Review: Shining Soul 2 (Game Boy Advance)

Man, has it really been a little over a year since I played the very first Shining Soul? Back then, the game got a 6.0 and introduced the concept of 6.5 = better than average not “Pile of shit because we’ve been paid to inflate our ratings to the point where a game getting a 7.0 is merely average and we haven’t figure out the intelligent and discerning gamer hasn’t caught to this fact yet and we’ll keep on giving games high ratings just because we like free stuff.”

But enough of that.

Shining Soul, when it was originally released, was a decent game. Nothing great or up to the level of any of the other Shining games that came before it, but then…it was also the first Shining game that Camelot didn’t have a piece of. Instead of being a turn-based or tactics game, it was a Diablo like Hack N Slash that featured 4 characters, 3 of which had actually appeared in Shining games before, 1 that did not.

Heck, I could keep going on about the game, but instead, here’s a link to my original review of that game from October 8th, 2003 on the US release version. I has the Euro version since March-April 2003, but as we don’t cover imports…even ones in English (insert a massive hate-filled glare at everyone who made THAT decision at 411mania.) Not it’s under our old crappy boring style and not our anally pedantic but much loved NEW style.

Bottom line, Shining Soul 1 was a decent game that was a letdown for hardcore Shining FORCE fans, but for people new to the series, it was a decent intro. The music and graphics were okay at best, but the game as a whole a good multiplayer RPG for the Game Boy Advance.

And now it’s time for the sequel. I’m surprised it made it over here. Although it sold exceptionally well in Europe, and decently in Japan, I don’t believe the original Shining Soul caught on to American audiences, but I’m glad Atlus has decided to just bring over anything with a Shining name to the States. But that’s Altus for you: Always appealing to their hardcore fans at the expense of profit. Of course, I’d mean that statement even for in Shin Megami Tensei GBA or a collection of both Devil Summoner and Soul Hackers was released in English. Please? Pretty please Atlus?

1. Story

Well, it’s like this. There’s this dark guy Gilliespe of the Chaos Knights. And he decides to sew some evil throughout the kingdom. He gives the head of the king’s knight an apple that turns him dark and evil. He sends some hobbits to steal food from the castle. He’s just not a nice guy. Although they never give him a real backstory or explain his actions. He’s just a jerk that is talked about in the opening cut scene and then is never mentioned again until you actually have to battle him. And even then not much happens in terms of figuring out why he is your antagonist.

Your character is a wandering hero who is coming to compete in a tournament held by the king because he likes gladiators I guess. Your character saves Boken (who was in SS1 and a character by the same name appeared in a Shining FORCE game…) who teaches you the menus and such like that. Then you watch your character do battle with the head of the King’s knights (now EEEEEVIL) and at level 1 you manage to hold your own against him. Which means even a low level fairy could kick the entire army of this country. Your battle is stopped when someone notices the Princess is missing and thus begins your adventure as the King’s lackey. Seriously. You come back from a battle and the King is like “Hey, good job. Sorry to bring this up but I need you to do THIS now. Shoo shoo.”

Yes, Shining Soul 2 tries to have more than a Hack N Slash story. In the first game, you basically ran the gambit of classic Shining villains in an attempt to get to Dark Dragon. It didn’t really try to pretend it had a plot other than finding the Ninja in each camp after a stage. Shining Soul 2 gives you quests, some in the usual linear manner, others that are optional and have to be found by talking with townspeople. But in the end, a lot of the quests have no real meaning or end other than to increase game time and give you some much needed leveling up before the end of the game.

The dialogue is horrendous, and is quite possibly the worst translation EVER in an Atlus game. I thought the Infogrames/Atari translation of Shining Soul 1 sucked? Well, Shining Soul 2 comes pretty close. It’s better, but it reads like a Working Design game missing any of the comedy and in broken English at times. See what the characters had to say dampened the mood of the game for me because the plot was BORING.

Final gripe: All the bosses are sorry after you fight them. With their dying breath they become good, tell you how great you are and die. What the hell is this? DragonBall Z? Wait no. In Dragon ball Z, you beat the bad guys, they become good and then idiots write Vegeta/Goku sor Trunks/Goten slash. Ugh. But yes, the conversations between you and the bad guys in Shining Soul 2 are basically at that level of crapulence.

