Inside Pulse 12

History Of Shining Force: Part Three

Shining Force 3: Scenario 1

Before I get into the plot, I’d like to speak about the changes made to the game series. First, Shining Force went into full 3D mode here. Yes, the majority of the world was in the usual 2D fashion SF fans had grown to love, but now the battles were in glorious 3D. It’s one of the few times I enjoyed when a game made the change to blocky Virtua Fighter type graphics instead of 2D. But it looks good, and it was a great change of pace to set SF3 aside as the NEW more adult version of Shining Force. Plots were deeper, and more complicated. Characters were fleshed out, including for the first time, the main characters. It was Camelot and Sega maturing a franchise so it still resonated with the gamers that grew up and loved the series as kids.

But what was hands down the best aspect of the new SF3 series was the role of friendship. It was something so simple in concept but never tried in a tactics game before. What happens with Friendship is that characters that fight together become closer. Yes, I know. It sounds simple and stupid. But read on. The more characters interact in combat; by attacking the same enemy, healing each other, giving each other items, them higher up the friend meter they go. And different characters give out different bonuses. If you’re friends with a mage, maybe your magic defense will go up when you’re near them. Friends with a Centaur? Maybe it’s your defense. Or possibly your attack strength. And the higher up the friend meter, the stronger the bonus. However if a character falls n combat, when he is raised, his meter falls a level in regards to everyone. Being dead pisses a person off after all.

As I mentioned earlier, the graphics have taken a turn from 16 bit to 32 bit. Although in cases like the world map and towns, there’s not much of a difference, the battle scenes are improved by the change to 3D. And with added little neat things that happen in combat. You can find lost tombs and send guys into them to explore during combat. You can find hidden characters in the heat of battle. And you can even have special objectives in the battles that can garnish you hidden items and even a character!

The music too is mind blowing. Motoi Sakuraba nearly got himself onto my list of soundtracks. It’s that damn good. I own the collected soundtrack (Again, go to Ebay for these things people. You can generally get them for a few bucks less than on VG soundtrack web sites.)

Now, for the story. Remember last time with talk of the Vandals and a certain young boy from Shining the Holy Ark? If not, go back and re-read part three. Because they’ll be mentioned again here.

SF3-1 starts in a floating city that reminds me of Vane from Lunar. It’s called Saraband. You are Synbios and along with a small group of friends and the leader of your country, are attending a peace conference over some disputed lands.

Now this is the big thing about the games. It’s all politically motivated with a ton of gray and only partly through the game do you encounter any black and white aspects. Now at the risk of boring you, here is some SF3 political background. (And this will help to understand all three games, so accept it and read)

There are two big counties involved. We have Aspinia, which is the land Synbios hails from. And then there’s Destonia, which is who you play as in Scenario 2. Recently the Destonians have invaded the Holy Land. It’s strategically’ important to both countries. This is because the Destonians feel the Aspinians stole the land from them 20 years before where Aspinia declared its independence from Destonia. So with two decades of hate, you can imagine how much fun that peace conference must be. ;-)

Your leader, Benetram is called to a special meeting with Emperor Domaric and leaves you, your centaur friend, an elf mage, and an archer to explore the floating city. You encounter some anti Aspinian forces, meet the team you will play as in SF3-2, and end up getting attacked by a strange masked cult. And that’s when things start getting good.

After you encounter this cult, you discover the monks have kidnapped the Emperor! And who led the attack? Non other than your own leader, Benetram! Your teams conflicting loyalty between the peace process and supporting your country’s ruler gives the monks the time it takes to flee with the Domaric.

When you rush back to your base in the floating city, Benetram is there, and without the Emperor! He has no idea what you are talking about either and says Domaric was never at the meeting he was told about. Then Dantares, your centaur companion realizes none of Benetram’s entourage was in on the attack either. Someone has assumed Benetram’s appearance in order to frame Aspinia and trigger an all out war!

And that’s the gist of the entire game in SF3-1. Your Shining Force must figure out who is behind this cult, why they want war, and to convince the Empire that it is all a manipulation by group who wants both countries weakened.

