Inside Pulse 12

Review: Shining Soul (Game Boy Advance)

Game: Shining Soul
System: Game Boy Advance
Genre: Action RPG
Developer : Sega
Publisher: Sega (Japan), Atari (Europe), Atlus (USA)

Three publishers for one game. 4 if you count the fact Atari publisher a horrible English translation in Europe then delayed the copy in England for a month or two to get it fixed. As the insane owner of all FOUR versions of this game, I can tell you that I am all Shining Souled Out.

Seriously, if you stuck Persona: Eternal Punishment in front of me and said “Beat it in Japanese. Then in Engrish. Then in English. Then in English but this time faithful to the Shining Force plot and characters”, and well, I’d be very frazzled. Especially if they made a Shining Force Megami Tensei.

Now, I know you guys have all read my five part exceptionally fanboytastic write-up of all the Shining Force games, including this one. And if you haven’t, well, SHAME ON YOU!. But then you can always go here and read up on my general commentary on this game. You see, like the Eye of the Beholder review I did before, this is going to be a pretty in-depth commentary on what you can do to make the best cheese-minded munchkin character that you can.

Now, let’s take a look at the stats all characters share.

Strength. This lets you kill things dead. It also determines the armour and weapons you can use. The higher the strength the better the shit you can wield or wear. This makes sense to a degree. Wussy Elven Mages aren’t going to be able to heft plate mail. Unless you’ve been bulking them up and neglecting their spells like a silly nutjob.

Vitality Gives you more hit points. That’s it. Shining Soul is pretty cut and dry.

Intelligence Only Wizards can use this category. Meaning you’re either a beefcake or a scrawny Mage.

Dexterity Affects your hit rate and your speed and ability to dodge.

As you can imagine most characters can only put the points they earn into three of the four categories. Except of course the Wizard who has to balance all four stats making her the second worst character in the game.

Focus on Strength and Dexterity with your archer. He’ll rarely ever get hit if you play him right, so he doesn’t need that many hit points. Wizards have healing spells so focus mainly on intelligence and Vitality. They can miss on occasion and don’t need much strength. Dragonutes are all Strength and Vitality characters and Swordsmen? Heh. Let’s just go into their in-depth portfolio instead of me starting the rant here.

Character #1: Swordsman
Okay. This is supposed to be the tribute to Max, the original leader of the very first Shining Force. But in fact he is a horrible bitchslap followed by a kick to the nuts with a steel toes boot while wearing chain mail socks to all Shining Force fans. Why? Because as he is supposed to be the most balance character, he in fact is so horribly weak compared to the other characters, only a masochist, person who gets a hard on from Max hentai, or unknowing Shining Soul player would use him. I’m here to save you people! DON’T USE THE SWORDSMAN! EVER.

Why are you not listening to me? Why are you choosing him? Sigh. Fine. For those of you insane enough to take the swordsman, here’s a list of his abilities and why or why you shouldn’t take them.

Sword Swords suck. Out of the three weapons you can gain skills in with the Swordsman, the sword has the least use. It’s not as strong as the Axe. It doesn’t have distance. It’s special attack in a bulls rush that normally gets you killed. It’s worthless. Only gain levels in the sword if you never seem to get magic or powerful spears or axes or have other things powered up.

AxeThis is the Swordsman’s best weapon. Which again shows his suckage as it is the Dragonute’s WORST weapon. But pump this baby up as fast as you can over all other weapons. The spear can’t go as far or do as much damage as it does in the hands or the Archer. So this is going to be the weapon you use for 90% of the game if you are crazy enough to play as the swordsman.

Spear Decent second choice if you can’t get a magic axe. Long range weapons are a godsend in this game. But again, spears for the Swordsman are wasted if you are in multiplayer mode with an Archer. Stick to your Axe baby. But put a few levels of spear in just in case.

Defense Build up Remember how I said the Swordsman sucks? Well his only use in multiplayer mode comes from this and another skill later on. Damage reduction makes the Swordsman a perfect decoy to draw the monster’s fire. Let the Swordsman run around and get the monsters to chase him while your archer and mage pick them off from behind AND at a distance. In single player mode, this doesn’t help as much as one might think.
Efficacy This makes your recovery items more powerful. However, the ability barely affects the healing you get. And worse, it only affects you again making it pretty lame as skills go. However this does tie in with the damage reduction ability decently enough to help make your swordsman stay cannon fodder longer than the average red shirt on Star Trek. Still, points are better spent on Defense Build Up and the next category.

