Monday Feb 09, 2009
Favorite games are like favorite books or movies or anything else—it’s fun to make lists, but the things we enjoy that much aren’t really about hierarchy, and picking a “favorite”—especially when it’s a game that’s more than a few years old—is mostly about the nostalgia of remembering fond, fond hours spent playing through a game from a now-extinct genre. Well, nuts to all that: Shining Force and Shining Force II are two of my favorite games of all time, up high on my mental top-10 list. Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection comes out tomorrow (February 10th!), and contains dozens of classic gems, but it would be worth the price of admission for the two Shining Force games alone.
There have been a total of twenty-one (!) games in the “Shining” series, from 1991′s Shining in the Darkness up through 2007′s Shining Wind and this year’s Shining Force Feather, set for release in Japan. Shining Force 3 was released on three separate discs for the Saturn and there have been a number of remakes & re-releases. The first two Shining Force games, however, perfectly blend RPG and tactical strategy gaming: Shining Force I & II are something like spiritual ancestors to Valkyria Chronicles, only Shining Force unfurls more like the early Final Fantasy games in the way you move around the game world and add members to your team while the story unfolds.
The story for the two games is not what one would call staggeringly original (ultimate evil returned after 1,000 years of exile, powerful enemy leader who is actually a good guy at heart, young swordsman protagonist who must seek out an ancient weapon rumored to be the only thing capable of stopping the evil, etc). But as with any good RPG it’s less the uniqueness of the story than the execution, and I recall these two games having significant pathos in how the stories were told.
The meat of the games, though, was the tactical, turn-based squad combat, and the team-building. I loved the “headquarters” in the two games, where you could freely wander and talk to everyone on your force, and put your group together. The characters are wonderfully designed, too: check out this terrific fan page for a list of all the characters from the first game. Here’s one for Shining Force II, from the same site. Actually, let’s put a link to the main page of this site here because it’s an excellent guide to the game & characters with lots of great fan stuff. There’s other pages like it around too, and a lot of great guides to the game, including information on when to promote your characters: in-game, “promoting” your characters at the right point gives them a special class and access to better spells, and with 30 unique playable characters in each game and a variety of different character classes and abilities, there’s a load of depth to the gameplay & strategy.
There are battles from Shining Force that I still remember playing the first time through: a robotic laser-eye cannon sits on the opposite side of a bridge in one battle and obliterates anyone who gets in the way, so you have to be careful about sending your troops across the bridge and past enemies to disable it. There’s a “chessboard” battle in Shining Force II that’s both incredibly difficult and incredibly fun. Oh–and jeez, I almost forgot–in the first Shining Force there’s a town you visit where everything seems a little . . . off. The townsmen start following you around, saying the same cryptic things over and over again, until eventually you wander into a church . . . and they all follow you in and block the entrance. Then they turn into evil zombies. For a game with such a cartoony look & feel, it’s an unnervingly creepy moment.
I loved the original Shining Force, and Shining Force II was essentially the same formula, only bigger in almost every respect, with a larger game world, far more battles, and a more expansive story with some nice twists and turns along the way. The original carts for this game are actually fairly rare, especially Shining Force II. I paid something like 60 or 70 dollars for it back in the day, one of the rare cases I’ve dropped that much cash for a game and not regretted it at all.
I said in another post that the original Phantasy Star stands up well even today, and someone challenged me on that in a response to the blog–well, they’re partially right, I think: the RPG genre has advanced and changed so much that it’s hard to compare the games from 20 years ago, and even beautiful & elegant RPGs from that era require loads more patience once you’ve played through some of today’s games.
An RPG from 1986 or 1990 is a totally different beast than one from 2005 or 2009, so maybe you can’t even really compare them . . . but, in my opinion, the Shining Force games really do stand up well today, and the battles are still a ton of fun to play through, and the animation and characters still look beautifully designed–and the music, by the way, is still awesome.
To close, I’ll post some of my favorite characters from SF1&2–stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, on a game staring some sort of sneaker-wearing hedgehog or something, which sounds crazy, but who knows, maybe it will work out.
This is Zylo from Shining Force I. Zylo is part-man, part-wolf, and all awesome. You get him fairly early on and he tears through enemies. I have fond memories of the aforementioned laser-gun battle because I plotted very carefully to send Zylo here over the bridge and shred that stupid laser gun into a million pieces. Zylo is your go-to front-line guy for Shining Force 1.
This is Jogurt, a secret character from Shining Force 1. Jogurt is, um, completely useless. If you’re foolhardy enough to bring him into battle, you will find that he has 1 HP and does 1 damage. However, if you use him to fight, you do get the “Jogurt Ring”, which changes the appearance for anyone who uses it into . . . Jogurt. The only proper word for an army of Jogurts is chilling.
This is Peter, a phoenix. He follows you around for a while in Shining Force 2, and eventually becomes a full member of your party. Peter’s only real downfall is that he is ugly as sin. In his pre-premotion form (seen above), he looks like a fat, ugly turkey. After you promote him he looks like a skinny, ugly peacock. However: Peter is easily the most powerful character in the game, and he automatically resurrects if he’s killed in combat.
Okay, while not technically a character, the Running Pimento makes good characters into awesome characters. This item boosts your characters movement rate. Just make sure to wait till after a character is promoted to use it–all character upgrades are reset after promotion! The item is worth hanging onto: it turns a character like Peter who already has good range, into a freakish death-dealing machine, and it can make characters like Zync or Claude, who have abysmal movement rates, into competent death-dealing machines.
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