Man, did I hate the plot of this game. I loved playing it. But there was no substance in the story. And it became even worse when the characters you encountered would say the same thing throughout the entire game. It just sucked. God help me, I can’t believe I have to say this about a Shining game, or anything Atlus released, but it sucked. Like Revelations: The Demon Slayer sucked.

I suppose I would have hated it less if the dialogue didn’t scroll across the screen v…e…..r……..y……………s……..lo………..wl……..y. And without a way to change that. Seriously, whoever did this translation and writing should be ashamed of themselves. Atlus is normally so, SO, much better than this. I’ve got the Euro release of this Shining game as well, and to be honest, they did a much better job over there. Just the opposite of what happened with the first game.

Story Rating: 3/10

2. Graphics

And Shining Soul 2 is NOT off to a good start. This is 8 bit quality graphics with 16 bit quality backgrounds. It’s like they didn’t even try to tap the power of the GBA. It’s depressing to see Sega finally using the Shining series after completely ignoring it through the days of the Dreamcast only to find they are milking all the respectability and popularity over a classic title to where people are going to start going “Another Shining Game? That’s going to the bargain bin…”

The graphics haven’t updated at all in quality since the first SS. Same exact graphics with a few new enemies and characters added. The manual has better artwork than the game has graphics for example. Blocky, pixilated, jaggy, average. These words describe looking at Shining Soul. It’s not pretty. Trust me on this.

When the original Shining Force from over a decade ago looked better than the current release which is on a far more powerful system than the Genesis…you know something is wrong. I don’t know which company makes me angrier: Altus for the bad translation…or Sega for just not giving a damn anymore and churning out things half assed instead of the quality we KNOW they are capable of.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

I swear to god, it is as if there is only one song in the entire game. Wait. No. Two. Two songs. The “I’m in town” song, and the “I’m in a dungeon or place filled with enemies” song. Again, this game was made without anyone caring about it. It was thrown together or just meant to be Shining Soul 1 but with more monsters, battles and characters.

The best way I can describe the music is this: I bought the game on launch day, then had to go on an 8 hour trip that weekend. After an hour of listening to the game’s music, I was glad I had XM channels Fred and The System to prevent me from having to listen to the same monotonous bland tunes coming from my GBASP.

Sound effects, like the music are tepid and uninspired. Nothing horrible persay, but just a totally lack of trying to achieve anything above mediocrity. Make sure you have a CD or XM nearby so you can listen to SOMETHING while playing this game.

Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control

And after bashing the poor cart for a third of my review, I can finally start to be NICE to it. The games controls are incredibly tight. Character reactions are instantaneous, when you upgrade their skills, the effect is obvious from the second you take the time to assign points. There is never a question of “I pressed the button and it didn’t do anything” like with some games. For all the ugliness all things visual, the game plays better than the first, and better than most Hack N Slash games on the system. If you just want to spend hours killing things and getting calluses on your thumbs, this is probably the game for you.

Multiplayer mode works very well too. There is no slowdown on the carts and the characters can interact just fine with each other. It’s like playing on the Game Boy Player, not a link cable.

Like the first Shining Soul, I was happy with how easy it was to play the game, and how even though it was essential a hack N slash game, that there were various twists to the dungeons, such a hidden entries and simple puzzles to solve.

Mindless but ugly entertainment? This is your game.

Control Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

8 (actually 9) playable characters, each completely and totally customizable with 8 or so skills each. A harder level of difficultly for when you have beaten the game, extra optional quests, a coliseum mode, and two forms of multiplayer mode (vs and co-op) give this game very high marks for replaying indeed. Three of the new characters are very cool (Werewolf, vampire, ninja) and join the Archer from the last game as the characters worth playing as. The downside is, there’s no point to advanced mode unless you are doing multiplayer, as you have 7 other character types to try out and you can only access advanced mode with the character you have already beaten the game with. Finally, although the potential for playing this game again and again is there, the truth is, you will get bored after trying 1-2 characters and will put it down and go onto something new. Still, it’s nice to see all the options put into the game to make it seem worth the 30$ sticker price.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

Like with the first Shining Soul, some characters are wildly unbalanced powerwise compared to others. The Archer, with the combo of distance attacks, higher level of critical attacks, and regeneration makes him the best character in the game. Some characters, like the Swordsman just aren’t worth playing, and some like the Priest and Sorceress are better off in multiplayer games. In fact: Best 4 player team: Archer, Priestess, Ninja, Dragonute.