Mental Power Magic defense. The best skill the Swordsman has. Bosses use magic. LOTS of magic. In solo mode, the Swordsman defense abilities are rather pitiful due to his weak attack and the fact that while he’s absorbing all this ass kicking he’s still not doing any back. But in multiplayer mode? Let the Swordsman take the lighting or fireball or ice bolts. Keeps your other guys alive and able to do some damage. Very nice, eh?

Ice resistance. Okay? A point in this or a point in general magic resistance? Do I even have to make the reasons for not taking this skill clear?

Lighting Resistance See Ice resistance.

Overall, the Swordsman is only good at getting pummeled. In solo mode, you’ll have the hardest time with this crazy bastard. In multiplayer, you’ll be the king of all martyrs. Just make sure your friends give you healing seeds and herbs.

Character #2: The Wizard

Like I said, the Wizard is the second hardest character, if only because you have four categories to divide points between instead of three. Thankfully Strength is going to get very little, while intelligence gets the majority of the points. Just don’t skimp on Dex and Vitality. You’ll still need both of them. But as a long range attacker, both are less importance than powerful magic.

Blaze In normal Shining Force games, bolt in the best spell. Not here. Most enemies in the game seem to feel Blaze the most. So this will be your primary spell. And thankfully the longer you hold the A button, the bigger the fireball. Now. Distance attacker + high Dex for extra speed + honking giant ball of flames = dead enemies lickedty split. You will come to love Blaze as I have.

Freeze Third of the attack spells. You’ll use it less than Bolt and Blaze, but the neat thing is that on occasion your opponents do get frozen into blocks of ice and can’t defend themselves. ESPECIALLY great in multiplayer mode where the other guys can make up for the little amount of damage this spell does.

Bolt Decent spell. Not as strong as blaze, but it does have homing in abilities. Like the other two, the majority of your points should be spent on these spells and nothing else. Bolt packs a punch, even on the bosses where Blaze seems to weaken.
Hellblast Crap. Total crap. Little mini tornados that do jack for damage and have less range than the other spells. Don’t waste your time people.

Inferno Sounds cool. But isn’t. Again. Another spell that is considerably weaker than the main three. Putting points into this is a big waste of hard earned XP’s.

Resistance Resistance to other magic attacks. Your Spell Points could be used to hit things instead. As well, you have armour and magic items that give you spell resistance. Although it sounds tempting, Resistance is a big waste.

Heal And here we go. HEAL. Say it with me. No more wasting money on herbs. FREE healing. Hurrah! After your beefed up attack spells, put some points into this. Never, EVER say no to free healing powers. You don’t need it maxed out. Only at level 2 is fine considering how strong the spell is and how little hit points mages have.

Slow Wow. A spell that slows down monsters. But you’re already faster. And have distance attacks. What would possess someone to even care? Hmmm? WHY?

So what we’ve learned is that your mage will be able to use the three main elements and heal the party. Great long distance character that will make the game easier in multiplayer. In solo mode the having merely decent stats instead of great ones like the Dragonute and Archer will slow you down a bit, but with a heal spell and Blaze level 4, you’ll be just fine.

Character #3: The Dragonute

If only he was a Werewolf instead. The Dragonute is roid rage incarnate. Love him as he is the second best character in the game. The only problem with him is that he has to step in and get dirty with the fists due to no distance attacks. OR DOES HE?

Axe We covered this in Swordsman land. Why even think about the Axe when you have the motherf*cking FLAIL. Only use the flail. Some distance and Twice the power! And the special attack it has just rocks. Screw the axe. Let your wussy swordsman have it.

Flail She is your baby. Give her love, attention and a name like Ruth. Pump it up above all other abilities. Trust me on this. At level 14 a Dragonute with a level THREE flail is stronger than a level 30 Archer with a 4 in both spear and bow. Flail is god. All hail flail.

Break Armour Lowers the enemy’s defense rating. Neat, but not that powerful compared to a massive rating in flail.

Emit Random chance of a counter attack when you get hit by an enemy and take damage. In response, your Dragonute spits out fire. A free automatic hit attack with fire based elements behind it? This and Flail people. It’s all you need to kill things beyond mutilation.

Defense Build Up Ho, ho ho. Even LESS of a reason to use the Swordsman. The Dragonute can take a hit too! And actually cause some damage! It’s handy to have, but break armour is better and besides, all your points are going to flail and emit anyways. Consider this when you’re done with those.

Undead Extra damage against the Undead? Again, cute, but way too nuche to actually invest into.

