Shining Force 2 takes everything that made the original Shining Force so wonderful, and blows it up times ten. Graphics, sound, and gameplay all received a major facelift to help make Shining Force 2 one of the greatest RPG's to grace the 16-bit systems.
"Believe in the power of the jewels."
Shining Force 2 takes place many years after the events in Shining Force 1. The world has moved on, and the technology of the past is far less prevalent in this chapter. Magic and nature have become dominant again as the world moves forward into the past. The story takes place on the island of Grans and the continent of Parmecia, far from the continent of Rune where the first story took place. The original Shining Force left Rune in different directions with some ending up on Grans, others on Parmecia. Many of the heroes in Shining Force 2 appear to be descendants of the original heroes, and the hero of Shining Force 2 seems to be a descendant of the original hero.
The story opens with the thief Slade, a noble thief that only steals to help the less fortunate, attempting to steal the jewels of light and darkness from an ancient temple. Meanwhile, an unnatural storm is assaulting Granseal castle. A bolt of lightning strikes the ancient tower that has stood behind Granseal castle for ages. Guards are sent to check the tower, while Slade has found the jewels in a hidden catacomb. He removes the jewels, and the ancient entrance to the tower is ripped open. The king of Granseal, left alone, is assaulted by a horrible demon as the storm continues to rage, and your adventure begins.
You take on the role of a young student of the wizard Astral, learning reading, writing, arithmetic, as well as sword fighting and magic. It is your job to lead the Shining Force on a journey to re-seal the ancient evil that has been unleashed. While the original Shining Force was a cut and dried battle of good vs. evil, Shining Force 2 takes that concept in a slightly different direction. The line between good and evil is often blurred. Allies may become enemies, and those who should be your enemy may be true allies. To be a true hero, you must accept the darkness within while allowing the light to triumph. Only when the jewels of light and dark are in balance can their true power be unleashed. The Shining Force does not stand for those that are purely good, but those that choose goodness over evil.
"Isn't she lovely?"
The graphics in Shining Force 2 are simply beautiful. This is what makes 2D so great and why it will never go away completely. The original Shining Force seems stiff and washed out in comparison to the richly colored and fluidly animated Shining Force 2. They pushed the limited Genesis color palette to the max to create rich character portraits and battle graphics. The sprites are a bit smaller in the battle cut-scenes, but that's made up for with many more frames of animation per character. The sprites are constantly in motion and are very solid. No pixelization as far as the eye can see. The main character is probably the most impressive once he's promoted, with a flowing cape, flying headband and ribbons. He takes his sword back over his head and thrusts downward into his opponent. This is all done very fluidly and looks great. Monsters don't receive as much animation, but they look great and are much more varied than those in the original. And some of them are downright huge.
The only fault isn't really a fault, but more of a preference. The landscapes are much less varied and unique in Shining Force 2. Shining Force had many different environments and almost every battleground had a unique flavor. Two suffers from a little too much similarity in environment at times and the theme throughout changes very little. There are few truly exotic locales like the mermaid village from the original. Instead we have a steady theme of small villages, castles and large plains filled by forests, mountains and sometimes desert areas. While the landscapes and battlefields fit the game, they are just a bit monotonous.
The music in Shining Force 2 is also vastly improved over the original, though nostalgia might lead some to enjoy the original score a bit more. But 2 features much more intricate compositions as well as a greater variety of music, especially in battle depending on where you're fighting. Some tunes have the same intense military beat of the original, while others have a more tranquil and sometimes mournful feel. The range of composition is much greater and the instruments much more varied in sound.
The battle engine in Shining Force 2 has been greatly improved over the original. Before, enemies were easily outmaneuvered as their simple AI routines prevented movement until you were within a certain range. This time enemies are much more aggressive and will keep you on your toes. It's still not as deep as some of the great strategy games of all time like Civilization 2, but it is fun. And it keeps you on your toes. You won't need really complex strategies nor have to change your troops constantly but you will have to pay attention and think before you move. One battle in particular was quite memorable and is one of the tougher battles I've faced in a strategy game. Not only are you outnumbered and overmatched, but also your opponent is extremely aggressive and attacks your weaknesses. You're forced to sacrifice troops and outmaneuver quick foes to reach your objective. It is difficult, but not impossible without raising levels. And that's the purity of Shining Force's gameplay. It's for everyone that loves strategy games as well as those that have never played one.
Two also improves the menu system. In the first game shopping for items was rather arduous. They remedy that in two and you can buy items for everyone very quickly. The menu doesn't reset after each purchase so all you have to do is hold down the button until you've bought enough. In the original this could take forever since you had to move the cursor every time you bought an item, even if it was the same item.
They also sped up the engine. Your characters move much more quickly across the screen and it doesn't feel as stiff as the original did. Considering how large the continent of Parmecia is, and how easy it is to get lost, this is a very welcome addition. Another welcome addition is alternate promotions. Finding certain items hidden throughout the world can allow a character to be promoted to a different class than they usually would be. This allows for some interesting customization of your team, as well as some replay value.
I won't make any excuses; Shining Force 2 is my favorite game of all time. It's very hard for me to find any fault with it but I've tried my best. It isn't a perfect game but it is a lot of fun to play and is a wonderful world to visit. The story is lighthearted but raises some deep issues at times as well as some emotion. The graphics are what 2D is all about and very few 32-bit games have caught my eye the way this game does. Above all, Shining Force 2 combines the complex gameplay of a strategy title with the great story, exploration and NPC interaction of a traditional RPG. For me, that combination can't be beat.