Retrograding Weekend News 07.26.03

Man, only 3.5 months since part two huh? Well, I haven’t managed to get my notes from England that I had left by accident when I moved back. So I just finally said f*ck it and redid the whole damn thing from scratch. HAPPY FUN TIME SURPRISE SPECIAL DAY!

Part 2 was the last thing I wrote before leaving England, so it’s a bit weird coming back to the History of SF. But it helps me with some closure issues. And it gets those of you off my back who keep emailing me to start this back up again. Glad to see it’s popular and even gladder to see this will cut out more flow to my inbox. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE your letters and respond to them all. I’m just saying I can take a hint. And your requests have been answered.

Now, here are the games we have already covered: Shining in the Darkness, Shining Force, Shining Force Gaiden, SFG2, Shining Force 2, Shining Force CD. You can check out parts one and two Here and here. I’d also like to thank Shining Force Central, Camelot, and Sega for their nice words about the first two pieces of the history. Glad to know the guys behind it and the best Shining Force page in the net have good words for my work.

But enough of the crap, let’s get into the GAMES!

SHINING FORCE GAIDEN: FINAL CONFLICT (Sega Game Gear, June 1996; import only)

Okay, like most insane hardcore foaming at the mouth Shining Force fans, this is my favorite of all Shining Games, It’s the lynch pin story wise that connects every Shining Game together, especially SF 1 and 2. And SF 1 and Shining In the Darkness. Seriously, you can play all the games in English in the order they were released or the order the actually take place in, but this game clears up all loose ends, all the plot twists, and all the gaps and what appear to be errors in the storyline. To truly understand how Camelot made such an incredible world with the best continuity in the history of videogaming, you need this game.

Too bad it’s only in Japanese, and is expensive as hell. 150$ on EBay people. It’s up there with Radiant Silvergun in terms of cost. And it’s a bloody Game Gear game! GAME GEAR! Do you realize how obscure that makes this title, and how hard it is to actually play. You need to know Japanese or have a full translation guide to get the story (still fun though for combat), pay at least a c-note if you can even FIND the game. And then you have to be one of the very few people to own a Game Gear. So if you’re one of those people that usually heed my advice and actually buy rare and expensive games because I mention them in my column, please think THREE times before getting this one. It’s incredible and one of the best games EVER MADE, but shit, no game is worth the trouble of tracking down a copy like this one will be.

Now, like the previous Gaiden games, there is no roaming. It’s just cut scene, battle. Cut Scene. Battle. It makes the game go by quicker, although you do lose the fun of exploring, solving puzzles and getting hidden characters and treasures. But remember, it’s a game gear game.

Graphics are by far the best thing you’ll ever see on a Game Gear. And to be honest, it gives even some GBA games a run for their next-gen money. SFG:FC Although typical icons that you find throughout all the console Shining Games are missing, this is once again because it’s on the Game Gear. Instead of nifty graphics, just the names of spells and items are shown. It is a bit sad to not have the usual Blaze, and Freeze and Bolt graphics that have been around since the series inception on the Genesis, but when you’re making a portable game, sacrifices have to be made.

That being said, Final Conflict is obviously a labor of love by both Camelot and Sega. Scenery, character designs, and fight scenes are so good, you’d wish there was a Game Gear player.

Notice Sega made the ability to play Genesis games on a portable system, but not Game Gear games on the Genesis. Dammit!

Seriously, This game is something to be treasured and loved. If you own it, don’t ever sell it unless a friend would be able to take pleasure in it. Never exchange it for merely money. The fact that they could make a game THIS beautiful on a system as old as a game gear, well it’s amazing. Like the Original Strider. When that came out, my god was it beautiful. And it was only 16 bit. And today, it still manages to hold up appearance and play wise. Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict is one of those games that not only stands the test of time, but gets better with age, especially as games become all about pandering to the lowest common denominator.

And now I’ve gone on a tangent. But I’ve said all I can about the graphics anyway.

