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CONSOLE: Game Gear DEVELOPER: Sonic! Software Planning PUBLISHER: Sega
// review by SoyBomb


Shining Force was one of the most interesting and unique games on the Sega Genesis. There had never been quite an accessible and alluring strategy RPG for home consoles prior, and this, along with its many sequels, solidified the "Shining" name as a relevant landmark in video game history. Naturally, Sega was going to cash in on this a bit more by bringing the Force to its fledgling handheld, the Game Gear. There were actually two Shining Force games on the system in Japan, called Shining Force Gaiden and Shining Force Gaiden II. Fans across the pond only received the second game, which was retitled Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya.

In the game's introduction, we meet with a group of goons from Iom to wish to revive the demon (also conveniently named Iom). They have already sacrificed a king, but the resurrection is incomplete without the Sword of Hajya. It is Prince Nick of Cypress, the hero of the previous game (that we were never privy to play), who currently has the sword but cannot wield it because his arm had been turned to stone. As a messenger of Iom comes to Cypress seeking the sword, Nick and the Cypress army head out to Iom for battle. Only a select few are left behind to guard the castle in Nick's absence. This is where our story begins: the castle is, naturally, attacked by monsters, and we are placed in the boots of Deanna, a swordsman. Yes, apparently Deanna is now a boy's name.

The meat of the game is similar to its Genesis counterparts. In typical strategy RPG fashion, it's you versus the many enemies that litter the path ahead, all trying to prevent you from breaking through their defenses and succeeding in your quest. You can bring up to twelve different party members to the field (or fewer, since it isn't until relatively late before you have enough fighters to fill the roster), and each member and enemy takes turns either moving about, attacking a nearby character, or casting a spell (either offensive or defensive). The more a character attacks or uses spells, the more experience points he or she gains. Leveling up helps improve attack, defense, HP, and agility (or, as they like to call it here, "quickness" — how succinct) and increases your ability to survive and bust skulls out in the field.

One major omission in this handheld adventure is the lack of exploration elements. In console Shining games, you would be able to visit towns, chat with the colourful locals, and shop to your heart's content. And in one instance, you could even be temporarily transformed into a chicken. Sword of Hajya does away with all that extra fluff and leaves you with pure battle scenarios with brief interludes of plot in between. Battle, plot, battle. But that would be pretty empty, which is why you are often given the opportunity to deal with matters of the party in between scenarios or by casting Egress to exit a battle in its wake. An ugly shopkeeper lets you stock up on the latest and greatest weaponry, as well as useful items. You can also rearrange your party, equip and shift items between characters, check their stats, and even revive them had they fallen (for a price, of course). Like other Shining games, you can also promote characters once they reach Level 10 to a more powerful vocation.

They may be small, but they're still a Force to be reckoned with!

There aren't too many problems with the game, although it could be argued that spells which advance to Level 3 potency are terribly overpowered. As soon as I was attacked by a Demon Master late in the game, I knew he'd be a thorn in my side (and he was for several scenarios in a row). Possessing the dreaded Freeze 3 spell, the Demon Master can wipe out a significant number of your characters in one fell swoop, even if they are at full health. It's just that dangerous! Luckily you, as well, can learn Level 3 spells, but it does add a feeling of imbalance to the game knowing that mages, both good and bad, can easily define the outcome of a battle scenario. All the powers in the world can't save you from this; better tactics may just be the key here.

Another oddity is the naming of characters. Aside from the strange "Deanna" fiasco, many of the game's enemies pull their names from Shining Force II, despite not actually being the same characters at all, making for an unusual string of discontinuity. Names like Jaha, Luke, Chester, May, and Slade are conveeeeeeeeniently borrowed. Creativity is a cruel mistress to tame.

As expected, the game's graphics took a hit. The individual sprites are far more shrunken and, as such, lack great detail. You can definitely tell one person from the next, though. Each character also has a more detailed portrait to show off their wonderful — or not so beautiful — mug. The soundtrack is also less varied with a very limited selection that repeats itself often, meaning turning down the volume or replacing it with your favourite Ace Of Base track might be a point of order.

All in all, although Sword of Hajya has indeed diminished or removed part of what made the series so popular in the first place, the primary elements remain. The battles are as robust and challenging as ever, and there are a good number of them to keep you busy for well over a dozen hours of play. The game is worth tracking down for Shining fans and strategy RPG fans alike; it's available on the 3DS eShop for an impressively low price and worth your hard-earned sixpence. The storyline for this game, as well as the first Shining Force Gaiden, is compiled and revised in Shining Force CD for the Sega CD, if you want an option for your ailing Genesis.

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