While Super Nintendo owners back in the day had a smorgasbord of some of the best RPGs ever made to choose from, RPG fans with a Sega Genesis had very slim pickings. When I first played Shining Force as a kid, I didn’t even know what an RPG was, but I was instantly hooked. The fantasy setting, the wide cast of characters, and a plot far more complex than anything I’d encountered in a video game before, it all blew me away. But returning to the game now as a far more experienced gamer, I’m sad to report it just doesn’t hold up to modern standards. It’s not a bad game, especially for one that came out so early in the Genesis’ lifespan, but everything about it is very bare bones.
The story is standard RPG fare. A villain named Darksol wants to harness the power of the Ancients to take over the world and it’s up to you and the titular Shining Force to stop him. You travel from town to town fighting Darksol’s minions and recruiting new members to your party (30 in total including hidden characters). Each party member has their own backstory and reasons for joining the Shining Force. They’re pretty much all just fantasy cliches, but it’s still a nice touch. Unfortunately, once they join your party, none of the characters get any more development.
If you’ve ever played a tactical RPG before (think Final Fantasy Tactics or Advanced Wars), you know what to expect from the combat. Characters take turns moving around a grid attacking one another. There are archers, mages, healers, even a couple of flying characters, but everything is very barebones. The enemy AI is completely braindead. Most of them don’t even move until you get into attack range and then they walk up to the nearest character attack and repeat.
Even using an emulator with a fast-forward feature, the battles take forever. Each time you or an enemy attacks, the view switches to a one-on-one fight. The sprite art is genuinely really nice for these parts, which is good because you are going to be seeing these same animations over and over and over again. There’s no way to turn them off either.
If your main character, Max, dies in battle you get sent back to the nearest priest (who acts as the savepoint) but on the plus side you get to keep all your experience and gold. If any of your other party members die in battle they can be revived by the priest for 10 gold times their level. I always had way more gold than I needed so that wasn’t ever a problem. In addition to saving and reviving your party members, the priest can also remove status ailments and upgrade your characters’ classes when they reach a high enough level.
Each character can hold up to four items including weapons and other equipables. You have buy items from shops one at a time and select which character to give them to, so stocking up on supplies takes forever. You can also find items in chests, but you can only open them if Max has a free item slot. You’ll want Max to have some healing items since he’s the only character who needs to survive in battle, but every time you find a chest, you’ll need to open the menu and give his items to someone else just to open it.
Each party member as well as some major NPCs have their own animated portraits for when they’re speaking or when you select them in the menu and these are all really well done. However the rest of the sprite work in the game is really basic. The same five or six NPC sprites are used over and over in every town without so much as a pallet-swap. Even some supporting characters have the same NPC sprites as random townsfolk.
Repeating art is one thing, but the same music is used over and over as well. In battle, anytime a character attacks it switches to a short attack theme and then the main battle music starts over from the beginning when the attack is finished. Every. Single. Time. If you’re going to play this game, I recommend muting it and listening to something else.
Shining Force isn’t a terrible game, especially for the time, and it still has a lot of charm. (I love how whenever you sell something to a merchant he says “It’s mine, all mine.”) However, its age really shows. Shining Force received a number of sequels as well as a GBA remake, which hopefully fix the problem I had with this one. There’s a really good game buried somewhere in Shining Force; it just needs a little polish to bring it out. Shining Force will always hold a special place in my heart as the first RPG I ever played, but even with the benefit of nostalgia, I really can’t recommend it when there are so many other tactical RPGs out there more worthy of your time.
Final Rating: 3/5