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Shining Force III

Publisher: Sega Developer: Camelot
Reviewer: Parn Released: 08/98
Gameplay: 93% Control: N/A
Graphics: 92% Sound/Music: 90%
Story: 94% Overall: 92%


Shining Force 3 was one of the last Saturn games to be released here in the U.S., and what a way to end a system. The Shining Force series is infamous among those who own Sega systems, mostly because of its good graphics, great music, and its unique battle system. The latest game in the series continues with the same style as its predecessors, only it does it better in every way.

I'll first start with the game's strengths. The first thing I noticed when I turned the game on was the excellent graphics. You start off with a CG cinematic opening movie that's suprisingly good for full screen Saturn cinepak movies (although it's really nothing more than eye candy). What really impressed me, though, was the in-game graphics, with 3D polygonal environments that were more detailed than the 2D environments of the first two games. The textures are very detailed, both on buildings and the ground, and there are various other noticeable things such as trees, flowing fountains, light reflections off of floors, all impressive for the Saturn hardware. The infamous Shining Force battle cutscenes have really improved from the first two games. Whereas they used to feature 2D sprites bouncing back and forth, they now have evolved into fully rotating, light-source shaded, polygonal characters hacking and slashing at each other. Spells have been improved considerably in terms of graphics and in number, some being extremely impressive, pulling off effects that were supposedly not possible on the Saturn.

Music from the game is, in my opinion anyway, very good. Motoi Sakuraba (the composer of Star Ocean's soundtrack), did a very good job here, cranking out some really great tunes. I can't say a whole lot more in this department. >:P

The story is probably one of the most complex you'll ever get into. In this scenario (this is actually the first installment of three "scenarios"), you play the role of Synbios (me!), a young warrior who is the son of a very famous General of the Republic. There are three major nations: The Republic, The Destonian Empire, and Saraband. The Empire has invaded Barrand, a territory of the Republic, and war is immanent. Synbios and other important delegates of the Republic are attending a peace conference in Saraband, which is the neutral nation in the whole affair. Things, at first, seem to be going fine, until explosions occur during a cruise around town. After that, the Emperor is kidnapped by mysterious masked monks of the Bulzome Sect, a cult of religious fanatics that, of course, worship a force that opposes all that is good. In addition, King Benetram, the leader of The Republic, is involved with the kidnapping, or so it seems. And from there, it's endless surprises, plot twists, and battles.

The game in itself is very simple, not going nearly as heavy in terms of depth as many other strategy games, and that may be why it's so much fun. You have to use a little strategy and thinking, but not so much that it would make you get a headache after each battle. Each of them can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours, depending upon what your style is (slow and easy, or fast and reckless). And the best part is that all this stuff loads quickly...especially the battle cutscenes, which, thankfully, is good news.

Improvements upon this game over its prequels are numerous, even if I exclude the graphics and music. First of all, the story is much more complex, there are more classes of characters, more weapons, more spells, and for each weapon, there are certain special attacks, which are gained through increasing your weapon levels, which, of course, increase by fighting. Each character can use at least two different weapon types, and concentrating upon one type of weapon helps build your strength up faster. It may sometimes appear like switching weapons is a good idea just from the basic stat by stat comparison, but in the long run, sticking by a certain weapon will help you in the end.

Another interesting improvement would be the friendship system. Whenever one character performs an action that has anything to do with the other one, such as attacking the same enemy, those two can slowly gain levels of friendship, so that when they stand next to each other, both characters' attributes increase...a boost of morale, I would assume. However, if a character dies, all friendships with that character drop a level.

The menu system overall remains similar to Shining Force 2's. The AI is also quite similar, although I'm not sure I should classify this as good or bad. The reason is, often times the bad guys clearly have the advantage, but the AI is programmed to be rather lazy, and only a few guys come at you after a time. To me, the game was rather easy, and I would have liked it if you could up the difficulty a bit. There is a difficulty setting after you beat the game, but the AI's intelligence level doesn't get higher...only the enemy's attributes do.

With all this goodness, there, of course, are flaws. The biggest flaw in this game was easily the ending. It left you hanging. It left you wanting more. And the sad part is, you can never know the real outcome unless you import the other two scenarios. This was a crime committed by Sega of America, for it would have been better to have played a full game (Grandia), than 1/3 of a game. Shining Force 3 may be my favorite game of all time, but I am still frustrated by Sega of America's actions.

There are also a LOT of holes in the plot, when playing Scenario 1 as a stand-alone game. There are a lot of people you meet once and never see again. Some people are mentioned in the game, yet you never see them. I of course, have imported the other two scenarios, mainly because I couldn't stand not knowing the full story, even when I was busy supporting the Shining Force 3 petition. These plot holes can drive you up the wall!

There were also other, minor flaws, the first of which being the voice acting. Give me a break! These voices aren't even close to the Japanese originals. You've heard about them in other reviews: Imperial generals saying "I'm going to kill you" in complete monotone, videogame heroes that sound like they're on helium, magicians that have really bad lisps...it's truly ridiculous. Email me if you ever need a laugh. I'll send you a few wave files of the voice acting, and I'll guarantee you'll be rolling on the floor laughing over and over again.

One of the other noticeable flaws in the game was problems with the sound. For some reason it was occasionally glitchy, and sometimes when a sound effect didn't totally clear up, it would cancel out an instrument or two whenever music played, and annoying "popping" noises would occasionally be heard. A minor disturbance but it could've been corrected.

Another minor gripe was the camera angles used. Although the cutscenes were in 3D, the camera angles, for the most part, remained similar to the angle used in Shining Force and Shining Force 2 with the enemy at a distance and your character up close in the right hand corner. It would have been nice to have seen the characters' front sides, or have the freedom to rotate the camera in any direction. Only during spells and special attacks do you see different angles.

Overall, Shining Force 3 was, in my view, a masterpiece. Anyone that owns a Sega Saturn should own this CD, whether you like strategy games or not, or whether you're importing the other two scenarios or not. I paid $49.99 for this game, and it was worth every pretty penny. Shining Force 3, even as a stand-alone game with only 1/3 of the story revealed to U.S. gamers, still stands as one of the best games I've ever played. Even with the crappy voice acting.

Parn

Great 3-D polygonal graphics show what the Saturn can REALLY do when programmers know what they're doing.

It's the good ol' Shining Force battle cut-scenes with no loading time whatsoever







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