Shining in the Darkness

In the early days of the sixteen-bit console war, RPGs gradually begun to appear on the competing systems, including the Super NES, the Sega Genesis, and to a lesser extent the TurboGrafx-16. Among the first titles in the genre to appear on the Genesis in 1991 was Shining and the Darkness, changed to Shining in the Darkness for foreign release, commencing the long-running and multi-subgenre Shining series of RPGs, which proved to be an enjoyable start to the franchise.

Unlike its spiritual successors at the time, Shining in the Darkness is a dungeon-crawler and not a tactical RPG, with most of the action taking place in town and the giant dungeon the player must explore initially with a single character, which can account for some toughness in the beginning, especially since it can be a hassle to navigate the initial floor of the labyrinth unless the player keeps plenty of a certain item to view the in-game map, with limited inventory on part of all ultimately-acquired protagonists numbering three preventing this. As such, battles against multiple foes with a single character add to the title’s tedium.

Things become a little better once the player acquires the protagonist’s two allies, the attack and magic-balanced Milo and the dedicated magician Pyra, with the latter having a spell that costs one MP allowing the player to see the in-game map, although one can find it tedious to do so constantly without the assistant on a dungeon map from the Internet. Battles themselves are randomly-encountered and turn-based, with the player inputting commands for their party and letting the characters and their foes beat up one another in a round, with sometimes inconsistent turn order.

Pyra eventually acquires a spell nullifying encounters with weaker enemies, but even so, fixed encounters with powerful foes may occur at certain points, and navigating the labyrinth proper after passing all four initial characteristic trials can be slow-going at first, with this reviewer overlooking an item acquired from the palace that can allow players to transport to golden fountains. There’s a long stretch with occasional unavoidable and powerful foes between the last of these fountains and the last boss battles, but even so, the battle system mostly gets the job done, with a penalty of half the player’s money lost with the death of all characters eradicating some frustration affiliated with defeat in RPGs.

The game interface is burdened by technical restrictions of the game’s time, with endless dialogues, confirmations, and the need to go through repeats of speech in order to shop for new equipment or perform other duties. The aforementioned restriction of the map system detriments control as well, with the cartography itself largely being barebones, with only visited tiles indicated and no indication of walls, treasure chests, stairs, pits, and whatnot. Items don’t have descriptions for their uses, as well, and overall, interaction definitely leaves room for improvement.

The story, while following a damsel-in-distress formula akin to the original Dragon Quest, was actually pretty good for the time, with most characters, playable or not, having some kind of story behind them, and the translation fortunately doesn’t detriment the narrative, although it does have some noticeable rough spots, particularly regarding enemy names and flagrant Japanese kanji during the ending credits (which luckily have in-game translations). Ultimately, the plot is more than functional, but the localization is pretty much run-of-the-mill.

The soundtrack is decent, the town theme having three remixes, and the dungeon and battle themes being enjoyable, but the labyrinth music restarts after battle, accounting for a bit of repetition at times.

The graphics are pretty good for an early 16-bit RPG, with proportionate anime character designs, good colors, and believable dungeon terrain, but the game is mostly in a first-person perspective.

In the end, Shining in the Darkness is a surprisingly good effort for an early 16-bit roleplaying game, with things standing out such as its simple but effective battle system, a large labyrinth to explore, a decent plot, a nice soundtrack, and good visuals. There are areas, however, hampered by the period’s technical limitations, such as barebones in-game maps, alongside things such as a rough start, the run-of-the-mill localization, and the lack of any real lasting appeal. Even so, those interested in a blast from the past can download the first Shining game for the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console.

The Good:
+Battle system gets the job done.
+Large dungeon to explore.
+Actually has a decent plot for its time.
+Nice soundtrack.
+Good visuals.

The Bad:
-Rough start.
-Have to cast certain spell constantly to see location in dungeon.
-In-game map is barebones.
-Localization is run-of-the-mill for time.
-Little replay value.

The Bottom Line:
A decent start to Sega’s Shining series.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Sega Genesis
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 8/10
Localization: 5/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 4/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: No in-game clock.

Overall: 6.5/10

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