Some of my fondest Sega memories involve the Shining series of games, particularly Shining Force. The original Shining Force has the distinction of being the very first strategy RPG I’d ever played-and the one that got me hooked on the subgenre. Over the years, I’ve spent time with almost all of the titles released bearing the Shining moniker-Shining Force, Shining Wisdom, Shining the Holy Ark, etc. To say that I’ve enjoyed the series is an understatement.
My fundamental love of the Shining games is essentially part of why I absolutely despised the latest game to bear the Shining moniker-Atlus’ Shining Soul-the other part is just that it’s a really awful game.
Released over a year-and-a half ago in Japan (the sequel actually appeared there before this game ever made it to America), and seeing the light of day in Europe before crossing the Atlantic, Shining Soul was dated before it was ever even released. This passage of time between the original release and the domestic one is troubling, but not as hard to fathom as how mind-numbingly bland this title is. Fans of the Shining series are bound to be let down by this kiddified version of Diablo.
At its core, Shining Soul is a dungeon crawler. What minimal story there is involves some ancient enemy and five dark generals, but that’s about as deep as it gets. The story is little more than an excuse for the game to thrust the player into one dungeon after another, fighting hordes of palette-swapped enemies over and over. Calling Shining Soul shallow and repetitive is overstating the obvious-one need only spend ten or so minutes with the game to discover this. The next six or more hours are spent driving that point home…over and over again.
If one were interested in tracing the game’s genealogy, Shining Soul seems to owe a far greater debt to Diablo than any of the earlier games in the series. Rather than being a strategy RPG, or even an interesting role-playing experience, this title aims to mimic Blizzard’s now classic game and bring it to a younger audience. The result is laughably bad.
Diablo worked as a game because the graphics were decent for their time, the enemies actually had a shred of AI, and because there was always the lure of finding something cool in the game. Shining Soul has none of this-the graphics look like early SNES-era (with some really poor animations), the enemies are so stupid the player doesn’t even need to move…standing in one place will have every enemy in the room wandering into the range of the main characters’ axes or swords, and one never finds anything cool in terms of weapons or items. Late in the game, players are still finding things they could have bought in the shop.
So, what’s the incentive for playing through Shining Soul? Other than satisfying one’s masochistic streak, I’m not really sure. The combat isn’t engaging-since it rarely deviates from “mash the A button repeatedly or hold it to charge up your attack”, the character building is minimal (players can choose from four classes, and each level up earns four stat points and one skill point that can be parceled out however the player sees fit), and you can’t even enjoy the music since it’s just as repetitive and monotonous as everything else in the game.
The title’s game design is relatively uneven as well. For every positive that colors the experience (like the inclusion shoulder button slots so players can switch between three different weapons on the fly), there are at least two decisions that make the game even worse. For example, there’s no pausing this game-ever. When players go to the inventory menu, the action continues around them. While this may be a nice touch of realism (because the enemies wouldn’t stop in a real-life situation while you whip out the healing item), it’s just not something I want to deal with in a game-particularly when enemies will respawn out of nowhere.
Yet another example is the save system. I tinkered around with this game for hours, but I still never found a way to save the game while in the middle of a dungeon and then come back and not have to start the whole thing over. If a dungeon was ten floors, and you quit/save on floor eight, you start over at floor one the next time you play.
This might not be so terrible if the combat didn’t suck. Aside from being mindless, it’s also poorly implemented in terms of design. In what seems almost like a decision to pad the running time, players will find their attacks missing with a frightening amount of regularity. Because of this, it may take three hits to kill a monster-but you’ll have to swing nine times to actually land three blows. Do the math with the multitude of enemies the game throws at you and the running time seems to expand almost exponentially without adding anything to the gameplay.
The title’s one saving grace is the multiplayer aspect. With link cables and carts, up to four friends can travel through Shining Soul’s dungeons as a team. If nothing else, this is a positive since it almost assuredly makes the game end faster. Regardless, this doesn’t help the single player campaign at all. The single player aspect of the game feels almost like an afterthought-which is never a good thing, since I’d imagine most people would be spending the majority of their time playing solo.
In the end, I could sit here and spend another thousand words regaling you with why Shining Soul is such a bad game and disgrace to the Shining name. Ultimately, though, what’s the point? This game barely deserves the attention it’s already received, and to spend even more time railing against its numerous deficiencies and inadequacies would simply be a case of giving a bad product more exposure than it truly deserves.
Shining Soul isn’t the worst game out there on the GBA (that dubious honor still belongs to Dragonball Z: The Legacy of Goku), but it’s not too far off. When a developer decides to plaster the name of a classic series on their new game, they’d better be sure the game lives up to the expectations set by those earlier titles. In the case of Shining Soul, the game never even comes close to living up to its progenitors.