I'd better level with you flat out: if you have played the first Shining Force game for the Sega Genesis, then you know EXACTLY what to expect with Shining Force II. The game is more or less the same structure as the first. Heck, I could just copy and paste several of the paragraphs from my review here and I'd still be accurate. Of course, that would also be rather lazy of me, wouldn't it? Plus, I used the term "dropped some cheddar 'pon da ground" in that review, so it's probably wisest to avoid doing so. It is, nonetheless, sad that there are no improvements or major changes to the core of Shining Force II to make it stand out over its predecessor. Even Mega Man games tried to add SOMETHING new, but not Shining Force II. Nope!
Shining Force II is a strategy-based RPG whose battles take place in a variety of locations but always subject to a grid-based structure. That is to say, you can't just walk around willy-and/or-nilly on the battlefield. Instead, movement is limited to seemingly invisible square placements for standing. As it is turn-based, you'll have a change to move around and do what good warriors do, just as the enemies in the field will. You can attack a foe within range (or cast spells, if that's your forte), put up your dukes in defense, pull an item out of your bag (each character can hold up to four items in their little pouches), or simply stand there, grinning like a moron and doing nothing for the team. It's up to you! As you fight alongside your shining brethren, you'll gain experience points for your actions, helping you level up and gain additional stats, which definitely comes in handy because later on, enemies will definitely do their best to try and kick your behind. Shining Force also introduced something called "promotions", where you can change to a higher class after reaching Level 20; Shining Force II keeps this aspect intact, also adding well-hidden items that can be used to promote characters to unique classes.
Wherever there are ghastly things that need to be stabbed and set ablaze, you'll be there!
"...So what exactly is NEW in Shining Force II? It can't literally be the exact same game. No publisher is THAT cruel." Well, unusually-placed quotation, to start, the game is far more open-ended. It was practically impossible to backtrack in the original Shining Force; once you left a town, you'd be more than likely never to visit it again. In Shining Force II, however, the overworld to the entire game is interconnected, so you can go back to most areas without much difficulty, aside from a bit of extra footwork. As well, there are far more battles in all, thus making Shining Force II a longer game, and the battles often take place in between points on the map, which serve as blockades between plot points that must be overcome (and can be used to level up).
A new storyline also has been introduced and, surprisingly, the main character is NOT a redhead! In fact, there are no redheads in the Shining Force at all. That's right: no gingers allowed! Anyway, after two sacred jewels are stolen from the Tower of the Ancients in Granseal by a thief, Zeon the Devil King is revived from his dormant sealed state. Other lesser devils enter the world in the process. A young man, Bowie (not to be confused with David, the rocker), and his companions soon finds themselves trapped amidst a world of trouble when they investigate the opened tower. But when a giant unnatural earthquake makes Granseal Island a disaster waiting to happen and all its inhabitants are forced to flee, the quest becomes clear: make it back to Granseal and reseal the Devil King! ...As opposed to Shining Force, in which the wicked Dark Dragon is purposely revived. This one's accidental, see? Accidental!
The graphics have the same level of detail as before: nothing spectacular, but at the same time, nothing that will make your eyes bleed. The environments are fairly standard and dull. The individual character portraits are FAR more detailed, though, and as always, the profile shots of the actual strike on the enemy (or its strike back on you) is well-animated with wonderful illustration. But I will say this: the music in Shining Force II definitely tops that of the first Shining Force. It's a bit more lively this time around; I dare you NOT to be charmed by the cheerful in-town music! I also appreciate the extended length of the battle music; it makes it much harder to tire of it. And I did not tire.
If you loved Shining Force, then you'll certainly dig Shining Force II. The polish level is about the same (grammatical/spelling errors appear at about the same rate) and you'll definitely feel right at home with its extensive similarities. Or, if you just have an affinity for strat-RPGs like Disgaea and Final Fantasy Tactics, this will be right up your alley, though distilled and simplified. For those who want to give it a try but lack a Sega Genesis console (or simply can't find the cartridge for a good price), you also have the Wii Virtual Console, Steam, and Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 as cheaper alternatives. So... there's really no excuse now, is there? Go get 'em, tiger!