Review: Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon (Game Boy Advance)

Developer: Amusement Vision
(Original version by Camelot)
Publisher: THQ (Europe), Atlus (USA)
Genre: Tactical RPG
Release: 04/30/04 (Europe), 06/07/04 (USA)

Looks like my “History of Shining Force” needs an update now, eh?

The original version of this game is in my Top Ten RPG’s of all time. Although some people will quibble and say Fire Emblem came first, Nintendo of Japan and America both empathically state Shining Force invented the Tactical RPG genre. And considered when Shining Force came out, Sega was their arch-rival, that is high praise indeed.

It’s a bit sad that Camelot was not part of this remake. After all, Shining Force was their baby and the series that truly made people realize that they were one of the best developers out there (and still are). But Sega and Camelot parted ways after the Shining Force 3 fiasco and haven’t looked back since.

So what’s changed for the GBA version? After all, it’s been nearly ELEVEN years since this game debuted for the Sega Genesis.

Well first of all, I’d like to report the translation is NEARLY flawless. I was amazed when I first turned on the game and saw almost a word for word copy of the dialogue from the old 16 bit English version. I assumed it was just nostalgia. After all, different company doing the translation. So I plugged in my Genesis and wow did my mouth drop. It’s not perfect, but it’d dead on. A few obvious errors like calling the Sword of Light a “Light Saber” for example, but other than that, it’s wonderful. Every character has their correct name, most of the weapons are still the same name (Poison Rod has become Voodoo Staff for example) but when it comes to what you are reading, it’s 95% pure.

Oddly enough, what they have added is Max now speaks. Gone is the day where your main character would say “?..”. Now Max speaks and has conversation with other team members and even villains.

Speaking of this, they’ve added a new bit to Max’s background. And this is sadly for the negative. Max is no longer a boy who grew up in Guardiana. He washed up on shore with no memories whatsoever. I found this lame as they did this in Shining Force CD, with BOTH Main characters. Ugh. I am so sick of games where the main character has no memory of who he is, because you KNOW he’s at least connected with the bad guys in some nefarious way. This pissed me off big time and made me very angry at the game when I first played it. However, as I went on, I realized why they did this: They updated the continuity of the game for English speaking fans. See in Shining Force: Final Conflict for the Sega Game Gear, you learn Max and Kane are siblings. Sorry if this spoils something for you, but I already covered this in my SF history, so you should know this already. Amusement Vision took this and added it to the original game so players get close to the same back story Japanese fluent gamers received! In the end my pessimism was beaten out because it wasn’t an attempt to follow the trend of other poorly written RPGS with horrible two dimensional main characters (Cloud Strife anyone), but an attempt to make the remake synch in better with the other games in the series. And the way they do it is just wonderful. Thank you Amusement Vision.

They have also added three new characters. At first I thought they were Mary Sue’s that would displace older more beloved characters because of their stats.. And in fact Mawlock, the card master, is just that. Wow is he a bit overpowered. Narsha too becomes your cleric of choice thanks to having Attack, Boost, and Aura spells and her high attack rating. Zuika the Insect Assassin is like a powered down Zylo but with a higher speed and a counterattack rate of 75%! These three characters are very impressive, but to be honest, I don’t use any of them. I prefer Zylo to Zuika, Gong and Torasu to Narsha, and hell, I’d take Yogurt over Mawlock because he’s so unbalanced with the card thing going on.

A few characters have their stats messed with. Centaurs have a movement rate of 8 instead of 7 now. The levels when characters learn spells have been pushed back. Gong doesn’t learn Detox anymore. Max can get Supernova, when before he could only learn Egress. Minor quibbles that have no real importance on the game.

