Review: Shining Plume (PC)
by Aaron Sirois on May 31, 2012

Shining Plume
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Developer: Warfare Studios
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 04/27/2012

If there’s one thing the internet has managed to do, it’s give pretty much everyone the chance and the ability to make their own game. That’s great, right? Freedom and creativity have a fantastic new outlet. Independent developers can put their games on the internet without having to worry about big publishers pushing them down or killing their game through bureaucracy.

Except, as some are liable to forget, not everyone has the skills required to make a game. As such, programs like RPGMaker can be just as much a curse as they are a boon. Earlier this year, I reviewed Grimoire Chronicles, which I absolutely hated. It was boring, poorly written, and took away hours of my life that I want back.

Why then, you might ask, would I go for another round with Shining Plume? Well, I was kind of tricked into it. At the same time though, I’m always willing to give things another shot. The question of whether or not Shining Plume is deserving of such a chance is yet to be decided.

So let’s get to it.

Story

I’d say that Shining Plume takes place in Feudal Japan, but I can’t say that for certain. Let’s call it a fictionalized version of Japan. That way we can explain why Bushido practitioners are having conversations with Scottish prisoners, the latter of which also happen to be native Japanese from all indications.

Anyways, there’s this thing called the Shining Plume. It grants all kinds of crazy powers and will basically decided the fate of the world. Everyone wants it. Everyone is willing to kill for it. You play Jun, a bodyguard who follows the code of Bushido (which the game reminds us every five minutes). After his lord is killed, he’s tasked with safeguarding the lord’s daughter. She’s hellbent on stopping her father’s killer from getting his dirty hands on the Plume, so the race is on.

New characters are introduced like crazy from there, yet none of them stand out in a good way. A few are tolerable, but most are exceptionally bad. Jun never shuts up about his code, and most of the dialogue is him discussing his beliefs with his companions. They all mock him for it, and he doesn’t care, because he’s so badass. The villain is a Kabuki actor by the name of Naga. I think the writers were trying to recall Kefka from Final Fantasy VI. However, they really missed the ball on this one. What they delivered was all of the worst aspects of Robin Williams. He spouts off pop culture references left and right, speaks nonsense, and never once drops his amused tone. It gets old almost immediately.

The plot tries to get all dramatic, but it fails due to the weakness of the characters. Also, the cutscenes are slow paced and poorly acted, killing any and all of the dramatic tension that is actually built. A flashback scene that was actually starting to warm me up to Jun quickly turned sour thanks to some awful lines by an enemy soldier. This kind of thing is all you can expect from the game. It relies on bad humor and stereotypes to convey a cookie cutter premise. It just wasn’t interesting.

Graphics

With the limitations of the medium, it’s hard to gauge the graphics in a fair light. After all, there are only so many assets the developers have access to. One can’t expect top shelf visuals from such a game. With that in mind, it looks decent enough for the most part. Attention to small details helps the game a bit. Rooms are furnished and foliage is consistent. This isn’t the case for the entire game though. When her father is killed, the female lead’s character portrait is smiling, some sprites don’t match the portraits, and enemy icons on the map usually have nothing to do with what you actually fight in battle.

Speaking of battles, they are about as old school as it gets. They’re in first person, with enemy sprites having no battle animations. Instead, there are generic effects that represent attacks. The background for fights is a swirling vortex, which always looks out of place. So, while the developer did a decent job of building a cohesive world, the number of mistakes present in the game pile up and seriously detract from what they were trying to do, visually speaking.

Audio

The music is fine for what it is. There are plenty of tracks that play throughout the game. However, they’re all recycled tunes that have been used in similar games. The menu theme was the exact same song I heard in Grimoire Chronicles, for example. Also, the tracks often skip or loop in weird places. It was a disjointed mess.

As far as effects go, you get the generic stuff that all JRPG fans are used to. I wish there were more sounds outside of battle, but I didn’t expect them.

Overall, the audio is about as generic as it gets. It gives you the barebones experience, and does nothing to impress. I had no problem turning the sound off and playing the game to some real music.

Gameplay

If you have ever played a JRPG, you know what to expect here. Half of the game consists of walking around and talking to NPCs. The other half is spent in battles.

The adventuring bits are as generic as it gets. There are a bunch of towns, tunnels, and dungeons connected by an overworld map. Some parts are locked initially, but open up as you progress. You can visit shops, talk to NPCs, or just wander around hoping to find some loot.

Battles are round based. You choose all of your actions at once, and they play out based on stats. So, even though you choose Jun’s attack first, there’s no guarantee he’ll strike before anyone else. You can chose from a basic attack, select a skill, use an item, or defend. Still, there’s not much strategy in battles. Spam basic attacks for regular encounters. Blow all of your MP to cast you best skills/spells against the bosses. Use items when necessary. I never had any problems.

