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Shining Force II – Genesis

Shining Force II – Genesis

Unknown-5Platform: Sega Genesis

Developer: Sonic! Software Planning 

Publisher: Sega

Release Date: October 1, 1993

Genre: RPG

Nerd Rating: 8/10

Reviewed by Paladin

Every RPG fan remembers the early-to-mid 1990s: it was arguably the greatest time for the genre. Hit after incredible hit just seemed to constantly churn out, one right after the other; the Final Fantasy franchise, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Super Mario RPGthese were just a few of the many juggernauts that were enthralling audiences back then. Their most notable shared characteristic? All were released on a Nintendo console. For whatever reason all of the best Role-Playing Games were exclusive to the NES or SNES, while Sega was stuck with the likes of Beyond Oasis and the Phantasy Star games.

However, early 1992 would see the dawn of a new style of RPG, one that would involve much more strategy than gamers were used to, one that would allow the player to control dozens of characters at once and feature the ability to promote them to a superior class of warrior, precluding games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Suikoden by an entire generation. And so Sega finally released Shining Force on the Genesis and….it was ok. It had an innovative grid-like battle system, colorful characters, cool weapons, but ultimately, though enjoyable, it proved to be on the repetitive side.

But it did well enough for a sequel.images

And what a sequel it was! Shining Force II took everything that was good about its predecessor and improved it, starting with the very first battle. The game opens with the main character (Bowie) learning the ins-and-outs of combat with his classmates when their teacher, Sir Astral, is called away on an urgent errand for the king. Of course, being obedient students, they follow him and (stop me if you’ve heard this) get in over their heads and embark on an epic quest to save the world, encountering all sorts quirky folk along the way.  

The first battle shows us that Sega carried over the combat system from the previous Shining Force. We see the battlefield from a bird’s-eye-view with all of the characters looking like miniature playset figures. Each gets a turn to move a limited number of steps and upon landing next to an enemy, can attack, use an item or cast a spell. Right off the bat, the need for strategy is evident; if the player moves any member of the party too far ahead or elects to attack the wrong enemy at the wrong time, it could mean defeat. This allows for many tense and exciting moments: do I push my knight ahead because he can move more steps per turn or do I wait for my mage to come up so she can blast multiple monsters at once? How far can enemy troops move? Every fight may follow the same format, but no two are ever the same.

Battles are a great way to showcase the superior graphics as well. The developers managed to get an impressive amount of detail onto the little sprites of each character, but the real thrill is when you choose an action. Upon selecting the attack, magic, or item icon, the POV switches to a close up from behind the character you’re controlling. Now he/she, as well as the enemy monster,  are so large they each take up half the screen and both are visible in their full splendor for a few seconds. It’s a blast to see how their large forms compare to their miniature counterparts and I love seeing each character’s unique attack.

UnknownGameplay and graphics aren’t all this game has to offer though. Immediately following the first battle the princess is kidnapped by a demon, the king of a neighboring nation is possessed by another demon, a massive earthquake destroys half the kingdom, and the main characters barely escape by ship with a handful of townspeople. The intense music gets your blood pumping and provides an increased sense of urgency as buildings crumble left and right and massive fissures open up to swallow people whole right in front of you.

It’s high stakes scenarios like these that truly set this game apart from the first Shining Force. As opposed to going from battle, to town, to battle, to town, etc., you navigate across an entire continent and encounter dangerous scenario after dangerous scenario as a slew of interesting and diverse characters joins you. One of my favorites is when you get shrunk by a wizard and his entire castle becomes a death trap. Everything from tables to coins are vastly increased in size, rendering escape quite difficult. The climax is a heated battle against an enchanted chess set.

After many more creative adventures 30 characters end up joining in your cause and the biggest, yet coolest issue with this game is evident. On the one hand, every character brings his or her own personal style into combat. You never know who will join you next and once each character becomes strong enough, they can be promoted into a different class and you get to discover the character all over again. However, 30 characters leaves almost no time to get to know any of them. We get a glimpse into their personality upon first crossing their path, but after that only a handful get any screen time while the rest get relegated to battle pawns. With such diversity in their appearances and attacks, it would be nice to get the same in their development.images-1

However, nothing can prepare you for the frustration of losing a battle. After crawling across the battlefield in an attempt to kill the enemy leader so as to instantly end the fight, it can be easy to focus all your efforts on one enemy and open yourself up to sneak attacks. If you’re not careful your forces will be decimated before you know it, forcing you to restart from whenever you happened save the game last. So save often.

Shining Force II is a great game that possibly suffered from guilt by association. If it had been released on the SNES it may have been a more successful franchise. The story is typical, but well executed, the characters are fun and the game play is addicting. Every now and again it falls prey to the same repetitive style of the first one and a lot of characters get pushed to the side, but that does little to take away from simple, yet enjoyable treat that is this game. If there’s one RPG  to play for the Sega Genesis, it’s Shining Force II.

Written by Paladin


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