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Shining Force EXA
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Neverland
Genre: Action RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Released: US 03/20/07
Japan 01/18/07
Official Site: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 75%
Sound: 80%
Gameplay: 72%
Control: 90%
Story: 68%
Overall: 70%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Chillin' in my fortress.
 
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I like these odds.
 
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Shining sphere: it'll be the next sequel, I'm sure of it.
 
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Who's that la-dy?
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Damian Thomas
Shining Force EXA
04/14/07
Damian Thomas

Ever since Shining Force III, there has not been one redeemable Shining Force game. There, I said it and I stick by it. When Sega decided that the series was better interpreted as action RPGs rather than as strategy RPGs, the franchise died, I was sad, but I healed and moved on, carefully avoiding every Shining Force game thereafter.

Enter Shining Force EXA, another in the long string of bad ideas from Sega. Thing is, this one isn't SO bad, despite it being an action RPG Shining Force title. Find out more below.

Story

You are Toma. Along with your cohorts, Gadfort the centaur, Maebelle the elf, and Cyrille the mystic sorceress, you are in search of the holy sword Shining Force. Each character has his or her own reasons for finding the sword, but Toma wants it to stop the war between the two empires of Noswald and Fyrlandt. Surprisingly, finding and acquiring Shining Force and the giant Geo-Fortress that houses it is one of the first things that happens in the story. Toma pulls the sword and becomes the Heritor, the person destined to seal away the dark god Malxatra once more. Apparently this is nothing new, and Toma finds he is only one of many Heritors that has been tasked with the sealing. However, Toma's more pressing urge prompts him to attempt restoring all the functions of the Geo-Fortress so that he can become king of the entire land and put an end to the fighting. From thence forward, you get to play a more free-form Diablo with fetch quests.

The story holds no surprises that anyone who has ever played a J-RPG couldn't see coming, and it simply reinforces the idea that Japanese RPGs really have very little effort put into the story. EXA has all your key J-RPG elements: dumb but good hearted main character, wise advisor, aloof love interest with a mysterious secret weight on her shoulders, and the hungry one. There's even a prissy robot, damnit! A - prissy - robot! Seriously Japan, TRY HARDER! When you take a cookie-cutter story, throw in to-form character archetypes, and combine it with button-mashing gameplay, you aren't exactly aspiring to great heights.

The characters' dialogue is pretty banal as well and didn't stir any particular emotions in me. Add to that the fact that the main character's voice actor engaged in constant over-acting, and you have a story not worth mentioning or remembering. Oh, and the fifth element is indeed love, if you were wondering. Story reeks, 68%.

Gameplay

As mentioned earlier, the gameplay is very Diablo-esque. For those of you who have never played Diablo or Diablo II, it involves a person going through a dungeon and killing enemies by clicking the mouse button repeatedly. Sometimes they drop gold or items, sometimes you find gold or items lying around or in treasure chests. You use this gold to improve yourself by buying better equipment back in town.

In Shining Force EXA, you choose one of two people (and up to two companions) to go through a dungeon or field, killing enemies by pressing X repeatedly. Sometimes they drop gold, mythril, or items; sometimes you find gold, mythril or items lying around or in treasure chests. You use this gold to improve yourself by having a blacksmith improve your weapons and armor. You use the mythril to improve your innate abilities. Oh yeah, you can also buy items from the annoying merchant.

Honestly, this is all there is to the gameplay. Sure, you can use magic at times by mashing triangle instead of attacking by mashing X, but that's really all combat boils down to. Think Gauntlet.

Non-combat stuff is a little more stratalegic, but not terribly so. Using core metal, you can level up certain functions of the Geo-Fortress, such as the cannon, the energy generator, and the radar. Also, from time to time while in the field, the Geo-Fortress will get attacked, and the character you are not currently controlling takes charge of defending the fortress. Don't get too excited though, as this also involves going out into a field and mashing X or Triangle to kill large hordes of enemies before they can destroy the generator.

I am surprised, however, that Neverland didn't include any quirky gimmicks or systems into the combat. This is straight button-mashing with a charge attack thrown in here and there for variety. There is very little in this game's play system to make it interesting. Gameplay stinks, but less than story: 72%.

Graphics

Sega loves cel and toon-shading. Shining Force EXA has it. Everything in the game seems to have it to one degree or another. It is overused. That being said, I liked the still portraits during dialogue and the character designs. Also, kudos to the designers for allowing changes of equipment to change the character models. Towards the end, I did appreciate having Toma decked out like Nightmare from Soul Caliber, complete with ridiculous buster sword. So if you're not up for button mashing gameplay, at least you can play dress-up.

A note must be made for the design of the enemies. Instead of changing the enemy models to indicate a stronger type of enemy, they just made the model BIGGER. I suppose it beats simply palette-swapping (although there is that as well), but I'd have liked to have seen more enemy designs. Plus, it's also hard to see them close up. Anywhoozle, graphics weren't horrible, so 75%.

Sound/Music

I've never wanted to actually hunt down a sound effects person and strangle them before, so in that way, Shining Force EXA does something new in the sound department. Who was the idiot that decided that every time your party members attacked or used a spell they had to have a line of dialogue? Moreover, who was the lobotomized chimp who thought it a lark to allow you to turn off voice acting during events BUT NOT IN COMBAT?! It really just got very grating on the ears to hear the same battle quotes over and over and over every time you fought. And don't forget, there is a LOT of fighting in this game.

Otherwise, voice acting is decent save for Toma, whose VA is a stage actor in training. Every line is overacted, and that is really out of character for Toma, who is supposed to be a simple, hot-headed, but good-hearted young boy. The other main character, Cyrille, sounds as if she's going to break down into hysterics regularly, but it's not too terrible. All the other voice actors (all 5 of them apparently) do fine jobs with their characters, and give me no cause for complaint.

Musically, the game is composed by Shiro Sagisu, composer of Evangelion, Kare Kano, and I believe Shining Soul. We're talking veteran composer here, and the music is decent, definitely. It's not much to remember, but it's never annoying, and that is a precious commodity in EXA. Pity that the opening theme song is a J-Rock piece of fluff, as I hear the song used in the Japanese opening is reportedly better. BTW, for a creepy, Dark-Side-of-Oz vibe, start up Tales of the Abyss and Shining Force EXA at the same time and watch their openings simultaneously. If that doesn't prove J-RPGs have little in the originality department, go listen to The Wall. Music: 80%.

Control

What good is a button-mashtastic game without good controls? Fortunately, Shining Force EXA has good controls. Every button is well placed, and it was not until the very last dungeon that my finger started to tire from pressing X repeatedly. Movement is controlled with the analog stick, L1 and L2 bring up maps, R1 and R1 are useful in shop menus, and the R3 button warps you back to the Geo-Fortress. At least they got the control scheme right: 90%.

Overall

I'm a pretty pathetic guy, truth be told. I enjoy games pretty much regardless of how terrible they are, and I did enjoy Shining Force EXA. But I'm not writing this for me, I'm writing it for you, and that means it's time to deliver the hard truth. Shining Force EXA is not worth your money. It may be worth renting, as I managed to beat it in a week, but I'm sure you can find better. While not the worst game I've played, the combination of a dumb story, repetetive gameplay, and those damn in-battle voice clips made me have to relegate it to the scrap pile. On a positive note, if you didn't get enough button mashing during the game, there is an optional dungeon after you beat it that requires you to button mash some more. Y'know, cuz that's cool and all. Yeah. Overall, 70%.



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