A lot of the game is fending of Empire troops and trying to make it back to your home country without revenge being taken out on your leader. But as you go on you learn the truth behind the religious cult: They are the agents of Bulzome and led by four powerful and strange beings. You learn more about this cult from a young man named Julian (The hero of SF3-3 and the young boy in Shining the Holy Ark). And he reveals the origins and truths about the Vandals, the real beings lurking in the shadows here.

Of course, the misunderstanding is cleared up between the teams of SF3-1 and SF3-2, and the teams respect and help each other. Life is good there.

Eventually Julian’s obsession to kill all Vandals leads your team to a haunted city where you get just such an opportunity. A little more of the story is revealed and you continue on to the Republic.

You eventually learn a member of your own country betrays you, that in addition to your own war going on, there is a war amongst the Vandals as well, and the one that sides with youis the one Julian wants to kill the most. And when he is encountered, Well, be glad you never actually have to fight him.

More intrigue, more Vandals, and the game eventually ends with a long (but way too easy) battle where your team is divided into two sects and you drown a giant killer robot. What’s really bad is the game has no resolution. There are so many plot threads left unanswered, and when you finally stop the war, the Emperor Domaric says he’s going to declare war on Aspinia anyway! Yes, even though you saved him and are friends with that country’s Shining Force! Hence the reason you need the next two parts, and if you play the US game, it leaves you frustrated that nothing is resolved. Great game, but shitty ending. If you’re a Shining Force freak, it just makes you wish you were Japanese

Shining Force 3- Scenario 2

As mentioned earlier this is going to be exactly like SF3-1 in terms of graphics, music quality, camera angles and the like. The only difference is the story and characters.

Now you play as Medion, son of the Emperor Domaric, and countryman of Destonia. A few characters like Julian and Zero repeat, but other than that it’s a whole new team!

Oh and for Shining Force 1 fans, a very familiar face returns: Arthur the magic using centaur!

Let’s also get something out of the way here. In the first game, everything appeared to be in shades of black and white. No longer. As you play this scenario, you learn your father, Emperor Domaric is as EVIL as the vandals. So yes, you’re playing as the unwitting pawns of the bad guys here and it will show throughout the adventure.

The game starts off exactly like Scenario 1, but from a different point of view. You’re attacked by the monks, watch the fake Benetram kidnap your father and although you are sure it is not the real Benetram, your older brothers and leaders of the army of the Empire refuse to listen and attempt to find and kill the Aspinian Shining Force. And guess who is put in charge of that little mission?

The entire first chapter is a retelling of the beginning of SF3-1. Right up to the joint battle that involves saving the refugees. Your army decides to no longer obey the edicts of your older brother and try to prove Benetram’s innocent and to also defeat some Vandal evil.

A lot of the plot in SF3-2 is filler in my opinion, which makes it odd that there are next to no translations for this game on the web. Anything plot worthy isn’t apparent until you play Scenario 3 as Julian’s SF. Okay, that’s a bit of exaggeration on my part. You get to see Galm again stop another Vandal and show that he’s against the revival of Bulzome. Your team encounters Julian from Scenario 1 and he joins up for a time. You save your father and actually have to protect him over a few battles (Which sucks as he’s weak and dies easily) only to watch him betray you in the ultimate manner

The end game involves another two part battle and the ending is pretty bad and unhappy. Without spoiling I’ll just say Domaric gets his way and it’s as unsatisfying at Scenario 1’s ending. Hmmm. Maybe more so if you far preferred Scenario 1’s characters

Shining Force 3 – Scenario 3

The last little bit of the trilogy. You start as Julian and Donhort from Scenario 2. What’s nice is that if you ARE playing the games in order, Julian should be twice the level he would start at if you were just playing scenario 3 on its own. It starts right from where Julian left Scenario 2 and this story focuses primarily on the Bulzome cult. In fact, the whole first chapter is nothing BUT fighting the Bulzome cult. But hey, Julian’s got a vengeance streak in him a mile wide and he’s obsessed with killing all the Vandals.