The music is ripped directly from Shining Force 2. Remember although it takes place between 1 & 2, SFG:FC was made after SF2. And once again, this little game cube cart defies imagination. It gives a little bit of familiarity to fans who can’t read the text, and if you’ve ever played any of the Shining games, you already know how great the music is. Hell, I own the SF3 soundtrack and listen to it quite a bit. Just good monster killing tunes.

The play control is like the majority of Shining Force games. Tactics/Strategy based combat. Characters gets turns depending on the highest agility. Movement depends on terrain and character type. You level up, have hit points. You know the deal. If you’ve played Fire Emblem, Ogre Tactics, Hoshigami, FFT, or Koudelka, you know the play style.

As I’ve said though, it’s all about the story with this game. Again and again I need to reiterate, it the game’s story is good, one is able to over look bad graphics or play control or shitty Midi sounds. And this game has no problems in any of those forms AND The story rocks. How can you pass it up? Well, the cost and inability to find a copy…

Now I’m not one for spoilers. But I will give a summary. However, if you do decide to be as nuts as I am, and want to buy and play this game, is Moogie from Shining Force Central’s complete translation of all the speaking in the game. So for you Shining Force worshipers, who wave never played or even heard of this game, you can at least read about all the twists and turns that take place. And as it answers a LOT of questions about the series, completists will want to read it too.

Now, the game begins where SF1 leaves off. You have seen what happens after the end Credits haven’t you? ;-) Max (Hero from SF1) and Adam the robot encounter one of the main baddies from the last game, Mishaela. She was the one with the Circus and really liked Ice magic. Max and his new army get into a big battle with Mishaela’s troops…and severely get their ass kicked. I mean, this isn’t the REAL Shining Force after all. So Max, being a hero (i.e. DUMB) goes off on his own to take down Mishaela.

Now in the original game, it was insinuated that ol’ DarkSol and Mish were doing the nasty. Evil Priest/Demon King and Elf Sex. You imagine that one. But in SFG:FC you get confirmation on that. As we’ll see in a bit.

Meanwhile, the injured army Max had assembled decided to retreat and kick it at a nearby town. Because that’s what friends do you see. They let the main guy fight against unconquerable odds while they get massage therapy or go for a nice Jacuzzi.

And guess who is there? Mishaela! She kidnaps the Mayor or Elder or whatever title you want to give the guy and the Shining Farce (Hey, they’re not the real SF!) go after her. Again.

Battles ensure, new team members are made and we even meet the first non evil god in the Shining World: Volcanoan who reveals to the Shining Force that the Devil Army plans to resurrect DarkSol in his true form, instead of the human casing he was trapped in during SF1.

More battles occur. More references to SF1 and foreshadowing’s to SF2. Another Good God(ess) is met and more of the SF Pantheon is revealed to gamers. More Battles, more references to the SF Genesis games, and then the good stuff happens.

Xeon and Dark Sol infighting. A betrayal as the Shining Force has to fight and defeat one of their most beloved members. Oddler appears and his comments in SF2 finally make sense. The Chaos breaker reappears. Family bloodlines are revealed, and DarkSol resurrects and the final ultimate battle occurs.

Until Shining Force 2…

Meanwhile the Dark Sol encountered in Shining In the Darkness (mephisto) and confirmation of Mish and Darksol sex is confirmed. Everything is wrapped up, Shining Force fans have their history completed and life is good.

Shining Wisdom (Sega Saturn)

The Black Sheep of the Shining Family. Not does it play like a Zelda clone, but it was also brought to the US by Working Designs. Sure Sega brought it to Europe for some reason, but not the US. Go figure. But because WD did not have the rights to all the Trademark Shining Names, and characters and damn near everything that could make this game identifiable as a Shining Game, they had to horribly butcher the translation.

