One of the blessings of owning a Nintendo Wii console is the ability to (legally) relive playing some of the classic RPGs of all time. In July, Nintendo made Shining Force: Legacy of Great Intention available for a measly 800 points. After playing the title again for the first time in a decade, I’m thrilled to report that Shining Force remains as one of the best of RPGs in the history of the genre, and a landmark in the Strategy RPG subgenre.
The game opens with the hero practicing his sword training and bracing for any possible threat to the kingdom of Guardania. The hero Max is an apprentice knight seeking to stop the evil advances of Runefaust, a kingdom out to obtain more power in Rune, the world setting for the game. This battle of good versus evil and dueling kingdoms is not new to Rune. 1000 years earlier “Dark Dragon” used the powers of darkness in an attempt to destroy peace and civilization. A group of heroes, known as the “Shining Force” fought back against evil and banished Dark Dragon to extinction. Or, so everyone thought.
As Max continues to practice, Kane, a high general in Runefaust’s army, storms the Guardania castle and murders the king. This leads Max to gather a group of friends to form a modern day Shining Force in order to stop the evil advances of Runefaust and the reincarnated version of Dark Dragon’s vision.
Even though some strategy RPGs tend to abandon their story after the game opens, Shining Force contains a dynamic narrative that carries the player throughout the various chapters of the game. From walking through graveyards and saving loved ones, to fighting evil puppets under circus tents, the dialogue and plot aids in setting up relevance for the multiple conflicts as well as a conduit for varying battle locations.
As the game progresses, the main antagonist shifts from Kane to Runefaust’s leader, Darksol. Darksol. Darksol is a mysterious figure that is immediately trusted by Runefaust’s king Ramladu, and it is clear that Darksol has begun an aggrandizement of the kingdom in order to further his ultimate plan. Toward the final chapter of the quest, Max and the Shining Force’s ultimate goal becomes to stop Darksol at all costs. The game concludes with an epic clash of good versus evil and a dramatic ending that has ambiguity and drama. For the constant pace and interesting plot nuances, especially for a strategy RPG, I award story an 86%.
It can be argued that Shining Force created the strategy RPG genre; or, at least, it should be said that Shining Force helped to popularize the genre for the American market. One of the ways Shining Force remains so dynamic is because of its unique and complex gameplay. Instead of just being a game full of battle sequences and strategy, Shining Force tried to synergize the best of turn-based RPGs with battle elements of a strategy RPG.
One of the ways in which Shining Force accomplishes this goal is through its inclusion of a world map and, more specifically, towns and villages to explore. When Max and the Shining Force travel the world of Rune, they come across numerous locations including: villages based around the mining industry, towns with large seaports, and even magic based communities. While walking around the town looking for clues to further the story, the player is also able to use the “search” function on the controller in order to discover hidden items. A great example of this is when the player picks up a Domino egg in one town by searching a robot and then hatches it later in the game in an item shop. The result of this process is a hidden character who can then join the party. This sequence, usually reserved for the depth of constructing Excalibur in the Final Fantasy series, is a perfect example of how Shining Force’s gameplay is second to none in the strategy RPG genre.
Even though Shining Force is compelling in towns and on the world map, it’s bread and butter lies in its fun battle sequences. Today, the game seems fairly basic: Max recruits characters to his party (some are hidden, some are forced to join) and only 12 can fight at a time. The characters gain experience based on the level of the enemy (s)he fights. With every 100 EXP points, the character gains a level and a promotion is achieved after 10 levels, if he or she chooses. An interesting side-note is that characters cap out at level 20. Therefore, for an ultimate party, the player should wait until becoming level 20 and then choosing to be promoted. By waiting until 20, each character will have the maximum possible statistics.
While on the battle field, characters do the most damage when out on the grassy plains and receive less damage when in covered mountains. The game uses the term “land effect” to illustrate to the player how much the environment affects the damage. I think it’s important to note that unlike the modern strategy RPG there are no bonuses for attacking from behind, or from the side.
Because I am an “old school” gamer at heart, I love Shining Force’s gameplay. It has characters who fulfill different functions: there are vicars who restore life, mages who blast enemies with their magic, monks who fulfill dual roles, archers who can hit enemies from afar, dwarfs who are physically strong and hit with their axes, and the hero, who is the most powerful, but if he is killed the party is “checkmated” and the game is over. Because of the impressive gameplay in and out of town and because of its aid in creating the genre, I award gameplay a 92%.
The control of the classic controller (or wii remote turned on its side) translates nicely to this Genesis port. There are no issues to report with the shift in consoles. The largest complaint I have is that each character can only hold four items at a time and any chest the player encounters is forced upon Max. This results in the player having to constantly shift items from Max to others and is a real nuisance. Later Shining Force titles realized this issue and have the items automatically shifted to other party members. A nice feature that is aided by the title’s inclusion on the virtual console is that the player can now quit mid battle with no ramifications. So, if it’s dinner time and you have to run, now you can just escape and resume playing at another time. This gives the game a handheld feel that it did not have previously. Because of the annoying item capacity issues, I award control an 84%.
One of Shining Force’s great achievements is its graphical prowess. While graphics in town and on the map remain ordinary, it’s not hard to be still blown away by the battle sequences. Any time a character changes a weapon, it is vividly portrayed in fine detail in the character’s hand and while swung at the enemy. Cursed items glow with an evil presence, while “ultimate weapons” have a glow that make them more special than any other items you may have encountered.
On top of the vivid detail put into each weapon, the characters themselves are illustrated with great detail and it’s easy to remember them long after leaving the game. Even before revisting the game, I still remembered the pinkness of Luke’s face, the shimmery nature of Hans’ hair, and the attractive nature of Anri. Even though there are a lot of characters that enter the game, there are only a few that don’t stand out visually and become boilerplate templates (I’m thinking mostly of Diane and Arthur).
In addition to the weapons and character portraits, the spells that accompany the title are done so with fairly dynamic depictions. As blaze increases in level, Tao’s spell improves from a simple flame that is akin to a campfire to lava balls that resemble a violent volcanic eruption. While the spells aren’t quite as impressive as say, the Final Fantasy series, they are definitely something to behold. For the impressive visuals and their use in the game, I award graphics a 95%.
Because Pat is giving a whole run down of the “Shining” music in our soundtracks section, I’ll leave my comments to a minimum. I will say that the main battle theme is catchy and I like the way it changes based upon the boss the player happens to be fighting. Each of the songs in town and in dramatic situations resonates with the emotion being felt by Max and the Shining Force at the time. Even though the game does not encompass the best tunes I’ve ever heard, it is definitely more than adequate. I award sound an 88%.
How long has it been since you’ve visited Max and the Shining Force? If you haven’t played the game in quite some time, I strongly advise you to download the game and revisit one of the paragons of the strategy RPG genre. If you’ve never played the game before, I envy you. You’re about to experience Shining Force for the first time, and that is something I wish all of us could feel again. This game is the best 800 points you’re ever going to spend.