One of the neat things here are the unusual troops you get in Scenario 3. Everyone from Cyclops to Rollie. And of course you get a dragon on your team. How can you NOT love that? As well, all the choices you weren’t aware that you could make in SF3-1 and 2 become apparent here with the characters who can join your team, and various items you can receive.

Of course the much cooler characters come at a price of much harder battles. Still SF3 has the easiest battles out of any SF game. I’d have killed for Honesty or Thousand against Zeon or Iom.

Julian comes in and stops the eventual Symbios/Medion battle and Medion is finally saved from the control of his evil father. And then there’s more Vandal killing. And the eventual meeting of Galm? Oh it happens, and after Julian gets a third promotion to boot, one of only two characters in the entire series to get that ability. And both are in SF3-3. And Galm’s death is underwhelming and sad. It leaves you feeling Julian, although the main good guy in the series is a bit of a psycho and part of you is rooting for the sole dissenter of the Vandals. It’s the “bleck” part of this particular SF3. But one that has to happen and continues along the lines we saw in Scenario 1, where good and evil can sometimes blur.

Of course, Galm’s death is just another feather in the Vandal’s cap of sneaky manipulation. He lives, as does Julian, but one can’t help feeling Galm’s more the good guy than Julian, who is a tad blinded by Vengance.

Towards the end of the game you can access the team from Scenario 1 and 2s if you have been playing all the way through. Otherwise you get versions of the characters that are much weaker. As well before the last battle you can interchange Vandal Hunter J with Medion and/or Symbios if you choose. Julian may be the craziest of the three, but at least he’s the most powerful. Symbios is still my personal favorite.

And I love the ending for this scenario. FOUR final battles. One with each SF team and then the big knock down drag out with Bulzome himself. It’s a good tough set of battles that can test even the best SF tactician.

And the ending is very reminiscent of the first Shining Force. Everything seems to come full circle with Julian playing the part of Max.

And like each SF game, there is a special secret bonus ending.

Galm and Eliza (From Shining the Holy Ark) encounter each other after the final battle of the game occurs. Eliza accuses Galm of being up to something and also suspects he purposed killed Julian’s father. Not to be evil, but so that Julian would be set down the path of destiny that led him to the destruction of Bulzome.

Galm neither denies or admits Eliza’s suspicions have merit, but does state that Galm and Julian will meet once more, and that it will be their final encounter.

Of course nothing ever becomes of this foreshadowing

Now, this may be the shortest of the SF histories due to my not having to rehash gameplay and graphics and sound repeatedly through the column, but it also took me the longest to do. You try playing three ultra long games, two of which are in Japaneseone of which has barely any info on it except for links from Moogie’s great shiningforcecentral.com, and putting them into one column! ;-)

Seriously, I didn’t want to go into “how to find hidden characters” and things of that nature simply because this wasn’t an FAQ, and because I wanted to make sure I had every last thing found. Yes, I know 1 and 3 inside and out, but 2? He’s the toughie.

Anyways, as much as I was both overjoyed and let down by the SF3 trilogy at the same time, it was the PREMIUM disc that you could send away for once you bought all three games that made it all worth while. Anytime you can see Darksol and Dark Dragon in 3-f’n-D, it makes it the being let down by 2 or the 3 endings all worth it. But of course, when the Premium disc could only be obtained by sending away the proof of purchases from the 3 SF3 scenarios in to Camelot, (Previously known as Sonic Software Planning), it’s obvious to see why this game is so hard to obtain.

SHINING FORCE 3: PREMIUM DISC

Needless to say, this game is pretty rare. Even though Camelot has reopened the offer on several occasions. This game, due to its rarity and the rabid fanaticism of the SF fanbase, has gone for up to 800$. Yes that’s right. The cost of FIVE Radiant Silverguns! Thankfully, due to the reopening of the offer, and the re-release of the SF trilogy allowed the cost of this game to drop to it’s current price of approximately 100$, which is how much I paid for it in 2000. Yes. I actually dropped a hundred bones for a Game that is little more than Nostalgia, a soundtrack, a video, and a few extra battles. Not advised for those of you saner than myself. Which is most of humanity.

