Game Overkill – Shining Force
Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention for the Sega Genesis was the first turn-based tactics RPG I ever played. I didn’t know that at the time, and frankly, if you had asked me when I was 12, just before I played it at a friend’s house as a rental, I probably would’ve told you I’d never like a game from such a genre. Thankfully, my friend and I went in blind and it became one of my favourite games of all time.
Before I get into why this game would’ve been on my personal list of games I think everyone should play, let’s see what Zac Higgins (a.k.a. CronoTime), one of the people who listed the game, had to say:
I love tactic RPGS and Shining Force was the first one I played way way way back when it came out in cartridge form on the Sega…I don’t remember much about it except hating the Mountain battle at the start and the Laser Eye battle laser..oh yeah and always missing the Samurai because you had to talk to a white block that was a “message.”
Brian Steedman (a.k.a. Crazytoledo) shows that you don’t have to have been a teen during the 16-bit era to appreciate this game:
Growing up in the 90s I used to spend a lot of time with my older brother and I always hated when he would be playing Shining Force. Since I was pretty young, it was always somewhat boring to watch and I just didn’t get it. Then a few years down the line, I eventually tried it out and ended up getting hooked. When it comes to RPGs, for me it’s basically Shining Force and Final Fantasy and that’s it. I’ve probably beaten Shining Force a dozen or so times on multiple devices and it’s amazing how well the game has held up over time. That being said, I still find it absurd that this games hardest chapter is the second one.
I let you read what they thought first as a stalling tactic. To be honest, I love this game so much, I don’t know where to start. Since I still haven’t figured it out, I’ll list the things I don’t like about the game instead.
First of all, there are a few fights where some, even most, of the members of your party can only move two tiles per turn because of the terrain’s effect on movement, so it takes FOREVER to simply walk over to where the enemies are located on the battlefield. Luckily, this is only the case for a handful of battles.
My second gripe is the inventory system. The little amount of exploring you do, in towns and after some battles, is always with your main character, so when you find a treasure chest and open it, the item automatically gets added to one of the four items slots he has. Assuming he has a healing item on top of his weapon, that leaves two open slots. You could have him equip a ring and take up a third as well. So, when you walk into a room with several chest, the first item you get takes the fourth spot. To open another chest and get its contents, you have to hit the button to display the command menu, choose “Item,” then “Give,” choose the main character, choose the item you don’t want him to have, and finally choose which other character, along with which specific empty slot, you want to give the item to. After all that, you can then open another chest and get whatever item it contains. If there’s a third chest, you have to repeat the whole convoluted process. A much better system would’ve just placed the item into the slot of the next character who has an empty one. Or better yet, just leave all the characters with their four slots, but place all new items into some communal pile, leaving you to “equip” weapons, rings, and items in the four slots as you see fit.
Well, thus ends my list of things I don’t love about Shining Force. Both are pretty annoying, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re pretty meaningless. As for the stuff I like, I’ll try to limit myself a little and not go overboard.
The game actually starts off very quickly. You don’t get annoying tutorials that go on forever combined with a super easy initial battle that constantly gets interrupted so the game can tell you explicitly how to do every single thing possible in the game. Instead, you get the main character, which you can name ANYTHING, waking up and, even if you bother to talk to everyone and look everywhere, within five minutes you’ve found out what the story will roughly be about, gotten several people to join your party, and started your first battle. I hate those RPGs that dick you around for what feels like over an hour before they even allow you to start playing. Shining Force does not dick you around.
On the subject of not dicking you around, Shining Force does something else I like. Personally, I normally don’t mind some grinding, but if you’re one of those people who hate it, you might want to give this game a chance. Your characters will level up every time they reach 100 experience points and they gain some experience for each attack (all depending on how much damage was delivered), each use of a healing spell (usually 10, but more with more advanced Heal spells and much more with Aura), and each kill (48 usually, unless the character’s level is too advanced, more on that later). The game does a very good job at keeping the enemies at just the right strength to make every battle tough, but fair, so there’s no need to grind. In fact, the only way you can grind is by escaping a battle, via the Egress spell, after having killed all but the leader of the enemies on the battlefield (or barring that, after killing all but one enemy), so that you can revive anyone who died and then restart the battle. In any case, doing that is completely unnecessary. The only thing you might need to do is make sure to leave some enemies low on HP for your healers to finish off, since getting 30 Exp per battle for healing three people while everyone else is easily getting over 100 will leave your already weaker healers at a huge disadvantage. Luckily, if you needed an incentive to level up your weaker party members, the game was another feature that balances the experience you gain for attacking and defeating enemies, so that if a character starts levelling up too fast by defeating too many enemies, the amount of experience gained starts to go down. After a while, your strongest characters will start getting very little experience for kills, so you may as well let the weaker ones finish them off in order to get the full 48.
The TL;DR version of all that? The game is very well balanced. You won’t need to grind, but every fight is a challenge. What’s even better is that the fights don’t feel like they’re there simply to make the game longer (I’m looking directly at you, Final Fantasy Tactics). Nothing pisses me off more than these tactics RPGs that won’t let walk two damn steps without throwing you into a battle that jhas absolutely nothing to do with the main story. This is the main reason I’ve started and quit playing Final Fantasy Tactics three separate times. I actually think the game is great, but the bullshit amount of battles for the sake of battles is ridiculous. Their only purpose is to make the game longer and allows you to level up the members of your party. Shining Force has a better tactic (no pun intended): cut out those useless battles and simply make the enemies in the next fight slightly weaker, thus eliminating the need for your party to be stronger.
Moving on to the characters, including the main character (who cannot be removed from the party that goes out to battle), you can find 30 different characters who, if you play your cards right, will join you. Now, since only 12 can be a part of the group that goes out to fight, you’re probably going to stick with many of the people who joined early, and even if you don’t, the fact still remains that you will not have used most of the characters in the game. So once you’ve beaten the game, you can go back and beat it again with an entirely different party. You could have one that is almost entirely made up of paladins, characters who can fly and archers, or magic users. I did this. The first thing I tried was only using the weakest, most worthless characters. That’s how I found out those “worst” characters could become some of the best. All they needed was a little patience and you’d be more than rewarded. To this day, I will never forget when the worst paladin learned his first spell. It was the same when this dinky little dragon guy finally spewed fire at an enemy. I was shocked, but it made the pain of leaving weakened enemy after weakened enemy for him, and all the others, to kill completely worth it. Because of all this, there is no early RPG with more replayability, except maybe Shining Force II.
So there you have it. If you’ve never played it before, Shining Force is an excellent 16-bit RPG that’s easy to pick up, fun to play, and has lots of replay value. As a result of all this, it lands at #142, which I think is a respectable spot for it. Personally, it would go a little higher, maybe cracking the top 100, but I’m just happy to see an excellent Genesis RPG get enough love from enough people to even make it on the list.
Next, I’ve got Wild Arms (which I’ve already beaten since I took forever to write and post this) and Battletoads… yeah, I hate all of you. Anyway, let me know what you think of Shining Force in the comments.