Review: Shining Force (Genesis/Mega Drive)

Posted: February 8, 2011 in Retro, Reviews
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Shining Force review

Classic RPG Action

While the Sega Genesis is not as well remembered for its RPGs as the Super NES, it was by no means starved, especially Sega’s first party efforts – the Phantasy Star series and the Shining series, which included the dungeon crawler Shining in the Darkness as well as the strategy RPG sub-series, Shining Force.

Shining Force puts you in charge of a heroic lad named Max (although you’re free to choose whatever name you’d like for your hero), a swordsman of the kingdom of Guardiana. He and a small team of allies are dispatched to fight the forces of Dark Sol, who is attempting to resurrect the Dark Dragon (some kind of all-purpose eldritch abomination/devil figure).

Shining Force for GenesisThe focus of the game, as opposed to a typical eastern RPG’s focus on story, is the combat. You’re not going to find any quick battles or significant level grinding in Shining Force. It’s possible to go through the game fighting each battle only once, although the likelihood of doing so on your first playthrough is doubtful. Battles consist of engaging a wide variety of enemies with your own varied team – composed of typical RPG characters like fighters, clerics, mages and (Centaur) Knights, as well as some more unique classes like

You can also control Max within the battle, although if he’s knocked out, the battle is over. This isn’t the end of the world though – this merely sends you back to the church in the last town you visited. The church serves quite a few functions in the game, similar to Dragon Quest – it’s here that you can save your game, revive fallen party members, cure poison and, most importantly, promote your army. Most of the characters have a second rank they can attain after going up a certain number of levels, and this results in a long term boost in power. You can also shop for healing items and new weapons in towns – which, unlike in other RPGs, is essential, as you typically won’t find a lot of treasure and your healers can and will run out of magic power, with no way to restore it.

The battles are lengthy and interesting, and sometimes harrowing, especially as your healers and mages run out of power. Occasionally (although luckily not TOO frequently), the battles are just plain frustrating, when the enemies will pull something devastating on you that you’re not prepared for. More than a few times I had both of my wizards wiped off the map, and then I opted to charge Max in to get whupped just so I could restart the battle.

A Fantasy World

The graphics are pretty average – the overworld graphics do their job well enough, and represent what they’re supposed to well enough. I’d compare it to Final Fantasy IV– both are early games on their respective systems, with serviceable if not particularly interesting overworld graphics. The battle close-ups, however, are very nicely detailed and cool-looking, especially once you promote your characters and use the higher-level spells.

Shining Force for Genesis/Mega Drive

The music is also pretty good (considering the limits of Genesis audio hardware). While it doesn’t take advantage of the system the way the Sonic and Streets of Rage games did, it sounds good most of the time, and the tunes are very memorable. The main battle themes have a very strong fantasy tone with an appropriate air of militarism, the main theme is mysterious, the save theme whimsical, and one of the combat themes just shouts DANGER! On the other hand, the town theme is a little too far on the goofy and whimsical side. Not that it’s a bad tune, it just doesn’t seem to fit very well with the rest of the game’s music.

One of the less shiny aspects of Shining Force is its inventory management system. Each character has only four inventory slots – fair enough. However, this applies to all situations – there’s no pooled inventory where you can store some extra healing herbs or keep weapons you’re not using. The game forces you to micromanage your limited item slots, which gets annoying real fast, especially when you’re trying to loot a chest. Then you have to either swap one of your items to another character then go back and try looting the chest again (which, keep in mind, you have to open a menu to perform), or discard one of your items. This aspect was a big pain and its implementation just pads the time between battles.

Shining Force is one of the gems in the Genesis’ crown, although it’s occasionally frustrating and not quite as balanced as I’d like it to be. This left a lot of room for improvement in its well regarded sequel, however (although I can’t remember if they ever fixed the item management). Still, if you enjoy strategy RPGs (or have never tried one), it’s not a bad place to start. It’s also one of the easier SRPGs to get ahold of – it’s available on the Wii Virtual Console as well as Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection on the PS3 and 360. In any case, it should appeal to RPG players and turn-based strategy fans, especially those who weren’t on the Genesis side of the console wars back in the day.

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  1. Eric says:

    This is easily one of my favorite series. I actually grew up playing Shining Force 2, so when I got around to playing Shining Force and Shining in the Darkness, both of those games had to actually grow on me before I could really appreciate them. I also learned to appreciate them with age. At any rate, Shining Force, I feel, is inferior to its younger brother, but it’s still a solid game. If you ever get the chance, play the GBA port of Shining Force has a multitude of balance changes and a few new characters as well.

    Anyway, I figure 7/10 is a fair enough score.

  2. Steerpike says:

    Great review, Chad, and I couldn’t agree more: one of the great jewels of the Genesis RPG era, and a true pioneer of tactical RPGs.

    I never played SF2 or 3, but this one was a classic. Thanks!

    • Chad M. says:

      Shining Force 2 is excellent, and definitely worth checking out. It’s like the Terminator 2 of tactical RPGs- while the first is great, the 2nd takes it to a whole ‘nother level!

      3, I would love to play, but it’s only seen one release on the Saturn…and even then there are two expansions which were only released in Japan. I doubt we’re going to see a re-release anytime soon, but if it happens I’ll be first in line.

      Oddly, my other favorite tactical game (Tactics Ogre) is the only game in its series NOT on the VC. Oh well…

  3. Joe says:

    I never had a Genesis, so I missed out on a lot of great games. I’ve played the first Sonic, and some of these games in the arcade, but overall, I never got to experience the glory days of Sega. Also, it’s hard to find PS3 games that appeal to my fiance, and she was excited at the prospect of playing Ecco the Dolphin & the Sonic games again.

    There are…

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