Okay. Due to the Premium’ nature of this disc, there’s a lot to cover here. First up is the fact that there is NO plot to this disc. First up is a 3-D gallery. Every character and villain is in this gallery, and you are able to view the models from any angle, close up, or in any of their attack poses. Again, it’s cute if you’re a big art freak or obsessed with SF characters, but it’s a temporary distraction at best.

Next up is the Art gallery, Character designs and manga-esque art of all the characters you could see in the 3D gallery. A lot of it is the type of art you could find in the Shining Force 3 artbook that is occasionally found on Ebay.

Then we have the Save Game Creator for Scenario 3. This is to flesh out Scenario 3 in case you are missing either S-1 or S-2, or even both. You can choose what events happened in Parts 1 & 2, from not killing certain characters to deciding whether those damn villagers in Scenario 1 actually lived or not, you have total control over all the variables that make up what will be your inevitable Scenario 3 game. Nifty idea and something I’m glad is included as SF3-3 seems to be the most common of the Japanese releases, and thus one of these Premium discs allows you and your friends access to the full SF3-3 experience.

There’s also a sound test and a Movie Selector. The Sound test allows you to listen to every song from all three games, along with sound effects and character voices. The Movie selector gives you all three opening videos and both endings. There are some commercials and a making of video as well, but those are all in Japanese only. Still, the footage is fun to watch. But again, it’s just cute filler that isn’t worth the triple digit price tag unless you’re a complete SF freak.

But the reason to buy the Premium disc off Ebay is for the special battles contained on the disc. Allowing you access to all of your team members of the past 3 games, your combined SF armies are able to take on the bosses of SF3, but also classics like Iom, Dark Dragon and Darksol himself. Intense! And an incredible bonus to SF fans who have waited to finally see the original bosses from the first Shining Force in beautiful 3-D rendering. And yes, Zeon is as evil and bitchy as when you face him in SF2. It is rather nice to have access to THREE heroes when you fight him though

And that in a nutshell, is all you get on the Premium disc. Yes, as a freebie, it’s great and an example of why Camelot is one of the best companies out there. But as a 100$ collector’s item on Ebay, it’s not worth the cash. 9 battles and some music and Japanese commercials doth not a worthy purchase make.

And for the longest time, there were no new Shining Force games. SF3-3 came out in late September, 1998. And for a long time, people thought there wouldn’t be any new ones. After all Camelot and Sega’s friendly relationship deteriorated with the death of the Saturn, something that also occurred with Working Designs and a few other companies. But when Sega released the Sega Smash Pack for the Dreamcast, the original Shining Force was included as part of the package. And we all cheered. Sure it was a crappy port with some mistakes in the music, but it was SHINING FORCE! And Sega smelled money.

And of course this means they never did anything with SF on the DC. And it took Sega FOUR YEARS to release a new Shining game. One totally different from the originals. And it would still take another year before the game hit Europe. And it’s just now coming out in the states next month. This game is of course SHINING SOUL.

As usual, Shining Soul was another boneheaded move by Sega’s marketing department. It did decently in Japan, and Sega knew that the US had a very rabid Shining fan base. So they decided NOT to release it in the US or Europe. Finally Infogrames decided to release the game in Europe and Atlus (your pagan god and mine) are about to release Shining Soul in the US.

Now, no one in the Development of Shining Soul actually appeared to have any connection to the old Shining games. Especially the Takahashi brothers.

Now, let me say this right out. Shining Soul is not what Shining fans were expecting. It’s an action role-playing game in the same vein as Diablo. There is little character development and a LOT of hack N slash. It’s meant to be a multiplayer beat em up ala River City Ransom combined with a Ren Fest. And people were expecting a Strategy Tactics style RPG. And thus the Shining fanbase were pissed off because the game was different from what they wanted. Never mind it was a GOOD game that I really enjoy because I remember it’s as different from Shining Force as Shining Wisdom or Shining in the Darkness was. No. People wanted SHINING FORCE. And they aren’t gonna get it. At least not for a very long time.

