Game: Shining Force
System: Sega Genesis
Developer: Climax Entertainment & Camelot Software Planning
Year of Release: 1992
Players: 1-player Game
Let’s get this out of the way: Shining Force is one of my favorite games of all time. I first played it when I was 7 years old and I have finished it over 30 times with all possible combinations of characters imaginable. The first time I defeated Dark Dragon I remember getting cold chills and then starting the game over immediately. When I finally discovered Musashi, a hidden samurai character (on my 7th play through back in the days when the internet didn’t exist) I called my Dad at work to tell him. In other words, this game and I go way back. I have owned it on the Genesis, the Game Boy Advance, on PS3 (as part of the Genesis Collection) and again on PC (Genesis Collection as well) and I have beaten it at least 5 times on every system.
The story is simple fare and won’t win any awards, but it gets the job done. The Kingdoms of Guardiana and Runefaust are at war after King Ramladu turned evil. Many believe him to be a puppet King for his adviser, Darksol, seems to be the one pulling the strings and controlling the King through the use of a mysterious mask. You play as Max (default name, but you can rename him) who is a young swordsman from Guardiana assigned to lead the Shining Force, a group of young and inexperienced adventures who seek to stop Darksol from resurrecting the evil Dark Dragon. Over the course of the story you will travel all over the land defeating Darksol’s army and getting new warriors to join your cause.
There are a staggering number of characters to find and since you can bring only 11 of them with you to battle you will need to replay the game several times in order to fully use everyone to their maximum potential. Each character comes from one of several classes which include typical fantasy tropes like warriors, knights and mages, as well as more exotic classes like birdmen, samurai and walking steam-suits (no kidding!). Each class has strength and weaknesses and mixing and matching characters to come up with a balanced group is key to survive the toughest battles. For example, warriors are your tanks: they deal high damage and can take a mean blow but have slow mobility and can’t cast magic spells. Archers can attack from range but have weak defense. Healers can heal(duh) and cure status ailments but are weak attackers and have low defense. Birdmen can fly which gives them tremendous mobility but are very weak especially against range attackers.
Battles are turn-based and similar to the Nintendo classic Fire Emblem. The movement phase takes place from a top-down perspective. Each character can move a certain amount of squares and terrain affects mobility (it’s more difficult to move through forests and mountains than plains for example). Once you choose to attack or cast a spell the perspective changes to an animated cut-scene of the character performing the action, which was very unique at the time. Enemies are just as varied as your characters with their own strengths and a weakness, which means you, need to think before moving and attacking. The A.I. is smart enough to attack your weakest and most useful characters if leaved exposed and some enemies can cast spells that target multiple characters at once.
When characters reach Level 10 they can be promoted to a different, stronger class. This once again presents a dilemma since promoted characters go back to Level 1 and become weaker than they were at Level 10 in the previous class but with the potential to become stronger in their new class than they could ever become in their original class. Promoted characters can also use equipment that the base classes can’t.
The graphics and sound are comparable to the best in the 16-bit RPG genre. Colorful and distinctive characters and a suitably heroic score are the strongest points. The only faults are repetitive tiles in the environments and that the game sometimes recycles character models with different colors (also known as palette-swapping) to indicate a stronger version of an enemy.
Although the game is linear it does have notable replay value. Exploration is limited but there are hidden characters and treasure chests to find. Because the game has around 30 characters and you can only take 11 into battle with you (and because it requires a significant time investment to make those 11 strong enough to beat the game) the replay value comes from beating the game multiple times with different characters and seeing how they turn out. Some like Pelle and Gort will become instant favorites while others like Arthur and Anri will be a real challenge to turn into something useful. Seeing one of your weakest characters evolve into one of the most powerful is deeply satisfying.
Shining Force is an all-time classic that fans of strategy and RPG games need to experience. It’s the game that got me into RPG’s as is very accessible, especially compared to the less forgiving Fire Emblem series. Thumbs up.
Final Score: 9.0/10