Shining Force (MegaDrive/Genesis review)

Shining Force is a strategy-RPG title for the MegaDrive which I’ve been playing recently and decided to give a little review of…

Gameplay: 3½/5 – The menus are bit difficult to manoeuvre and I don’t particularly like the lay-out and sequence of some of the menus (buying multiple items from the shop is surprisingly time consuming). However, after a while, you do get used to the button-layout. The combat is the most rewarding experience. It’s a bit annoying how only a few characters can attack diagonally, but at the same time, I enjoy the strategic aspect of the combat. Also, the level of challenge rises at a steady rate in comparison to most RPGs which is another reason why I didn’t get so frustrated (albeit, there are always a few characters in your party that couldn’t hit water from a boat).

My biggest gripe are the automated choices for some of the actions (hence minus ½ point). I don’t understand why healers can’t automatically select the party-member with the least amount of HP. I similarly can’t understand why party members with multiple targets always go for the farthest target rather than the closest. And I especially don’t like that if you cancel an option, the action menu defaults to “Stay” which more than once caused me to waste my turn (yes, I’m playing this on the MegaDrive Classics Collections which has a rewind option – but this kind of mistake can quickly cost you the whole battle).

I also kinda hate that you have so many party-members to choose from. Ultimately, I guess it’s nice that you can have some variety, but some of the party members are so useless, I kind of end up never using them.

Graphics: 5/5 – Full credit goes here. Not only are there a lot of locations, the graphic variety between locations is quite nice. Sure, the game has a very standard early-to-mid 90s JRPG aesthetic, but the amount of characters is quite nice. Plus, the character portraits luckily break the monotony, with most of them looking pretty cool, especially Zylo, Khris and Pelle. The overworld maps do look annoyingly similar but luckily you also get to fight in a variety of different locations and the combat environments. The enemies you fight also change throughout the game, though some just get a different colour pallette and name slapped on them. Still, some variety there which I did enjoy.

Animation: 4/5 – The cutscenes aren’t really anything special. However, the combat-animations are pretty cool (especially when you get to use magic). They’re where most of the points in this category come from. I also love how small details, such as your class or weapon changing and the terrain you’re fighting in alter these animations, so luckily there’s a bit of variety as well.

Music: 4/5 – Very pleasant, fits well and most of the tunes are okay. I find the music during the combat-animations breaks the flow though, but it’s not a huge problem. If anything, my main complaint is that a few of the instrument choices are a bit weird. During the map theme in particular, one of them sounds like a telephone ringing.

Sound: 3/5 – The sound-effects are sadly very middle of the road for the most part. Get ready to hear the same attack sound-effect over and over again.

Replay value: 3½/5 – The combat mechanic is the main reason I enjoy the game and trying out different character combinations can be fun, albeit I tend to default to a certain group. It’s also nice that when you die, you gather experience and don’t lose progress because of it – giving you an incentive to keep trying. If anything, I find the game’s quest-portions more tedious (mainly because they just involve finding the correct NPC to talk to). Where the combat starts to get a bit tedious is in some of the larger arenas where just moving your guys close enough to attack takes up most of the battle. There were maybe 2-3 battles like this and they seriously made me dread coming back to the game because I was afraid it was only going to get worse. Luckily at some point the battle arenas started to get more varied and interesting, so it wasn’t all bad.

Score: 77% – Shining Force is a fun game thanks to its employment of strategy and fun characters. The plot is ultimately typical JRPG tripe but thanks to pretty cool animations, pleasant music and the combat mechanic, it’s a fun game to jump into. It’s also a lot more fair than the vast majority of its contemporaries which also makes it less frustrating. It has a few unfortunate blemishes (bland sound-effects, annoying auto-options, a few sucky arenas etc.), but powering through them you’ll still have a good time.