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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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PLAYERS:   1-4
March 07, 2003
Shining in the Darkness

Shining Force

Shining Force EXA

Shining Force Neo

Shining Tears

More in this Series
 Written by Ilan Mejer  on May 01, 2003

Import Review: Shining Force gets a spiritual sequel.

I imported Shining Soul knowing surprisingly little about the game. I knew that is was, officially at least, the newest game in Sega's ?Shining? series. I did not know that story-wise, it was a direct successor to perhaps the greatest entry in the series, the classic Genesis game known as Shining Force. Sadly, the Shining series was never as strong in recent years under Sega as it was two generations ago under the control of Climax, before they went on to develop the Mario sports and Golden Sun titles for Nintendo as Camelot Software Planning. Shining Soul, despite building off one of the Genesis' truly great games, does not break the trend of the Shining series' ongoing mediocrity.

Shining Soul is not a very ambitious title, unlike most of the other games sharing the ?Shining' name. You start off by choosing from one of four character classes (two distinct fighter types, a mage, or an archer) and naming him. The game then enters into its only real story narrative, and goes on to explain where are you are and why you are there. To make a long story short, there was once a great battle across these lands of Runefaust. The Shining Warriors (though the manual refers to them as the Shining Fleet) rose up against Dark Sol and his deity, the Dark Dragon in order to free the entire continent of Rune from his dark legions. Sound familiar? These events were the ones detailed by the first Shining Force game. These legends, now centuries old, are explained to you by none other than the ageless cyborg Adam (then a member of the Shining Force) and his once-evil counterpart Chaos (who now also fights on the Shining side).

The game starts you off on a settlement on the now uncivilized area that was once the country of Runefaust, on the continent of Rune. It is fitting that Shining Soul begins on the shattered lands that once formed the Shining Force's principle base. Adam, Chaos, and company go on to explain that upon these very lands have the Dark Dragon and five of his generals been restored, threatening all of civilization once again. As a Shining Warrior, it is your duty to invade the major bases of each of the generals in order to defeat them, weakening the Dark Dragon enough to finally face him in an effort to thwart his ambitions. It sounds similar enough to Shining Force to perhaps intrigue long-time fans.

That is, until you take into consideration that Shining Soul's gameplay shares nothing with the classic Shining Force, which was a strategy RPG with similarities to Tactics Ogre and Fire Emblem. Shining Soul, on the other hand, is a greatly reduced Diablo clone. Each character class has a different set of skills to be learned as you level up, different sets of equipment they can find in increasingly powerful and magical iterations, and even different rules of engagement when confronted by enemies, not unlike Diablo. Sadly, the game lacks the variety, depth, and replay factor of Diablo and its more successful derivatives, particularly since Shining Soul lacks randomized dungeons.

Pre-built dungeons are a perfect opportunity to create highly unique, challenging, and obstacle-strewn areas to explore and conquer. Yet, Shining Soul features some of the most uninspired dungeon designs ever implemented in an action RPG game. The other common option is to go with randomized dungeons, to at least increase replay if things are to be kept simple. The actual layouts of the dungeons, as well as the enemies and chests that populate them, are identical every time you revisit a level. The only thing that changes between level replays are the contents of chests and enemy item drops. Given the severely limited amount and types of items to be had, these are not reason enough to warrant revisiting conquered areas. The locations themselves, of which there are only half a dozen, are also thematically clich?d to the point of pain.

So the entire game essentially boils down to dungeon crawls for experience and the occasional enchanted item. The weapon and armor shop in the game is also quite worthless as it rarely, if ever, sells equipment greater than the worst you will be finding during your dungeon trekking. Honestly, the only fun in replaying the game is to experience the gameplay of the other character classes, which is different enough to keep the experience relevant.

The technology behind the game is, in a word, crap. The graphics looked pretty decent in screen shots, particularly given that it was a first generation title in Japan. However, once experienced in motion, I couldn't help but marvel at the practically nonexistent animation and shoddy collision detection. True, the art style is relatively in line with what was done with Shining Force, but there's really no excuse for a GBA game of this type that looks significantly worse than its counterparts from the Super Nintendo and Genesis era.

I had hoped for a soundtrack and sound effects library as epic and intelligent as that used in Shining Force. Yet again, Camelot/Climax's influences are an unfortunately missing. The title screen music is quite resonant and powerful but the rest of the in-game music is atrocious, with nary an inspired theme to be found. Even worse, the sound effects sound like they were compiled from a rejected Sega Genesis EFX CD sounding as bad as, or even worse than, just about anything you would expect to have heard 10 years ago. Simply unforgivable.

Bottom Line
With shallow and repetitive gameplay, idiotic bosses, no story progression beyond the first ten minutes, and some of the worst handheld software technology you are ever bound to see, why has the game scored so high, relatively speaking? Because I'm a sucker for Diablo-like games. Seriously, the game does feature a decent amount of character customization, making this game that much more memorable for those that enjoy simple dungeon crawls and require little more. Also, this game succeeds in catering to the simpler pick-up-and-play gameplay that is well suited on the GBA. However, those seeking a much better implementation of this type of gameplay on the Gameboy Advance would be better rewarded in purchasing EA's Lord of the Rings ? The Two Towers.

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