Though a long time in coming, fans of the Shining Force series finally have a new title to enjoy… sort of. Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon, while officially a remake, has enough improvements and retains enough of the originals’ engrossing nature to make this a worthy purchase for any fan of the series or Strategy RPGs in general. Add to that the portability provided by the GBA, and Shining Force: RotDD may just be one of the best Strategy RPGs on the console to date.
For those unfamiliar with the story of Shining Force, it revolves around two nations: Guardiana and Runefaust, both of whom are responsible for guarding their own half of an ancient gate used to seal away a threat from the past: the Dark Dragon. The hero of the story (default “Max”) is an amnesiac young swordsman who washed ashore near Guardiana. Taken in by the high-ranking knight, Varios, and trained in the art of swordsmanship, Max quickly distinguishes himself as one of the best warriors in the kingdom. These skills are put to the test one day, as Runefaust’s troops are seen poking around Guardiana’s half of the gate. Upon inspection, Max and his small group of comrades is attacked by Runefaust and forced to defend themselves. From thereon, Max and his team, the Shining Force, must battle Runefaust and the mysterious Darksol in order to save the world from the Dark Dragon’s return.
While the story is pretty straightforward, there are enough plot twists and surprises to keep the neophyte interested, and enough updates to dialogue and expansion of plot to increase the enjoyment of those gamers familiar with the original. The most noticeable improvements to the text are the continuing conversations you can have with each member of your force at headquarters. Sometimes this results in receipt of that character’s card, and the realization that Max actually talks quite a good deal: no more silent protagonist. I think that this adds an interesting new element and helps flesh out a previously, rather personality-deficient character.
For fans of the series as a whole, we also learn more about the Ancients, as well as the various races present in the game. There are a lot of little details that make the world come alive. And let’s not forget the addition of three whole new characters, all of whom are actually quite useful throughout the course of the game, and are pretty well rounded, development-wise.
Of course, if you’re not playing this game for the plot and characters, you’re most likely in it for the combat, and that you’ll have in spades. Shining Force has always had engaging battles, and now there’s even more to do. Again, for those unfamiliar with the series, battles all take place on 2D maps with different terrain types. Your party is made up of individual fighters of different classes: knights, warriors, mages, healers, etc. Each character has an individual statistical growth rate and abilities that make him or her unique, and making the right party for the right battle involves almost as much strategy as the battle itself.
As characters fight, they gain levels which increase hit points, defense, offense, magic (in the case of mages/healers), and a new stat: magic resistance. That’s right, for the first time in a Shining Force title, you can make that blaze, freeze, or bolt spell go from “ouch!” into “meh.” Think of what you can do with Domingo now!
Two distinctively new elements have been added in this remake, both of which make combat much more enjoyable. The first is the addition of Clear Goals. Clear Goals require you to defeat the enemy/reach a location within a certain number of turns in order to receive a prize. These prizes are either cash or nifty weapons that have special effects. With the exception of perhaps one or two, the Clear Goals are never that difficult to achieve as long as you’ve got your characters properly leveled-up.
The second additional gameplay element is the card system. Each member of the force, as well as some of the enemies and bosses, have cards which you can get by searching an area, talking to characters at headquarters, or winning them in battle. One of the new characters in this remake, Mawlock, can equip and use these cards to produce one of four different outcomes. He can create an “imitate” or clone of the character depicted on the card to fight for your party for a battle, produce a wide variety of attack or special effects to aid your party, copy the effects of the character on the card – giving his/her ability to Mawlock, or give the character on the card an additional movement per turn. I found the last option to be the most useful, especially for leveling-up characters.
All the gameplay changes are welcomed and only add to the fun of the original without disturbing the general simplicity that made the title so attractive in the first place. There is also a New Game+ feature that lets you replay the game to get the cards you may have missed or just increase the general challenge of the game. Fortunately, the controls are easy to pick up, although I would have done more with the L & R buttons to swap between characters in certain instances, or get descriptions of items/spells, such as in Fire Emblem (Start and Select are just inconveniently placed on my SP).
Musically, Shining Force has always benefited from excellent compositions, and this title is no different. Atlus took the original works and altered them a bit, as well as adding in a couple new tracks, and I thank them for the effort. The sound quality on the GBA isn’t bad, and on the GBA Player, it’s even better. While I’ve gotten very used to the original tracks from the Genesis/MegaDrive version, these pieces are suitably invigorating and faithful enough to the originals that you can’t help but be inspired sometimes.
Graphically, this game has gotten a major upgrade. All the characters have been given facelifts, literally and figuratively, and while some look a bit silly, well… that was part of the appeal of the original. All the sprites and animations have been upgraded, and I must say that the only thing I miss from the original is Kokichi’s little spinning move. I don’t like that Gong seems to be wearing women’s shoes when his class gets promoted, but whatever. It’s the 90s… wait…
Overall, Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon is not only an excellent remake, but stands on its own as a wonderful, original title. Amusement Vision did a wonderful job with the conversion, and Atlus has quickly become my second favorite publisher, behind Konami. Titles like this just show how much they care. Shining Force is the game that originally bridged the gap between RPGs and Strategy titles for the console market over a decade ago, so I’d recommend it for fans of either genre. Happy fighting.