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Shining Soul II

" . . . Shining Soul II may seem excessively difficult, but that's because today's RPGs arm enemies with pillowy swords, and heroes with one-hit-kill spells."

Long before saving princesses, slaying archdemons, and stealing from gold-hoarding dragons were way too played out stereotypes of the RPG genre, the Shining Force series helped carry the torch from 8-bit to 16-bit. After enjoying spectacular success on the Genesis, the series branched off onto the Game Gear and Sega CD, which eventually spawned spin-off series such as Shining Soul. By the time Shining Soul II came around on the Game Boy Advance, rescuing royalty and ceasing impending doom was only kind of annoying. Mix this with sound gameplay, and you've got yourself a cult hit. Shining Force fanboys and neurotic grinders will rejoice, because Shining Soul II is just what the vicar ordered; I should know, I'm both.

Behold! The ever-changing plot device!

Fans of Shining Force don't love the series for its unique style of writing or depth of plot. No, we're in it for the traditional fantasy atmosphere and world–which never seems to be the same, aside from a robust centaur population. However, where Shining Soul II falls short on centaurs, it makes up for with its reoccurring monsters. While not every monster seems familiar, enough debuts are made so that fans feel at home.

What of the princess, though? Worry not, Shining Soul II unabashedly pokes fun at the Shining series, appearing quite self-aware of its overuse of archetypical heroes and runaway results of in-breeding. Other than the light, subtle humor, Shining Soul II provides nothing but weak excuses to venture into the fray. In fact, the king's orders can be easily summarized thusly: "You're young, and I don't want to see you die out there, but do it, anyway." The dialogue really isn't much different from that, either. Whether saving a princess or chasing after a hero ominously named Deatharte, you can be sure that a resurrecting evil is orchestrating everything.

Hug walls and spam the A button.

That's really all there is to the game, but that wouldn't make for an entertaining read. In truth, Shining Soul II's gameplay may be ostensibly simplistic, but satisfactory game design incorporates a level of challenge that requires a bit more strategy from the player. No matter what class a player picks, the game offers accessibility to unique playstyles–all adequately challenging. For the modern gamer, Shining Soul II may seem excessively difficult, but that's because today's RPGs arm enemies with pillowy swords, and heroes with one-hit-kill spells. Yes, one could grind easier dungeons to level up and crush the competition into submission, but that diminishes the experience. The strategy lies in leveling up appropriate skills and stats, and finding hidden goodies.

Without careful planning and analysis, players will find themselves in impossible situations right from the beginning. The only options after this are revisiting old locales or starting over. Unlike most Diablo imitators, Shining Soul II doesn't hold your hand; no, instead, it drives a twelve inch dagger through your hand thereby trapping you against a tree, spits in your eye, turns you around, and then kicks you in the ass until you figure out what to do on your own. A lot can be said about a design team that forces the player to engage the game their way... none of it pleasant. However, even more can be said about someone who stupidly puts all of their stat points into dexterity, and none into vitality.

...

No matter how one allocates the skill and stat points, though, Shining Soul II will challenge everyone, and not just in combat but in collection as well. For the packrats out there, SSII certainly doesn't skimp on collectibles and oftentimes leaves their utility to the player to figure out. Find a G? Yeah, good luck figuring that out. How about a text bubble that has a "4" inside? Yeah, sure. A baby slime? Why not. Fans of the Shining series won't be surprised, though; after all, promotion items in Shining Force II weren't the easiest tools to decipher, and the Domingo Egg in Shining Force I could have garnered more explanation. Oh, and did I mention there's a monster book with over 200 slots for every monster in the game? Have fun!

Although the aforementioned tasks may sound painful to some, having a friend tag along on the adventure lightens the load and livens up the experience. In fact, having played the game solo and with a friend, I can say with certainty that the game is multiplicatively more fun with others. Plus, with such a large roster of unique classes to choose from, finding three other people to play with won't get too crowded.

Rough on the hands, ears, and eyes.

For many, the Game Boy Advance isn't the kindest system on the eyes and not much aural majesty can be gained from playing it, either. This parallels SSII, which serves its purposes adequately on all fronts, but doesn't boast the luster its predecessors did. The unforgettable themes and sound effects of the dynasty born on the Genesis got lost along the way, leaving SSII with unimaginative, dull sounds that don't always suit the situation.

Graphics lag behind as well, which are strangely blocky, mostly due to thick black borders. This may separate the foreground from the background quite well, but at the cost of good visuals. The artwork looks fantastic, as exemplified by the summon sequences. Clearly, a lot of work was put into monster design, and some debuts are even made, but, like many old RPGs, Shining Soul II simply recolors enemies in order to feign variety, such as with ice versions of baddies. To make matters worse, the projectiles these foes launch often flash, making combat difficult for the wrong reasons.

On top of that, hit boxes are a nightmare to figure out. Eventually, the hit boxes become intuitive, but this takes hours of investment, and some strangely shaped fiends require learning. Combat aside, the game and its menus flow naturally, except for the dialogue. To my memory, SSII has the absolute worst, nonadjustable dialogue I have ever encountered. The text box is enough for two lines of giant font, which slowly scrolls. Accidentally speak to the wrong person in town, and you can kiss two minutes of your life good bye.

It's like awesome, but stale, candy.

At its time of release, Shining Soul II must have been a worthwhile title; I had fun reviewing it in 2011, after all. However, the game definitely has its flaws, and these hit the game hard. With no in-between, the impatient player will hate this short excursion, while relaxed, nostalgic RPG fans will probably find it time well spent. Personally, though, if I have to sit through one more giant string of text, I might throttle a Yogurt plushie.


© 2004-2011 Atlus, Grasshopper Manufacture. All rights reserved.




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