Disclaimer: This article is free of spoilers.
Shining Force is a classic SRPG released in 1992 for the Sega Genesis to positive critical reception. It is the second game of the Shining series, a renowned JRPG series by SEGA that continues to be popular in Japan. It also spawned a sub-series of SRPGs within the Shining series, which are some of the most highly regarded SRPGs of all time. It is evident that Shining Force draws inspiration from Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series and shares many similarities in its combat system. Although some believe that Shining Force is a clone of Fire Emblem, this should not detract from the highly enjoyable experience of playing the game. Despite a few minor flaws, Shining Force is a classic SRPG that was ahead of its time and still holds up today.
This is where the game truly shines and is arguably the greatest reason for playing it. In a similar manner to Fire Emblem, the game involves a grid-based combat system with units that can be moved around the map. The units can be ordered to attack enemy units during their respective turn and will do damage to the enemy based on their attack and the enemy’s defence. While this is a simple concept, it is highly addictive and does require the player to think. The player must take into consideration the amount of damage their unit will deal as well as the position their unit will be in after the attack. If attacking an enemy will put the player’s unit within range of attack of 5 enemies, it may be beneficial to move the unit away instead of attacking.
There are various classes of units in the game, such as warriors, magicians, knights and clerics. Each class has unique strengths and weaknesses; for instance, magicians can deal a great amount of damage but often die in a single hit. Other units may be able to take hits very well but deal little damage, while some units are more balanced. Therefore, the player must strategize when building their team and ensure that it includes a good balance of units. This team-building is an incredibly enjoyable aspect of most SRPGs, and Shining Force is no exception.
Shining Force also has a promotion system that is highly enjoyable and intriguing. All units can be promoted at any point between levels 10 and 20. In Fire Emblem games, it is essential to promote a unit at level 20. This is not necessarily the case in Shining Force, as the level up system works differently. There is less RNG involved in levelling up in the game, and the same unit will have similar stat boosts at every level across multiple playthroughs. However, as the game progresses, unpromoted units become decreasingly useful, as they cannot equip powerful weapons. Therefore, they will deal minimal damage, and given that experience is awarded based on damage dealt, the unit will be incredibly difficult to level up. The player is left with a choice: they can promote the unit at the current level and miss the stat boosts that will be gained if the unit was levelled until 20, or they can promote the unit at level 20 and risk the unit being highly underleveled for the rest of the game. Another element that adds to this decision is that some units gain most of their stat boosts during the earlier levels, while other units are late bloomers. As a result, all these factors must be taken into consideration when promoting. This decision process is an interesting component and adds to the strategic element of the game.
Unlike Fire Emblem, Shining Force does not involve permadeath. A small sum of money can be given to a cleric to revive any fallen units, and given that it is very easy to get money in the game, the cost to revive a unit is essentially negligible. In SRPGs such as Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics, permadeath requires the player to think deeply about their actions and play intelligently and conservatively to progress the game. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor sets a restriction on the amount of grinding that can be done, as monsters begin to give negligible experience if the character’s level is too high. Both permadeath and the experience restriction accomplish the same goal – they require the player to think deeply and strategize to get through the game. Since Shining Force does not set such a restriction on the player, it is less strategic than the aforementioned games. If a unit is too weak to deal damage, it can simply be promoted, equipped with stronger weapons, and leveled up. That being said, the game remains challenging as long as the player keeps his units at a relatively low level, requiring the player to think carefully about their actions. Yet, the combat system is still incredibly fun and ideal for somebody who would like to play a lighter SRPG.
Going into an old school SRPG, most players would expect little to none story. However, players encounter a pleasant surprise in Shining Force; the game showcases a mildly entertaining story that definitely has its moments, especially given the release date of the game. That being said, it is nothing spectacular, and definitely should not be the focus of the game. The game should be played for its gameplay mechanics, and anybody who does otherwise will be disappointed.
The game tells the story of the silent protagonist Max, who is notified that a man by the name of Kane is attempting to resurrect a Dark Dragon. He gathers a group of characters, who he calls the Shining Force, and sets on a journey to stop Kane and prevent the resurrection. Along the way, he meets various characters that he recruits to his Shining Force, as well as villains that are working with Kane. The plot is deeper than expected and can keep the player somewhat interested. Many RPGs in the early 90s have little-to-no story, and it is definitely surprising to get an actual plot in this game. In terms of plot, it is only beaten by the popular classic RPGs of its time, such as Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VI, Earthbound and Chrono Trigger.
Most of the characters in Shining Force have limited development. In general, a character gives a speech that tends to reflect their personality when they are recruited and will say nothing after that. The player tends to forget the little backstory given about a character and ultimately fails to grow attached to the characters at all. It is only the protagonists of the game that appear consistently and actually develop, but there are very few of these. Nevertheless, character development is not an important aspect of this game and should not play a huge factor in deciding whether to play this game.
Shining Force has a great soundtrack that really catches the mood of the game. The combat tracks are fast-paced and exciting, while the town music is more mellow and relaxing. The music during plot scenes is more dramatic and dynamic. To top it all off, it has that great 16-bit feel to it. The soundtrack is a thrill to listen to and definitely adds to the game.
Graphics and Artstyle (8/10)
Like many Genesis and SNES games, Shining Force has aged really well. Most old school gamers will have no problems with the graphics, and newer gamers will need a bit of time to adjust but will get used to it quickly. The game has definitely aged better than some of the early 3D games, such as Final Fantasy VII and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, both of which have blocky graphics that make it difficult to perceive depth.
The art style is also interesting, as all playable characters have a unique 2D model and portrait. In addition, important NPCs also have unique models, nearly all of which are well-designed.
Overall (7.9/10), not a weighted average
Shining Force is a very fun game that will keep the player engaged for 30 hours. The combat is perfect for players that are new to the SRPG genre or for veterans that would like to play a game that is a bit lighter. The game has withstood the test of time and is rightfully considered a classic by many fans of the Sega Genesis. That being said, when classics of the Genesis/SNES era are brought up, this is not the first game that comes to mind. The game lacks that little bit extra that separates a good game from a great game, and for that reason, it will always be second to classics such as Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI and Super Mario World.