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RELEASE DATE (NA): July 1993 GENRE: Strategy RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Raise your sword in the ai-ir!

In a market filled with Marios, Sonics, Links, and Alex Kidds... yeah... it was time for something different from the norm. Long before the new wave of games in the Shining series took the concept in a new direction, such as Shining Soul and the already-reviewed Shining Force Neo, the name "Shining Force" was known for its enduring blend of strategy and RPG elements that few console games could match, let alone appeal to a larger demographic than the hardcore strategy game lovers. This is not the first game of the series, though. Nay, that honour goes to Shining In The Darkness, which appeared on the Sega Genesis a couple of years earlier. But this is the iteration that made the series popular, stamping its place in gaming history as a must-have title for the Sega Genesis. Frankly, in my humble opinion, it's one of the best games for the console and certainly one that need not be passed over.

Our journey covers the adventures of Max (which seems to be the typical hero name of many Shining Force titles) in his fight to protect the people of Guardiana and its neighbouring towns and villages from slowly approaching evil activity. The leaders of the opposing kingdom of Runefaust wish to control the entire land and wipe out its inhabitants by unlocking the Seal of the Ancients and resurrecting the legendary Dark Dragon, a three-headed cursed being once banished away by the good Shining Force of Guardiana that is capable of viciously violent wrongdoing. Now this would normally be a particularly arduous task for one man alone. Luckily, the Shining Force team is made up of more than one person. Yes -- in fact, as you meet more worthy individuals on your travels, you could potentially have up to thirty members of your team, ready for the helm of battle! Become friends with a swarm of axe warriors, knights, healers, magicians, and even a hamster! Yes, that's right, a hamster. Oh, Jogurt...

Ah, but hold on! I can read your mind like a book with large print. You might be a bit concerned about how to control up to thirty characters at a time. Let me quell your fears by noting two eminent factors. First of all, although you may have thirty members of the Shining Force handy, you can only select up to twelve for battle. The rest have to wait around at headquarters until you summon them... IF you summon them to join your fights. And secondly, even though twelve fighters is still a bulky amount of warriors to control, note that you only have to handle one at a time. Let me explain the battle system a bit more so you get a better feel for whatever the heck I'm talking about.

Shining Force is a turn-based strat-RPG. As such, in each battle, you are placed at one end of a field while the enemies are scattered strategically in various places, usually closer to the opposite end. Every character gets to take their turn in a specific order, based on their agility statistic. During a character's turn, you can do a number of things. You can move around a bit more on the field go into fisticuffs with an enemy within your attack range, use an item of choice, put up your best defense stance, or...well, do nothing, if you so desire! You can also check the map to see exactly what you're up against. But your goal is basically to defeat all the enemies on the field OR to defeat a specific one, perhaps a boss or a particularly powerful character pertinent to the game's ever-lengthening storyline. It's pretty much a case of who's stronger than whom. Now, you can also escape battles if you feel you are overwhelmed or if you'd like to play it over again. This is the key for building up your characters -- have them fight over and over, gaining experience and improving their stats. As well, have no fear about your characters perishing in battle. They can be revived at an altar (for a price, though eventually you should be able to easily afford it). But be careful, for if the main character dies, the battle ends and you lose half your wallet stash. Dagnabbit, I dropped some cheddar 'pon da ground! There are a few tricky battles, partially due to the lay of the terrain and partially due to the rough conduct of the enemies, that might cause some grief, but for the most part, it's only a moderately difficult game, provided you try your best and send only skilled individuals to war.

So where do these thirty members of the Shining Force come from? Well, some of them will come to your aid as part of the plot, while others will need to be recruited manually by finding them in the various towns you visit. You'll have to do some serious digging to get EVERYBODY. But even if you don't find everyone, you're more than likely to have a pretty decent fighting force, provided you build up the characters as much as necessary. And it pretty much IS necessary to level up characters, lest you wish to die repeatedly when certain foes consistently overpower you. It's also a wise idea to eventually promote your characters, thanks to the squinty-eyed but lovable priest at the altar. After you reach a certain level (Level 10, I believe, though you can go as high as Level 20 unpromoted), each character (well, ALMOST every character) is eligible to be promoted to a more glorified title, perhaps some improvements in stats -- and occasional decreases that will balance out and eventually increate -- with some leveling up, and greater abilities to be learned later on. Some promoted characters can become real powerhouses, so don't sell this feature short. ...Or they could have just allowed leveling up past Level 20 and removed this entirely. Ah well, maybe I am too finicky.

If I have one major grievance with Shining Force, it's the awful menu system. It is by far the most extremely cumbersome apparatus I have encountered in a video game; the developers could have figured out a much better way to incorporate it into the game. Without a proper text-based menu, even simple tasks take far too long. With only a small four-icon system to work with, it can't possibly be deemed user-friendly. You'll have to buy one item at a time and then allot it to a character. Transferring items between characters is not a breeze in the slightest -- more like a hurricane up the backside (and if each character can only hold four things, including equipped items, you'll be shuffling everything around frequently to ensure there's room for integral items). Other tasks on your agenda, such as equipping items, casting spells, and are buried deep in this conundrum of a menu system. Could've been prepared with much more ease. Is this the price we pay for strat-RPGs on consoles in that day and age: convoluted menus?

While the gameplay was fairly revolutionary for its time on a console, the graphics were hardly anything worth phoning home about. The landscapes and towns are not detailed very much, and get used to the same old townspeople hopping from one village to the next. It's only when are in the midst of battle, and during your turn when you complete an action and you get to see characters and foes up close is there any notable detail. However, I'm proud to report that the soundtrack is very full and mood-fitting. It's fairly cheery and has a cartoonish vibe to it to coat the less-than-completely-serious undertones of this game.

If you have at least a modest amount of mental strategy and reason among your baubles, as well as some solid devotion to level-grinding (as is the way of many RPG-related expeditions), then Shining Force will probably be an excellent choice for your gaming library. It has become one of the unsung heroes of the Sega Genesis, falling to the wayside behind such hits at Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage, and...dare I say it... Ecco the Dolphin. But please don't ignore a marvelous experience such as this. If you can't find the original cartridge, fear not! It is readily available on the Wii's Virtual Console and on Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, so everyone of this generation can use the Force!

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