Graphically the game is amazing. Everything is crisper, brighter, better than the original. The detail added is amazing. There is one change that bothers me slightly. All the portraits have been redone. Many are better than the original. Lowe, Tao, Arthur, Max. All look incredible. But some I really dislike. Anri looks like Sephiroth. Hans and Diane went from elves to androgynous Ziggy Stardust clones. And DarkSol no longer looks like one of the best bad ass villains ever, but well… laughable. Same with Kane. They ruined his appearance. It’s sad to see two great villains ruined appearance-wise. But at least the majority of characters look better.

There’s a few new quests added, but these relate to the three new characters and appear at the end of each chapter (The game is divided into 8 chapters). They are merely little battles tacked on to let you meet the new characters. I prefer this to having the characters rammed down my throat. Giving them their own expedition keeps them away from the rest of the game. But it also makes them standout with their own personal spotlight saying “We’re so much better that we get whole portions of the game devoted just to us.”

Another real difference is card collecting. These cards are what Mawlock eventually uses when he joins up with the Shining Force and they’re just faux painted Tarot looking cards of all the main characters. You get them by looking in books, talking to villagers, or talking to your allies. It’s nothing really important to the game, but it adds a little something more.

Finally the biggest change of all, is that the interface for your menus and characters isn’t the original one from Shining Force. In fact, Amusement Vision decided to go straight to the interface from Shining Force 2, a vastly superior game in all ways. It’s keeps track of your characters wins and losses, show you all their stats at once instead of having to check individually. Most of all it just flows better. I do wish they’d have added the Loyalty scheme from the Shining Force 3 Trilogy and left the name of the game “Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention.” Because that is one of the best names ever for a video game. But I see I’ve rambled for three pages now with only highlighting the changes made instead of actually reviewing and assigning a number score because sadly so many of you would rather have a digit to define a game’s greatness instead of an in-depth analysis. I blame EGM totally for their “One paragraph and a number” review style that basically has reduced the average gamer’s attention span to that of a person with chronic ADD. So here, Let’s Review!

1. Story

The story of Shining Force is honestly one of the best ever made. It’s the tale of two warring countries: Runefaust and Guardiana. It’s a tale of two brothers. It’s a tale of love between characters that is never truly spoken (But not by good guys) and it is most of all a tale of a band of warriors united to stop the coming of the Dark Dragon, the god of destruction and darkness. It’s a simple tale, but 11 years ago it was ground breaking and has been taken by practically every RPG out there in some way and modified.

Darksol takes control of Ramladu, king of Runefaust and uses their mighty army to lay siege to the world in is quest to resurrect Dark Dragon. His general Kane slays the King of Guardiana and Varios, the head of the Guardiana Knights. Max, along with some young friends end up taking the battle all the way to Guardiana, being led by the King’s Advisor Nova.

The game then gives you many twists and turns as you grow from a ragtag band of adventures to a mighty army capable of taking down the three faces of evil itself.

Not bad eh?

Shining Force focuses heavily on character development, with equal emphasis placed on both the characters fight on the side of Light, but also those dastardly villains you must do battle with.

A nice touch added by Amusement vision is that after each battle you can talk with your troops in Headquarters. In the original game they would say one of two things depending if you had them on your active team or not. Now each time you go down to HQ, they say something new and share back story of their lives with you. Very cool!

Shining Force contains one of the best told stories in all of video gaming. The GBA version is brought down a little due to the Nasha plot line forced into the game and some changes to the main character that only long time Shining Force zealots will get, but it’s still one for the age and is the best told RPG on the GBA right now. Oh hell, for ANY of the next gen systems right now.

Story Rating: 9/10

2. Graphics

Gorgeous. Simply Gorgeous. As I said earlier, aside from a few portraits, Amusement vision has taken a game that pushed the envelope of the Genesis graphically and made it so it gives the GBA a similar run for its money. Unlike other tactics games like FFTA or Advance Wars where the graphics are average at best due to the nature of Tactics gaming, Shining Force blows them both out of the water with the character designs and even the super deformed versions that walk around the tactical maps. And of course when fighting happens, well… Square-Enix may be the graphics king on the PS2, but FFTA has nothing on the graphics of the updated Shining Force. If you like pretty RPG’s, this is easily your game. It’s the shiniest RPG out there. Heh. Shiny. That was an unintentional pun.

