Inside Pulse 12

Retrograding 08.07.03

Okay. Long week. As the Kliq can tell you, Alex has basically become the living incarnation of Tenchi Masaki over the past week. And I’m prepping the old Retrograding: ADVANCE columns to be moved over to the new (and wonderful) GBA section. So I’m a mite busy behind the scenes.

This week we focus on the last of the Camelot made Shining games. Shining Force Three. In fact, there are actually 3 Shining Force games. It was an incredible attempt by Sega to create a series of games that were interchangeable and all told the same story from a different standpoint. It was hand down the best thing that ever happened to the Saturn in terms of originality and giving the fans what they wanted. However, Sega and their horrible marketing strategy kept this from being a runaway hit. First of all, they released the games when the Saturn was all but dead. It made a great epitaph, but nothing more. Second, the only released the entire set of games in Japan. We in the US got only part 1, which ends in a pretty crappy way and with a very anti-climatic end boss scene to boot. In order to enjoy the true experience, you needed all three games. And therein lies problem number 3: Not many games had the free cash to fork over 150$ (approximately) for all three games. Especially for an undead system like the Saturn. And then there is problem #4. Parts 1 & 3 were released in MUCH larger quantities than part 2. Making 2 harder to find and going from a crapload of money on Ebay compared to the others. Having the middle part be the rare one was way too stupid an idea, and the games interconnect when you play them in order. 3 would have made more sense as the rare scenario as that would have at least allowed you to get the bonus stuff from playing 1 then 2 in order. Then to be even more bizarre, scenarios 1 and 3 were re-released by Sega’s online store in Japan. But again, the rare MIDDLE one was not. Insane. Just insane business practices from Sega. And next week in the final column I’ll get into the blunder this lack of release caused with the Premium mail away edition…

The end result was a great set of games that was doomed to failure. And when a collection of the three games was not released for the DC, people bitched. Hell people bitched because there wasn’t an SF4 on the DC. People wanted Shining Force. They also wanted an English edition of Sakura Wars, a new Panzer game, and a normal Phantasy Star, but hey, that’s one of the many reasons the DC died -and I’m not going there this week. ;-)

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. 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 you…is 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.

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 and 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.

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 Japanese, one 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.

And as much as I’d like to tell you how cool (and expensive) the SF3-PREMIUM is, that I’m afraid is saved for our next and final chapter of the SF history. I mean come on people, there’s only three games left: The Premium disc and both Shining Souls. And those last two are the ones you want to hear about as the first is just about to be released stateside and the second? Well, it’ll make Bebito a very happy monkey handler.

Until next time people!