Ghosts of Games Past: Shining Force 1
Diving into the backlog of the Sega Genesis has been a fascinating experience. Even for a system that (for me) was synonymous with video games, it continues to surprise me with how many different games it had. My stock and trade growing up was in platformers and action games, but it never hurts to try something new. Shining Force has been quite different.
The game puts you in the role of a young knight, charged to prevent the evil kingdom of Runefaust from resurrecting the evil Dark Dragon. You accomplish that goal with the aid of your army: the Shining Force. It’s worth noting that the game — on a surface level — does have similarities to (one of my personal favorite series of all time) Fire Emblem. They’re both turn-based grid strategy RPGs with fantasy trappings (albeit with a smattering of sci-fi in Shining Force’s case), they both have you recruiting an army to lead into battle, and they even have similar art styles. However, that’s where the similarities end. Shining Force is quite different from its rival.
Shining Force’s gameplay is a study in how to over-complicate something that should be smooth. It’s simple to get around in the overworld, and the game’s solution to any situation seems to be menus. I understand how complaining about menus in an RPG sounds ludicrous, but there is a fine line between organized and chaotic design. Every action you take in Shining Force is hidden behind a menu screen. Talking, examining something, and even having to hand over items to allies just to use them (as opposed to a dedicated item storage). This applies to battles as well. Little things you would expect like being able to view how far enemies can move, viewing how far you can actually move in hostile terrain, and enemy ranges are not available. Not every game needs to be the same of course; but for a game of its era, it’s very unfriendly toward providing the player necessary help.
It isn’t all bad of course. Setting aside the problematic UI, Shining Force is a very addicting game to play. The number of units you can take with you into the field caps at 12, you’re still given a great deal of firepower, as well as space to maneuver around the field. While the lack of clarity on movement range is bothersome, the game still enough things at you to keep you busy. Varying enemy types, hostile terrain, as well as movement and extra attacks being tied to the RNG rather than solely being fixed. I’ll also note that one benefit with Shining Force over the older Fire Emblem games is that you can retreat. You’re not forced to stay in a battle, or punished for retreating. The game’s battle system encourages you to attack first since generally your enemy generally cannot retaliate, but that applies to you. As a result, simple mistakes can cost you units. It’s simply better to have all your preparation taken care of before you enter the battle.
The game also wouldn’t be half as compelling if it didn’t boast such great graphics and a fantastic soundtrack to boot. Part of the enjoyment since I started playing the game has just been looking at the maps and listening to the soundtrack themes. That the game also shows your battles complete with changing environments, gives a unique visual flair to what would otherwise just be static pixels moving on a map. Seeing what’s over the horizon and a new tune can be just as interesting as the next storyline twist after all.
It’s undeniable that I had some critical thoughts for Shining Force. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t love it. All told, it has been a difficult game to put down since I started playing it. It has a great deal of divergence from my beloved Fire Emblem, that doesn’t also mean that it isn’t compelling in its own right. There’s always enough room for games in the same genre and I’m glad that I’ve gotten a chance to dive into its world. Granted, I’m not certain how much I want to dive into the sea of spin-offs.
What do you think of Shining Force? Share any memories or other thoughts in the comments below
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