Fire Resistance See Undead

Lightning Resistance See Undead

There’s no real strategy to the Dragonute. See Enemy. Rush enemy. Pummel Enemy. Out of all the characters, he and the Archer can get through solo mode pretty easily, and also are must haves in multiplayer mode. You want a comedy game? Imagine two Dragonutes and two Archers against everything. Total squashfest. A Dragonute can have flail 4 and Emit 2 as early as level 14 in the game. Just try it and watch the monsters fall by the wayside.

Character #4: The Archer

The best character in the game hands down. He’s fast, rarely misses, has only ranged attacks and his special bow attack shoots out a crap load of arrows at super high speeds. The Archer is the best character for beginning players and people who just want to cheese. The only problem with the Archer is everything he has is so good that it’s hard to f*cking choose what to take!

Bow Okay. You can either have a bow which does decent damage and hits at a ultra rapid fire rate on one opponent, or the spear, which does mega damage one time to multiple characters. I prefer the bow in later stages and on bosses for the obvious reason, but the Spear is not without its charm on enemy laden levels. In truth, the Archer is the only character I switch between weapons with. However for cheese value, it’s gotta be the Bow.

Spear Great backup weapon. So levels in this are always a good thing. Especially against 4-6 enemies at once. I loves me the spear. But still, the bow. Stay with the bow.

Leap Leap increases your long distance range. Yes. You read that right. Not only do you already have long distance attacks. But with leap, you can attack from EVEN FARTHER AWAY. And you’re the fastest character to boot. Do you see the overly powerful character in this game yet? But wait! There’s more!

Critical Yup. That’s right! This skill increases your chance of Critical attacks! So super distance, a bow that hits 3-5 times faster than the other characters and you get a much higher rate of super death damage? How could the character get any more insanely powerful???

Healing YES! YES! The Archer can regenerate as well! How totally f*cking hatstand is that? It’s as if they wanted one character that could do everything. You don’t need herbs. You have the best attacks in the game, the highest critical rate, and you can hit opponents that are nearly off the screen! The Archer is so good, it is SCARY.

Anti-Flying Yeah. Extra damage to flying creatures. You really want that compared to the other skills…

Fire Resistance Hmm. Less damage from Fire? Or regeneration or critical hits? Hard choice there, eh?

Ice Resistance See fire resistance.

See? The Archer is too damn good. TOO DAMN GOOD. The problem is trying to choose what to max out first? I’d got with bow and critical with leap and healing after. Even one point of healing makes a BIG difference and leap is just adding insult to injury. But the temptation is there to make your archer good at a lot of things instead of super ungodly powerful in one or two. The Archer may be the most powerful, but he’s also the best guy to dick around with in terms of seeing which of his insane abilities you love the most.

Wow. I’m about to hit page seven and we haven’t even gotten into what you normally expect from a 411mania review. So I guess now that we’ve discussed each power, it’s time to hit the standard Fab Four, right>

Gameplay

Shining Soul plays like a breeze. There’s little to no slowdown even with a horde or monsters running around on the screen after you. The buttons all make sense. Shoulder buttons for exchanging items or weapons. A button to kill. A button held down for special attacks. The motions are crisp and instantaneous and for a Diablo type engine, it’s pretty dead on. The level designs are great for what they could do with a Diablo type game and have some interesting puzzles on occasion.

In fact, my only gripes about the gameplay are how ultra great the Archer is, how shitty the Swordsman is, and how the Souls, when you do get one, end up being pretty weak compared to your special attacks and take the place of a special equipable item. The Souls are supposed to be a big part of the game, but in fact will almost never be used more than once, and then only to see the graphics. Other than those minor gripes, I can’t see how anyone can actually complain about the gameplay. Fun factor? Well, we’ll get to that.

Graphics

Wow. Well. They’re not bad. The opening Demo is by far better than anything in FFTA. I’ll give the game that. And the bosses like Dark Dragon are incredible. But for the most part, the game is a disgrace to the Shining Force legacy in graphics terms. Okay. Maybe that’s a bit harsh. The level graphics are great too. Pretty good and detailed for an RPG and compared to games like Phantasy Star Collection and FFTA. But the character designs are horrible. The monsters, the characters you play as, the townspeople. All crap. Compared to even Shining in the Darkness, I feel sad for the Shining Force legacy looking at these characters. With a little more effort, this game could have been SO beautiful. It really could have. Shining Force was a 16 bit game. And look how good it was. Wait until the new SF game hits the GBA. Thank you Sega. Thank you Camelot. When that comes out, you who have yet to play Shining Force will bow your heads in shame for thinking any Fantasy type RPG could be better. Especially you Square fanatics. Ugh. Give me one Shining Force battle over the graphics in FF games any day.