And this is my personal bitch time. Sega wasn’t going to bring it over because they were idiots. They only brought over one SF3 and look how popular that was! Same with Shining the Holy Arc. They sold pretty well for Saturn games. Sure they were willing to bring it to Europe, where the potential for profit was less, and where there would have to be TONS of translation work for all the languages it would be in. But not to the US. Now, considering they’d be making money of Working Designs hard work, you would think Sega would be smart enough to let them use the correct Shining names, especially as Shining Wisdom is a sequel to SF2 with a lot of familiar characters and references to the other games. But Sega being Sega said no. This + the Magic Knight Rayearth fiasco is why WD never did any games for the Dreamcast. Sega really screwed themselves silly here.

Shining Wisdom is generally disliked as it’s a one person Action game. It’s a Zelda Clone with an average plot. It’s probably the worst Shining Game on the books, but it’s still not that bad. It’s just not what Shining Fans were expecting. If you like Shining Soul, you’ll like Shining Wisdom and Vice Versa. I like them both. But I’d still rather play one of the Strategy Shining games.

Gameplay is pretty easy. Real time action battles. Only one character to control. Dungeons filled with evil critters and a final boss. It’s Zelda people! It’s Shining Zelda! Do I really have to get into how the game plays? You have hearts instead of hit points, collect items, and you even save a damn princess. It’s ZELDA.

That being said, and knowing everyone loves Zelda, what excuse is there not to go after this game? If you like Zelda games, you’ll like Shining Wisdom. And if you only like Action RPG’s you can play this without caring that it’s part of a bigger whole. Really. The game’s like 20$ on Ebay so you can afford it pretty easily to boot!

It’s a nice change of pace from the Game Gear games if you enjoy your plots a little less structured. You have free roaming capabilities and can run around just about anywhere. Of course, like any Zelda game (or clone) eventually you’ll get to points where you need certain items to advance, and thus you’ll be forced to backtrack to find them.

This is probably the easiest of the Shining games, but that’s partly due to the Action RPG format. Enemies attack in a cyclical repetitive pattern instead of a strategic form. This makes the game pretty easy if you just sit, defend, and watch for a while.

Now. The graphics. The graphics are a mixed bag. It looks and plays like Link to the Past. And that’s a bad thing. It’s colorful and nice to look at, but it’s not Sega Saturn Quality. The Saturn could do Brain Dead 13 without any slow down. That’s impressive. The Saturn could actually play Marvel vs. Capcom PROPERLY. And thus Shining Wisdom fails to impress graphically. Don’t get me wrong, as always the portrait art one finds in the Shining Games is incredible. Each character is distinct and beautiful. The portrait art in the Shining Games is always worth seeing.

I guess the music is okay. It’s not my cup of tea. It’s repetitive and…I dunno. It just lacks something compared to other Shining music collections. Again, the black sheep aspect rears it’s ugly head. The music is good, but not mind blowing. It doesn’t set me on fire and make me want to get the soundtrack. Like everything else in Shining Wisdom, the music is merely above average.

The plot too, is merely above average: Save the Princess from a great and horrible evil. It’s common and bland. It’s the plot of any of a hundred other games. Although there are a lot of Shining references, this gave is purely fantasy. None of the Sci-Fi or Tek aspects one sees in the other games such as Robots or the Ancients appear in Shining Wisdom. Considering the plot is the driving force behind the other Shining games, this is the biggest disappointment of the game.

Two characters from SF2 appear in the game. The new Elf couple of Sarah And Kazim. See the ending of SF2 to see how these two hooked up. Talk about MAJOR rebound. The game takes place in the same continent SF 2, 3 and FC take place on, and well, that’s really all the references I can find. See, I’m working off my WD copy. I don’t have a Euro copy with correct translations, nor do I have the Japanese version. Regardless, here’s the plot of the game. Other SF fans if I missed any connections with the rest of the series, write in and tell me. I should just spend the pitiful 10 bucks it would costs for a Japanese version of this game…but I don’t want to.