What’s really nice is that like in SF3 Premium, a lot of old villains reappear. Xeon, Iom, Dark Dragon, Darksol and more. The game is an action based nostalgia ride through the Shining Universe. It’s not really connected to the same chronology that Shining was previously known more. More likely it is an alternate universe, or more appropriately, who the fuck cares. It’s cute to see Jogurt and Claude and Max and everyone back in a different type of game. It’s just a bloody video game. People need to stop taking it so seriously.

In Shining Soul you have a choice of 4 characters: A Swordsman (Complete and total crap compared to the others), a Dragonute (Hardcore close range attacks), A Mage/Cleric (Heal spells are your friend) and my personal favorite, the Elven Archer. The latter can actually attack from a distance and when you get him to his max skill level in arrows can even take down Dark Dragon pretty quickly.

Each character has a set of skills to choose from. A few overlap between characters but nearly all of them are individual to the characters. Your Dragon can counter attack with fire breath when it is hit. The Archer can do extra damage against flying monsters like Dragons and Harpies. The Mage can cast any spell you remember from old Shining games. The Swordsman sucks a little bit less. You can get up to four levels in each skill. You can also assign points to your Magic level, your strength, and your defense, making you stronger in those areas as well. Certain weapons cannot be used without a pre-req of strength level. Some armour needs the same. You can also find rare and unusual items throughout the game in stores and from enemies.

The really bizarre change is finding “Souls.” When you actually get one of these, you can charge it up by killing monsters. Then when the charge meter is full, you can release the soul’ (which is a classing Shining Character) and make them do heavy damage to all opponents on the screen, including a boss.

But in truth, it’s just a beat em game with some new gameplay and hints of Nostalgia. I enjoy it, but as a time waster, not a great video game. Once it is officially released in the US, I’ll be doing a PERFECT guide to munchkin’ing your characters as I did with Eye of the Beholder. However, once you have beaten the game you DO unlock an Advanced mode, with more powerful enemies so your now super powerful character can still enjoy a challenge.

Multiplayer mode does increase the life of the game, but like multiplayer in Hunter: The Reckoning, you may end up finding the game much easier on your own than with partners.

The game managed to alienate fanatical Shining fans, but it also attracted some new people. Shining Soul sold decently in Japan and pretty well in England and most of Europe. And thus Sega issued a sequel. But this time, the sequel was going to be geared to get those long time Shining Fans back.

SHINING SOUL 2 came out in July of 2003. It’s a pretty common game, but as it’s been out for a little over a month, I can’t give you any real sales figures.

The graphics have improved. The classes have doubled, adding werewolf, ninja, vampire, and witch. There are now ten dungeons instead of 8, and each dungeon has a quest instead of being straight hack N slash.

http://www.sega.co.jp/shining2/ is the official site for the new game and although it is in all Japanese, the pictures and artwork allow you to gleam a lot of information. You can view the new arena style combat (think Pokemon), the different characters and monsters you will encounter, and even an FAQ!

Niftiest of all they’ve got some downloadable backgrounds, screen savers and desktop themes for your computer. And if you’re wondering, I use Thousand Arms on my computer. :-P

Shining Soul 2 is rumoured to be coming to the US thanks to Atlus as well. Atlus had a comment for a while that Shining Soul 2 would be coming to US shores in December of this year, 3 months after SS1 arrived. That has since been taken down, but it hasn’t kept the Shining fans from being curious.

Shining Soul 2 feels a lot more like a Shining game, from the characters and the fact they’ve actually been given personalities and backgrounds to the way combat plays. Yes, it is still hack N slash, but you’re fighting actual monsters that appeared in Shining games.

Me? I’ve been playing as the Archer. I figure why not go with the old favorite, but Dark Wizard/Vampire is next on my list.

And that my friends, is a short (well, if you count 30 pages as shirt) history of the Shining Force series. If you’re looking for a far more in-depth history of Shining Force, you need to check out Moogie’s shiningforcecentral.com. Moogie’s probably the best Brit I encountered while over there to boot.

If you enjoyed this, please let me know. I’m working on SNK’s King of Fighters in a similar format and hope that receives the same amount of attention this did in it’s 5 part form.