So yes, the background and bosses graphics like Dark Dragon are great, But the main monsters and characters are horrible. Overall it averages out to be well…average. You kind of ignore the graphics in favor of the gameplay and insanity it brings about.

Sound

I play the game with the music muted. How’s that for a description of what I think? Seriously, Shining Force music is usually something you’d want to buy on CD and just listen to and enjoy for the sake of its greatness. But nothing here really and truly grabs me. It’s just music. And often it detracts from the game for me. Yes, it is probably because I remember the better SF and StHA tunes, but nothing here even sounds like a Shining game. Without the sound or with a SF3 CD the game is a lot more fun. Or even better, with a group of three other friends. Your insane taunts and profanity make it all the better.

If you haven’t played a Shining game before, you might not have a problem with the music. It’s on the same caliber of FFTA, where the music is good; it just doesn’t fit the game properly.

Fun Factor

Now for the big problem. Most Shining Force fans hate this game. Go to shiningforcecentral.com. Even Moogie refers to the game as BORING Soul. She wants a Tactics based game. Most SF fans want a tactics based game. An action RPG is alien to most Shining fans and thus they review it compared to what they wanted and were used to instead of what they have.

As a Shining game, it’s a bit disappointing. There’s no giant team. There’s some continuity errors due to the game being made by a non Camelot team, and it’s the extreme opposite of the slow moving but critical thinking game that the other Shining games have always been. This is a fast paced, button hitting, multiple monster slaying game that is totally in real time. You can’t even pause this puppy and expect your character to not take damage because the game is still going on!

As an action RPG, this is a lot of fun. It’s no Dungeon and Dragons Arcade Game, but it’s a great way to mindlessly slaughter thousands of evil beasties. Sure it can get monotonous, but so does Diablo and every other action game out there. Same with platformers. You run around, kill things, run some more, kill things. The difference is that even in Solo player mode, there’s something about Shining Soul that makes it fun. Maybe it’s nostalgia. Maybe the game has that special X-factor. Maybe it’s a combination of decent gameplay and the ability to induce genocidal rage.

And multiplayer is hilarious. The game with friends becomes a funny profanity and one-liner festival. Not swearing in anger, but funny fake egotistical badass swearing. Think Bruce Campbell.

I still have fun with this game, and I can’t put my finger on why it’s so fun. The plot is shit. In fact it’s a second rate SF1 condensed into a retard newbie version. The graphics are adequate, as is the sound. But I dunno. I haven’t had this much fun killing things since I first played Contra on the old NES. Maybe that’s it. It feels like Shining Contra and I like that.

Whatever the reason is, I implore you to get the game, or at least try it. This way you can see how a game can be good even if it’s not pretty, Seriously. Shining Soul may be a poor way to sate Shining fans, but knowing that Shining Force for the GBA is coming out (and as we ALL know, I was the first guy in the US to break that story WEEKS before anyone else commented on it, including Sega’s official announcement. I know, I’m tooting my own horn, but god damn it, it’s SHINING FORCE ON THE GBA!!! A REAL SHINING FORCE!) in a few months time, well, it makes the game palatable in my eyes.

But when the real thing hits my GBA, I won’t even look back at this baby. Or any of my other GBA games except maybe Pokemon and Robotech.

Ratings
Gameplay: 8.5
Graphics:5.0
Sound: 5.0
Fun Factor:7.5

But guess what? 6.5 equals a GOOD game. Better than Average, If graphics and sound weren’t taken into account this game would have an 8.0. An EIGHT-POINT-ZERO. This is why I wish we’d move to my ten tier grading system instead of actually allowing Graphics to make or break a game. Good graphics on a bad game (read FF8) is like a hot chick with genital herpes. The pretty wows you for a while, but when all is said and done, you’re pretty sick when you get into the meat. And likewise holds true for a game like Shining Soul. It’s not the best looking Philly in the stable, but it’s a true hit if you let it prove its worth to you. Simply put: It’s a good game if you can love a game simply for the engine. If you’re a graphics geek, then look elsewhere.

Final Score: 6.5

Short Attention Span Summary
Jesus. Maybe this will finally shut people’s mouths about ratings in the 6.0-7.0 range being bad. It’s better than average. Remember people, the other reviewers here at 411 are more likely to give a game a high rating for god knows what reasons where I’d give it something a lot lower. I’m one hard ass bastard to please and even if it’s a Shining Game brought over by my favorite company, I’m still not going to pull any punches. It’s well know Shining Force is one of my big franchises I am deeply in love with, and yet this game got NO bias from me. None at all.