If you had a Sega Megadrive / Genesis back in the day and you liked RPGs, then chances are you played Shining Force. This was one of my favorite childhood games, though it is old enough that it’s gotten to the point where I don’t really remember why I looked it so much. So I virtually dusted off a ROM and went played through it on my phone, and guess what? It’s as good as I remembered!
The basic story is about a young swordsman who is tasked to lead a group of warriors (the eponymous Shining Force) to investigate a rival kingdom’s aggression. After a while you’ll find out about an ancient evil, have to visit lots of different towns that mostly look the same, and kill lots of bad guys.
The plot really isn’t spectacular or particularly original, but it works. There is enough charm in it to keep you interested and even has a few plot twists, but don’t expect to be blown away. The plot on the sequel is more complex, but I think I prefer this one for its simplicity and the strength of the villains. Darksol and Kane just looked very cool and felt like worthy badass adversaries.
Still, the characters have almost no growth or development (aside from leveling up) and most won’t even have a back story. However, the character design is pretty well done and some of the battle animations are awesome, so you will definitely have your favorites in the group. There are centaur knights, birds with swords, a robot and even a werewolf. I personally really liked the two mages from early on, and the ninja is way cool. And by cool, I mean totally sweet.
Once your characters hit level 10, they can be promoted into a more powerful class… Kinda like evolving a Pokemon. A promotion grants you the ability to use more powerful weapons, and your costumes and battle animations tend to be much cooler too. For example, your main hero gets a much nicer set of armor and instead of just stabbing the sword, he’ll do a cool 360 spin before slashing. Hardcore players should hold off promoting early and grind to higher levels first, to maximize stats.
The battles are turn based strategy affairs, so it does work well for modern mobile devices because you can easily turn your attention to more pressing matters, like avoiding that bus speeding towards you while you cross the road. One thing that continues to bug me from the first time I played it decades ago is the ability for an archer to shoot a nuke at a bad guy… And still miss even though the explosion is right over the enemy. Why is it that those ranged guys tend to miss so much?
Grinding weaker characters like healers or newly acquired characters will also be a little bit of a chore as you’ll need to arrange your attacks so that they can land the killing blow on enemies with 1 or 2 hit points left so that they can get some XP to keep up in levels with the aggressive front line fighters. But luckily there are a few stages that were practically designed for grinding.
The level designs are pretty good too, with enough variations and a good variety of enemies to keep things from being repetitive. One stage that comes to mind had a super weapon that would fire a giant beam that hits every character on the bridge every few turns, so you had to time your crossing carefully. However, there were also a few levels that were designed with lots of forest and mountain terrain, slowing down your non-flying characters (which is most of them) until they’d move only 2 or 3 squares at a time. I really disliked these stages as a lot of time was wasted moving towards the enemy.
Aside from trying out different team arrangements (you can only have up to 12 active characters at any time), there really isn’t that much replayability though. That said, there are quite a few characters to choose from, including some hidden ones you might have missed, so you probably won’t feel bored playing it through a second or third time.
If you’ve never played a Shining Force game before, you might want to go straight to Shining Force 2 as it is a deeper experience with more choices and characters and the plots aren’t exactly interlinked, but I’d still give this one a shot as it’s still a pretty enjoyable game. The graphics are attractive, the character designs are cool, and it’s just satisfying to see little sprites spin in a circle and explode.