Shining Force has been around a long time. It’s noble roots date back to Sega’s glory days of the early 90’s on the Genesis. Debuting in 1993 for the Western world, it was our first major venture into the now ultra-popular Strategy/RPG genre. Such is a mighty torch to bear, and this classic game carries with it the weight of thousands of dedicated, and rabidly protective fans. Obviously the developers at Atlus, Sega, and Amusement Vision knew this, because this title has be recreated well.
Shining Force’s main attraction is its simplistic game play. Atlus acted nobly when they picked up this title and they seemed to have taken on the role of grounds-keepers rather than grave robbers. The familiar turn based strategy style has remained virtually untouched from the original. Minor menu upgrades actually aid in commanding characters during battle and makes organizing items less laborious.
The light-hearted feel and well-timed pacing are still intact. The main objective of traversing a rich country side while amassing an army of mythical proportions is still the primary focus and hasn’t lost any of it’s initial appeal. In almost every town you will find a new recruit hoping to take their revenge along side you or at least wanting to unleash some misplaced anger. Once again, Shining Force boasts over thirty diverse characters that are strewn about two great continents, making it easy to assemble a customized army. Plus, as an added bonus, Amusement Vision created three new fighters (one of which has new card-based battle system) and back stories for all 30+ playable warriors. All you have to do is get them to join, add them to your roster and waste hours of valuable real life time getting to know your virtual brothers in arms.
While battling enemies can be a no-brainer at times, we’re far from a button masher here. You will need to plan out plenty of your attacks and anticipate enemy movements ahead of time in order to keep less experienced fighters from cashing in too quickly. Amusement Vision also balanced the battle system so that the fights are now more equally weighted, at least for new players. As a long time fan, I quickly found it easy to take advantage of the new system. The slant is now more in your favor for gaining levels and getting that much needed class promotion. Don’t forget that experience gaining is the name of the game, so don’t be afraid to use your handy egress spell to redo fights over and over again. The appeal of Shining Force’s game play lies within its simplicity and old-school flavor, however the game is not without fault. Shining Force’s age is easily displayed through its limited scope of battle options. Basically, our choices are the predictable melee attack or the obligatory magic spell. The addition of the new character that utilizes the various cards that are hidden throughout the adventure adds a contemporary twist to this old favorite, but does little to bring it into the current decade. Nor is there reprieve when competing with current genre similar heavy-weights like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.
Graphically, Shining Force has undergone a make-over worthy of reality television. Amusement Vision was able to paint a pretty impressive looking cast of sprites and backgrounds that preserved the overall “shining” look and feel that fans of the series have come to love. While the graphics may not push the GBA to it’s limits, they are reminiscent of some classic hand drawn Sega Saturn games like Guardian Heroes and Albert Odyssey. The environments are big and bright and while not totally free-roaming, they come across with a vivid crispness. The visuals stand out as this title’s biggest improvement.
Disappointingly, the character animations have retained their manga-esque quality in that there are only a few frames of animation between each movement. In all fairness, I believe Amusement Vision opted for adding simple improvements while taking care not to compromise the original aesthetic design. And even though the game contains more centaurs and wizards than you can shake a stick at, none of the individual characters look like they came from a cookie-cutter outline. One thing the game’s graphic quality excels in is its sense of individuality. This level of attention fits in nicely with the aforementioned character background stories.
The prettiest sections of the game have to be the cinematic battle sequences. Switching from 3/4 overhead view to wide-screen mode, the close-ups display great detail of each character and enemy, their current weapon, what type of terrain they are positioned on, and even the surrounding environment. Each of these objects are imbued with such a fantastical and archaic appearance that they feel right at home in the Shining universe. The best part of these battle scenes is being able to see your characters up close and personal, right down to the links in their chain mail armor.
When it comes to the audio, there is not much improvement on the original. Personally, I love the soundtracks to these games, and even own some of the CD’s, but I cannot give too much praise for this title’s effort or lack there of. The music, while wonderfully orchestrated, has not been extended the same generosity as the graphics. Little or nothing has been done to improve or add to the electronic score. I was disappointed with the original due to its lack of varying music, and with this offering not much has changed. Granted, the quality of the songs have gone up slightly but sadly, the quantity remains the same. On a positive note however, the music plays out wonderfully. While the songs may be few and far in variation, they more than make up for it in their enduring and catchy qualities. The soundtrack dutifully performs its task, helping to epically drive battles onward and creating a sense of familiarity and comfort when wandering friendly, but foreign towns.
The sound effects leave much not only to be desired, but also to the imagination. From the simple squeaks and squishes used for footsteps to the not-so grandiose “woosh” we are treated to for the ultimate level 4 blaze spell, most of the effects are a let down. Yeah, kind of anti-climactic once you experience it. The sound effects honestly do not do the visuals justice and for that I say “boo!” While the par maybe sub for the majority of the sound effects, some of the battle clanks and character howls are fairly satisfying, giving you an added oomph when that successful strike lands. Other than that, I say turn the volume down and let the visuals do the talking.
Having been originally released long before million hour epic RPG’s became the standard, Shining Force hardly stacks up against most new releases. In reality though, a title of this size is perfect for quick on the go sessions. While a mere fifteen hours may get you through the quest, there is almost no compare to having a true Shining Force game in portable form. For true fans and junkies alike, there will be no disappointment here. Although, I would liked to have seen a two player battle mode via single or dual pak link, because when you spend hours training an army, it’ be nice to be able to pummel your friends afterwards!
The developers carefully gave this tired old tale a simple spin or two and even added new dialogue sequences from behind the scenes; the player is now privy to information once known only to Dark Sol himself. Without the proper context the story may seem weak or derivative when compared to current favorites, but that is why it is helpful to take into consideration that what may seem clich? to us now, was an original concept then simply because it had not been done before. When pondering this game for purchase or even renting, understand that the nostalgic appeal may be what most are seeking to gratify.
Mainly a game made for those already in the know, Shining Force: Resurrection Of The Dark Dragon meets any expectation a die-hard fan may have for this re-release. Shining Force fanboys are a demanding lot, and they expect their games to be handled with the utmost care. The developers did just that. They took the defining game of not just this series but the genre itself and gave it a much deserved booster shot. And while there is some dispute over the continuity of the new plot twists versus the original story, they were able to, without gimmicks or hype, face-lift an old treasure and give it a chance for new life. This remake proves that you need not be a Shining Force geek or even an avid game player to find yourself immersed in this simple yet vibrant world. For newbies or even younger siblings this game would be a perfect first RPG, and for veterans a trip down memory lane has never hurt anyone.