As well, it’s funny but the game starts off with bosses that are pretty hard for your characters level, and the game’s difficultly level slowly decreases as you play it. Instead of getting harder with each level, it gets easier. The monsters AI does not improve, and the bosses have a very limited pattern they use for their battles. Each boss just has a lot more hit points than the one before it. Snore. If you have a full inventory of healing drops, the game is pretty much a cakewalk. No strategy needed.

Let me point out that the game is still fun. It just happens to be very easy to cheese your way though it. Especially if you have played the original.

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality

A couple of changes to this sequel, but the game is primarily the same as the original. Anything added to this game has been done countless times in other RPG’s and done better. A few new playable characters and some extra levels don’t justify a high rating in this game. Sure it’s nice to see some definite improvements. But the game lacks even the slightest bit of innovation. Much like Final Fantasy games, it was as if Square…I mean Sega said, “Hey. This game did pretty well. Make another one and really quickly.”

Originality Rating: 4/10

8. Appeal

It’s a real time multiplayer RPG for the GBA. What other ones do you have besides the original? Plus as it has the word Shining in the title and that never fails to install nostalgia. But in truth, as Atlus rarely markets past the occasional print add and word of mouth from their zealot fan base (myself included in that), Shining Soul 2 will be missed by most of the gamers who would probably have fun with the title until they see it on a pre-owned shelf somewhere.

And that 30$ is better spent on the upcoming River City Ransom or Metal Slug GBA.

Appeal Rating: 5/10

9. Addictiveness.

It is hard to put the game down. I can’t explain why other than it’s fun to kill a lot of things that resemble old monsters from Shining Force And Shining in the Darkness. I’d play it for a few hours, but then the rub is I wouldn’t want to pick it back up for a while. It’s like a chore in a way. While doing it you do it to get it over with and you procrastinate having to pick it back up again. But Shining Soul 2 IS fun while you are playing it, especially the first time you go through the game because you keep hoping for plot clarification or a character to FINALLY say something new.

It’s a great diversion for a car ride or short trip where you don’t want to have to think about strategy or anything major.

Addictiveness Rating: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

There are less dropped items in this game, and your character does have a harder time against enemies than in the first, but not by much. There are occasionally dropped cards, and some word balloons and the aforementioned things under replayability, but nothing truly amazing. And that’s a good way to really describe Shining Soul 2: Some decent stuff, nothing original or amazing, but it’s decent. A game worth picking up used or renting the cart if you know a place that actually rents GBA games, but this is by far the biggest disappointment under the Shining banner. Yes this game does things better than the original Shining Soul and is worth picking up instead of it, but as it’s just an upgrade and little else, it’s hard to give the game a high rating for that reason alone.

Still, it’s got a lot jammed into the cart, even if it’s all merely okay. But I would have been happier with a little amount of extras in a great game than a lot of extras in a game that merely makes me go “meh.”

Miscellaneous Rating: 6/10

Short Attention Span Summary
A truly average game in all respects. If you have the first Shining Soul, it was be worth looking at to see the new characters, but nothing more. If you didn’t get to play SS1, than maybe you should get this game if only to see what Sega has done to the Shining series. To be honest after two lackluster games, I am starting to worry about the upcoming Shining Force remake, and after this US translation from Atlus, I’m glad I have the European release from THQ of Shining Force GBA coming to my house on launch day. Normally Atlus USA does things impeccably like Disgaea or Eternal Punishment or they screw up royally like with this or Last Bible. The thing is I already know thanks to Moogie at shiningforcecental.com that bits of the remake translation are already off-key, but that for the most part the game holds true to the original test and plot wise. Let’s just hope this holds true by launch or I’m going to be screaming “Why didn’t you have the translators play the original Genesis game???” Please don’t screw this one up Atlus. This above all games. Or at least watch what people think of THQ’s release of the game in Europe and then push the game back if need be. Shining Force GBA is being released in English before it ever hits Japan. Make sure that in the rush to release that game first, that when it’s released it reads as well as it plays.