by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I did not own a SEGA console as a child, and in fact, did not really have easy access to one until well into adulthood. That was when my roommate brought home the SEGA Dreamcast, which was a wonderful machine. The SEGA Genesis was a powerful machine in its own right, but I owned an NES, then SNES, then the Playstation, and each had incredible roleplaying games that I could not stop playing. But the SEGA had some pretty incredible RPGs that I missed out on for a very long time. In particular, the Shining series is one of the longest-running RPG series for the SEGA consoles that I can think of. In fact, we recently saw a remake of the latest Shining game, Shining Resonance. Shining Force was special; it was a turn-based strategy RPG, which we had not seen the likes of quite yet. In Japan it was less special, thanks to Fire Emblem being alive and well, on their second game in 1992, when Shining Force was released.
That in no way takes away from the impact Shining Force had though! It was able to compete with Fire Emblem and continue on to this day. In America, it was absolutely unique. We had a wealth of turn-based RPGs, and a few map-based games (but most of those were terrible. Godzilla 2? Rampart?) but nothing at all like Shining Force. The story was fairly simple: the evil Kane leads a force trying to open the Shining Path and awaken the Dark Dragon. Max, the hero of our story is a capable swordsman, but as his homeland is ravaged by the armies of Runefaust, he needs to set out and get justice and ultimately defeat Kane. He’ll group with an array of fantastic characters to do battle at his side. A great deal of the story is left out of the original English release, which is awful, but learning about it later makes up for it, I think. I personally chalk that up to the awful localization issues in the 90s. Most RPGs had disappointing/inaccurate localizations.
While the story lacks on the original release of the game, the actual gameplay does not in any way. In fact, one of the more incredible things about the game is how many different characters you can recruit along the way. Centaurs, a little alien, dwarves, elves, humans, you name it, you can probably recruit it. Each character class has their strengths and weaknesses, and it’s far more forgiving than its Fire Emblem counterpart. In Fire Emblem, a character who dies does not come back. They’re dead forever. In Final Fantasy Tactics, you have a period of time where you can save them. In Shining Force, if you should be bested in battle, you go back to the last town you visited (minus half of your gold) but you can resurrect them, a’la Dragon Quest/Final Fantasy. As I said, battles take place on a large map, with particular goals, typically beating up all of the villains.
Characters take it in turns, moving set amounts of distance, and performing actions such as attacking, casting spells, or using items on friends and foes. The level cap is 20, which is not all that unique in this time period (the average level cap seems to be 30 for many RPGs in this era), but at level 10 you have the opportunity to “Promote” a character to give them a new character class and bring new power to them. Now, some characters are just awful and useless, no matter how much grinding and equipment you give them, but thankfully in this information age, you can easily look up a guide on who you should be picking up. Back then, you just had to guess or figure it out through the process of elimination. That was half the challenge I imagine, and that’s certainly a good thing. You can’t just have all amazing badasses from all corners of the earth. Some people are just weak, though they desire to help, cannot do but so much.
Fear the Voice in the Dark: 4/5
However, Shining Force is technically not the first Shining game. Shining in the Darkness came out in 1991, and Shining Force is the prequel to Shining in the Darkness. It’s the first one I had the pleasure to play, so that’s where it all began for me. There was a remake of Shining Force also, but it had some contradictions to the original plot in its translation. But this was an RPG that had roughly 30 characters to recruit in a world where you had Final Fantasy 1 (4 characters), Dragon Warrior 1 (1 character), Dragon Warrior 2 (3 characters), and similar. You had unprecedented control over what your squad makeup was, but the balance was weak and like I said, there are some duds. But you don’t have to use them, and it does give some replay value in trying different main squads. Combat cutscenes were also lovely to see, seeing up-close shots of the two characters that were clashing. The gameplay is not super complex, but it is a solid tactics game with smooth gameplay and was a brilliant “start” to a long-standing franchise. It’s also gorgeous in both visual and audio quality, being a very bright, colorful game. Even to this day, it’s still worth a run and I would say it holds up with many of the greats of my youth. Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention is a wonderful title deserving of recognition. It’s also alive and well again! It’s featured in the latest SEGA Genesis collection, so I highly encourage getting it there if you don’t physically own a SEGA. It will give you Shining Force, Shining Force II, and Shining in the Darkness.