creates an inconsistency in a game later in the Shining chronology, not to mention another character named Luke, although the localization isn’t a big detriment.

The soundtrack is fairly enjoyable, with a few tracks such as the introductory backstory theme being a bit longer than they were occasionally, given the GameBoy Advance’s expanded audio capabilities compared to those of the Sega Genesis (which wasn’t that remarkable at least compared to the Super NES), but the portable system’s audio graininess detriments a few pieces, and while the quality could have been better, the music is fairly good.

The graphics also received an overhaul, with some areas looking better, such as the scenes that play whenever characters or enemies attack, although the anatomy of character and enemy sprites is worse than in the Genesis version, and the player’s characters and foes don’t have dodge animations during the aforementioned fighting cutscenes like they do in Shining Force CD and Shining Force II. Even so, the environs and colors look nice, and the visuals don’t terribly distract from the player’s experience, good or bad.

The remake doesn’t have an internal game clock, so total playing time is indeterminate, although fortunate players may make it through in about twenty-five battles, somewhere up to seventy-five if they constantly experiment with different characters and playstyles like this reviewer.

Overall, Resurrection is for the most part a solid remake that hits many of the right notes, particularly with regards to its simple but enjoyable tactical battle system, the straightforward structure, the excellent story and character development, the nice soundtrack and visuals, and plentiful replay value. It does have some rough spots, largely regarding its combat engine, given things such as the potential unbalanced nature of the game, occasional prolonged battles, the weak quality of the music, and the oddities of the revamped visuals. Even so, those that missed out on the Genesis version in the system’s heyday definitely owe it to themselves to try this remake.

The Good:
+Solid tactical battle system with plenty room for error.
+Linear structure keeps players moving in the right direction.
+Great story and character development.
+Nice soundtrack and visuals.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Unbalanced in terms of character effectiveness in combat.
-Can be hard to level weaker characters.
-Fights can be long.
-Weak soundtrack quality.
-Chibi sprites look asinine.

The Bottom Line:
A great remake.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: GameBoy Advance
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 9/10
Localization: 8/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Depends on party
Playing Time: 25-75 battles

Overall: 8.5/10

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