You are Mars, a young and untested knight who is the son of a late but great hero of the Realm. A Crazy lady makes a prophecy about the Dark Titan and proclaims Mars to be the hero that will save the world from darkness. But as she’s crazy, no one listens to her for ruining the plot of the game a few minutes into playing. Blah Blah Blah. Mars watches a sneaky Elf and tries to follow him but can’t. Blah blah Blah. Princess is kidnapped by a spooky Green Goblin. Mars sets out after her.

That in a nutshell is the plot. Like Zelda games there’s tons of stock filler to make the game longer. But eventually Mars learns he realized is the hero that must stop the Dark Titan and his high Priest, a Dark Elf named Pazort. What a horrible name for an evil guy. To stop him, Mars must gather the four elements and wield them against the Titan to prevent his evil from destroying the world.

It’s a long long game people. I’m not going to go into Find the Magic Hand’ then Find the mystic cloak.’ I’m doing a history, not an FAQ. Mars has to kick a lot of evil booty to get the princess back. It’s that cut and dry. And that bordering on copyright infringement.

Easily the worst of the Shining Games, but still not a bad one. It’s an action RPG, and thus doesn’t require as much thinking and planning as the normal shining games, but its faster paced and easier to boot. So there’s a trade off. Still, unless you’re a completist or action RPG fan, I can’t recommend it. Get one of the other Shining games instead.

Shining The Holy Ark (Sega Saturn, 1997)

And we’re back to the beginning. Sort of. Shining the Holy Arc looks, plays, and feels like Shining in the Darkness, but with a ton of new features, better graphics, and a much more adult plot.

As I have said, the series goes back to its root, with first person turn based battles, similar to what one finds in the original Phantasy Star series. Navigation is also done in a first person manner. Random battles are back however. You know the time waster and anger inducer found in way too many RPG’s. It’s a great change of pace and gives longtime Shining fans a sense of Nostalgia. 3D Role playing is back and StHA blows away any of the Phantasy Star games in terms of graphics, sound, and plot. Yes. Even IV. The Saturn really was a godsend for Shining fans, even if it was after the system was already pronounced dead.

See, this is what I remember. I remember in my dorms FFVII had just come out. And you know what? No one cared. Maybe the University of MN was Bizzaro land, but people were asking to borrow my Saturn to play this, or my Genesis for the original 2. The general consensus even amongst casual gamers was “FF7 = long, boring, but pretty.” Good to know I trained them boys and girls right.

StHA is the prequel to the massive epic that was Shining Force 3. Set ten years before the Triad of Triumph, Shining the Holy Arc introduces a lot of important concepts to the Shining world, most of all THE VANDALS. Gone are the days of Dark Sol and Dark Dragon; Xeon and Oddeye. We’re talking strange and mysterious new evil encroaching itself upon the land.

As I’ve said the graphics are incredible. Sure there are some of the trademark overly cutesy Joshi graphics that the Shining series is known for, but the entire look of this game is very grown up. Gone are the big eyes and almost comical art. As the Shining audience has grown up, so have the graphics. Everything is now 3D, from the villages to the backgrounds. Now I’m always going to be the first guy to say “Don’t let 2D gaming die’ but Holy Arc is a nice change of pace and gives us a whole new look on the Shining series. And one of the best things about the Shining series is that is constantly reinvents itself without ruining any of the continuity. Camelot + Sega = legions of happy gamers. Too bad they didn’t stay a team here”

Where to begin with the music however. Breathtaking. I WISH I could find a CD of the music this game contains. It’s by far the best Shining music ever. Anyone know where I can get a copy?

Everything seems crisper and clearer. Although Shining Wisdom is the first Shining game on the Saturn, Shining the Holy Ark seriously takes advantage of the Saturn’s audio capabilities and gives us something truly incredible. Seriously, like Thousand Arms, SthA has a soundtrack worth getting the game for alone.

