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CONSOLE: PlayStation 2 DEVELOPER: Nextech/Amusement Vision PUBLISHER: Sega
RELEASE DATE (NA): March 22, 2005 GENRE: Action-RPG
// review by SoyBomb

A revamp that will make fans of olde shed tears.

This is NOT your older brother's Shining Force.

You take control of a young man named Xion who appears on the shore of the city of Shildia in a daze, struck with an unfortunate case of amnesia. Rescued by Elwyn, an elven girl, he is taken to the Heroes' Hearth Inn to rest. He is discovered to possess the legendary Twin Dragon Rings, which grant much power to its users and can even link two individuals together for even greater strength. Such power is very convenient to have at this time, as the Kingdom of Runevale is about to declare war on Shildia, and they will need as many allies as they can get, what with their guardian army having cowardly disbanded. Harnessing the power of the Twin Dragon Rings, Xion and the varied folk who eventually agree to join the ranks of the army, the Weissritter, soon learn the true meaning behind the war and venture out to prevent any further destruction or worldly annihilation.

With an affinity for the Shining Force games of olde in my heart, I stepped bravely into the world of Shining Tears. It is quite a far step from its Genesis console brethren: there is no flame-haired hero, and the gameplay no longer reflects a tactical RPG background. Instead, Shining Tears employs a hack'n'slash style of gameplay, beginning a trend for subsequent games. With but a map to follow and only specific points you can visit at any given time, Xion will be sent out on assignments to rid areas of their evil infestations. He can bring one ally with him to battle, and he must choose wisely based on each character's abilities. Once out in battle, you have but your wits before you as countless droves of enemies beckon to be decapitated by Xion's mighty sword. Sadly, that's all it is: a game of slicing and dicing. There can be some strategy involved, as groups of enemies only attack when Xion & Co. are within a certain visual range. Otherwise, they stay put and you can spend time loafing and planning your next move. It's important to know when NOT to rush into a gaggle of knights or a flock of hawk warriors.

With only one unit to back you up, Xion and his comrade-in-arms can perform Link Skills, working together to take out enemies with some magical spell or funky technique. One word describes this ability: useless. In difficult situations, there really isn't the time or the need to surround a group of enemies with a flashing circle and then rain a mild barrage of terror upon their heads. It's just more efficient and effective to slash your way through your enemies; it's not as though their actions are hard to predict. Xion's Thousand Thrust single skill (where he just waves his sword around like a crazy person) will, for the most part, serve you well enough as your partner either "tries" to back you up or sits tight while you take care of business. In fact, the A.I. by itself isn't particularly impressive anyhow; many a healing item was spent keeping them afloat. One nice saving grace is that a second player can gain control of your ally for co-operative play, making them far more effective in battle (potentially, provided your partner doesn't stink as much as the A.I.).

With eight total characters (with you only being able to take two out at a time), leveling up can get tedious. Using a magic mirror in your headquarters, you can head back to an alternate version of your town to access previous battles from your "memories" for practicing and leveling up. Any character that gains a level increases in stats a little bit; you're also given points to allocate towards further small stat increases AND improving your active and passive skills (the latter being abilities you simply have, such as HP regeneration or increased agility). But even if you are overwhelmed and overpowered, death isn't exactly the end of the world. If the main player is defeated, you may lose much of the experience, gold, and items you earned, but everything you killed in the level will remain dead when you return. That's one way to get through the game if grinding isn't your thing.

Hack'n'slash, hack'n'slash, that's all you need to do.

All playable characters can be equipped with weaponry, armor, and accessories, most of which will be picked up during battle. Most of them will need to be identified before use by an appraiser (how fun!). You can also upgrade your equipment courtesy of the local smithy. As a backup, you can carry up to nine of any given item, be it for healing or status repair. In tough situations, they run out quickly.

I wanted to love Shining Tears much like the Shining games on the Sega Genesis, but I just can't. The gameplay itself isn't terrible, though it's ultimately a relatively shallow system after a while. I would have loved more exploration like its later PlayStation 2 brethren, which at least offered an interconnected world, rather than just pointing to somewhere on a map and going there (sometimes several times or with terrain layouts repeating themselves). And you are forced to play as Xion through the entire main quest; you can only test out other characters in those mirror stages for leveling up. So you're basically stuck as a swordsman, whereas Shining Force Neo, with its similar gameplay and same-year release date, allowed the main character to equip any weapon he desired.

Yet if I had to summarize this game in two words, I'd say this: "Now Loading." Now loading. It's now loading. The game is now loading. The game spends half its time loading! When you move from inside of the headquarters to the next part of town, you have to sit through a "Now Loading" screen for a while. From one part of town to another? "Now Loading". From the map screen to a specific battle? Lots of "Now Loading", followed by the characters putting on their Twin Dragon Rings, followed by more load time. Finished the first part of a battle scene and ready to move on? Better get your loading cap on! The amount of time spent loading in Shining Tears is outrageous, if you didn't already catch on. It's a blemish, to say the least.

It would also have been nice if a bit more attention was paid to the presentation style. The entire game is two-dimensional, down to predrawn backgrounds, sprites for characters, and hand-drawn close-ups during dialogue. I don't mind that at all; it can be quaint. But why is there such rough slowdown during some battles when it's only sprites? This is a sixth-generation console we're talking about here. If it can run some of the finest-looking games of its time, why can't it handle sprites without issue? The music is fairly decent, but the only voice acting to be found are the grunts and macho hollering upon the battlefield. Shining Tears also sports an interface very reminiscent of Shining Force games from a decade earlier, but you still have to dig through several layers of options just to pick an item or get to a status screen. A bit more streamlining goes a long way.

Shining Tears isn't a terrible game by any means. Those who love simple hack'n'slashers may get a kick out of this game, probably because that's more or less what it is. But a traditional "Shining" game, it is not; those expecting something in the same vein as games from earlier days will be sorely disappointed. Shining Tears also has a few too many flaws to classify it as a bona fide classic, so what we're left with is an average game in a sea of many outstanding titles, trying to stay afloat in a pool of shining tears.

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