Character customization is nil. Everyone levels up automatically and learns skills based on level progression. There are no skill trees to navigate or classes to choose from. You can choose your own equipment, but that’s pretty limited. You’ll just pick the stuff with the best stats. The accessory slot is the only spot for any real choice, and it doesn’t offer enough.

The controls can be a bit messy. You can use the mouse or keyboard, but the game wants you to use the mouse. There is an onscreen cursor that refuses to go away. When messing around in the menu, you won’t be able to use the keyboard to navigate properly if the cursor gets stuck somewhere. This caused me to save on the wrong file and heal the wrong person at points, and I spent way too much time switching between mouse and keyboard. Also, if you use the mouse, some clicks won’t register. This mostly happens when trying to talk to someone. Many a time I had to use the keyboard because nothing was happening when clicking with the mouse. It just got frustrating.

So, what we’ve got here is a generic, boring RPG with sloppy controls. I’m not impressed.

Replayability

Just like pretty much every JRPG I’ve played, this game doesn’t offer any real replay value. Since the story runs the same every time, you can’t customize your characters, and there aren’t any different difficulty settings, there’s nothing to come back for.

As for how much time you’ll get out of the game, I can’t say. It all depends on how many of the monotonous battles you manage to avoid and how often you get lost as to what your next objective is. It lasts less time than most JRPGs I’ve played, saved for some licensed titles.

Balance

I mentioned how I could simply mash the space bar and win most, if not all, battles. That alone speaks to how easy the game is. However, there are a couple of other things to consider here as well.

You can avoid about half of the battles if you want, and not end up underleveled. Optional side quests grant extra abilities and gear, but aren’t needed. Item drops are frequent. During one section, every battle dropped one or two healing potions. These potions were better than anything I could buy in the store at the moment, and healed more than my best healing spell. Even if the upcoming boss had been able to dole out any real damage, I would have been covered quite well.

The game seemingly goes out of its way to make sure the only challenge is remembering what you were supposed to do when you stop playing for awhile.

Originality

Perhaps the writers felt that there weren’t enough games out there about samurai. I don’t know. What I do know is that this game follows the same basic structure of an old school Final Fantasy game. The only difference is that the main character is well known beforehand, instead of a faceless nobody.

I’ve thrown the word “generic” around quite a bit in this review. The game follows the formula to a tee, uses assets that have been included in other games, and makes no attempt to distinguish itself from the crowd. Originality wasn’t something the developers were going for when they made this.

Addictiveness

It was all I could do to start playing this game again once I stopped. I would see the desktop icon sitting there and look away. There was just nothing I could find to like about the game. The combat and exploration were exceedingly boring. On top of that, the story annoyed me at every turn. I couldn’t wait to turn the game off. If I didn’t have to write a review, I would have put it down after five minutes, deleted it off of my PC, and never thought about it again.

If you somehow enjoy the story, you might be tempted to play for awhile, but then the poor level layout might bite you in the butt. You see, there’s nothing but overly long pathways that twist around more than a Twizzler. The few branching pathways only go a bit off and end with a treasure chest. Most of your time is spent walking until you get to some objective. Then you get to walk back. Oh joy.

Appeal Factor

I don’t know who would want to play this game. There are a number of good to great JRPGs out there for less money, even for the PC. If this game were free, maybe I could see some people slogging through it. However, I can’t imagine people spending ten bucks on this.

Perhaps this game will appeal to fellow would-be developers. It would be a great chance to see how to NOT make a good game. The key is to stop trying to write cool lingo and just focus on telling a story. I’m so sick of sarcastic badasses that I can’t stand it.

Miscellaneous

Ugh. I don’t know what else to say about this game that I haven’t said already.

There are no extras, if you were hoping for them. The game does nothing to make up for the lackluster playing experience. I didn’t expect any different, but I’m still disappointed.

The Scores
Story: Very Bad
Graphics: Poor
Audio: Below Average
Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Worthless
Balance: Very Poor
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Worthless
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Worthless
Final Score: Very Bad Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Honestly, unless I get a recommendation from someone I trust implicitly, I’m not going to touch another RPGMaker game for as long as I live. The experiences I’ve had have been so utterly negative, I detest even the thought of their existence. I hated Grimoire Chronicles, and I hate Shining Plume just as much. Someone needs to get these writers to take a damned writing class, or maybe to get them to stop reminiscing about the supposed good old days of JRPGs and realize that gamers expect and deserve more. Shining Plume just doesn’t deserve my or your attention.



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