As I keep mentioning, we’ve got first person game play. But there are three versions. The first is the usual dungeons, but now they take the form of spooky woods, mysterious caves, castles and the like. Random battles can (and do) occur in these areas. Sadly FAR too often. Lots and lots of random battles. Then we have town exploration and the main world map. The latter of which is how you move from one place to another quickly instead of backtracking through every damn thing.

The game is a lot of fun just to explore and examine all the things you can do in StHA. One of the neat additions to this game is finding Faeries. There are five different types of faeries. You have to look everywhere in the game to find them. Once clan of faeries corresponds to the Up on your D pad, another the right, and so on. There are a total of 10 faeries in each clan, meaning you have your work cut out to find all 50. In fact, I don’t think anyone has! Even on Gamefaqs’ faerie list, there are a few unaccounted for. So now you have another reason to get this game!

And there IS a point to this collection. It’s not like card of item collection that serves no purpose except to entrance the anal retentive. Right before a battle starts you can hit a direction on your D pad. If that direction corresponds correctly from where the enemy comes from, that particular clan of faeries launches an attack on your would be opponent. It doesn’t do a LOT of damage, but once you start getting a lot of faeries, it adds up quickly. And it could save you an extra round of combat. It’s an interesting addition to gameplay, but looking for faeries takes a f*ckload of time and can get boring fast.

Something one needs to remember is that the dungeons in this game are vast. Much larger than any game I can think of that came before it. And due to the 3D nature of the game, you can get turned around and a bit lost at the beginning of the game.

The plot is complex, and like SFG:FC, I don’t want to ruin the game for you. But here’s a nice little summary and hopefully you’ll go buy the damn game and play it yourself.

You’re a mercenary named Arthur. You and your cleric friend Melody work for Forte, a power mage and Mercenary as well. The three were hired to find an evil thief named Rhodie who is holed up in a cavern. When you find in and engage him in battle, your violent assault creates a cave in that knocks you all out. Forte becomes possessed by an evil spirit and leaves you to die. He joins up with Galm, a Vandal. Remember that name people. In the SF3 column next week that’s going to be big. After Galm, Forte and their minions leave, Arthur wakes up and encounters three…I’m not sure. Aliens? Spirits? Angels? Something. Something weird and vague. Anyways, they explain their purpose (Stop Galm and Vandals) and merge with Melody, Arthur, and Rhodie. This increases the character’s powers, and also makes them kind of immortal. These three characters will always have 1 hp after they die in battle, making the other available characters pretty crappy in comparison.

What follows is a long and important story involving betrayal, being framed, finally saving Forte, meeting new friends and stopping the Vandals.

What’s truly important is Julian from SF3 appears here as a young boy. For those of you lucky enough to play SF3 part 1, he’s the mysterious young man who joins your team. The one who also has Egress and has to leave’ your team as mysteriously as he joined.

As well, StHA shows us what SF3 picks up on and runs away with as well. There is no real good or evil in this game. Just different sides with totally different ideologies. If you play just SF3, version 1 Galm is evil incarnate. Just Ask Julian. But as you play this and the other SF3 versions, you learn Galm has specific reasons for doing what he does and that the Vandals may not be as evil as one thinks. They seek to survive, just as the “good” guys do.

Shining the Holy Ark is as complex in the story department as it is gameplay. There are lots of little things to pick up on, and this game is second only to STHA in terms of overall importance to the Shining series story. Without Holy Ark, much of the motivation for SF3 is missing.

And there we have it; part 3 of the history of Shining Force is finally up. Part 4 is ONLY SF3. Part 5 is SF3 Collector’s edition, and the TWO Shining Souls. And this time my friends, you won’t have to wait another three months for the next installation.

Now, before I go, I know a lot of you are enjoying this and I get emails to keep doing histories. Bebito has requested when I finish this, I should start doing a history of Treasure. If you have any requests on a series of games or a company you’d like to see covered here at 411, email me at the usual place and I’ll see what I can do.



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