Graphics (for a GBA game): 10/10

3. Sound

The music is the same! Yes indeed Shining Force fans, one thing Amusement Vision hasn’t decided to change are the incredible catchy tunes that helped to make the original Shining Force some memorable. Hard to believe MIDIS from an old 16 Bit game are still able to rival the games of today. The sound effects, well, there’s not much there, and when there is, they are pretty generic aside from spell casting, but the music alone manages to keep the rhythm of the game flowing.

Sound: 8/10

4. Control

Hello. Tactical RPG here! You have complete and total control over everything here. If you’ve got one of these and you’ve flubbed something up, you’re in the wrong genre!

There are some changes to the controls from the original Genesis version. 1. They’ve added a turn list. This is good. It keeps me from sending Arthur or Ken out into a battle without knowing if anyone will be there to back them up shortly. 2. You can’t check the stats of an enemy until you’ve attacked one. I like this a lot as it adds suspense. Part of the problem with other Tactical RPG’s is you can scan your opponent from the get go and can develop a strategy around that. There’s no mystery. Now there is. Go Amusement Vision.

One thing people might have a problem with is you can move, then take an action, but not the reverse. Once you act, your turn is done. I think the reverse should be allowed for more defense, but in the end, it’s not going to ruin your enjoyment of the game unless you have a problem with some of your troops occasionally being kamikaze warriors (Basically Paladins with their new move rating).

Control Rating: 9/10

5. Replayability

The plot’s not going to change. There is only one ending. But you have other thirty troops. Unlike FFTA or Ogre Tactics, where a majority of your troops are generic hirelings that have no personality because they couldn’t be bothered to design a platoon of unique individuals, Shining Force GBA has it covered. Even if characters are of the same race and class, their stats are wildly different. Luke is better than Gort is almost every way and they are both Dwarven Warriors. Balbaroy is faster and stronger than his wife and fellow Birdperson Amon, but she has more hit points and a higher defense. Arthur can cast spells unlike the other Paladins. Tao specializes in Fire magic, Anri in Ice, and Alef in Bolt. Your team can be mixed and matched to whatever you can imagine. And with diverse and unique troops like Bleu the Dragon or Guntz the Armadillo Steam Knight or Domingo the weird mass of floating tentacles, and well?Yogurt. I suppose you can use Yogurt.

My Personal team: Max, Tao, Domingo, Alef, Balbaroy, Zylo, Hanzou, Lyle, Gong, Torasu, Guntz, Pelle.

I once played this game three times in a row. I mean I beat the game, then started a new one, beat it, and started a new one. Back in High School I seriously could have owned tis game and never needed another one. Okay, this and Street Fighter 2. But that would be it! There is something about this game that says, “HEY! We don’t need ways to bribe the player to put this game back in their system and play it. It’s good enough that the sheer fun of playing it will hook the gamer for the rest of his life on it!”

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

The game one was one the first to prevent cheesing in RPG’s. Sure you could go back and do the same battle again and again in an attempt to level up, but there was a catch. Each enemy had a sliding XP level. This means you would get more XP for killing an enemy at level 2 than say level 5. And eventually an enemy would only be worth a piddling 1 XP and you wouldn’t be able to cheesily level up.

Then the “Super fast Cleric/Monk/Vicar” level up trick was found. You see, no matter what the enemies are like in the game, your healer will get a set ten XP (or more!) by casting heal. Even if no one needs healing. So what did you do? Heal heal heal heal heal. Egress. Go back to the battle and repeat. By casting heal every turn, you are guaranteed to have Gong and Lowe to level ten ready for a class change by the end of CHAPTER ONE. Yes. That far in advance. By the time you fight Dark Dragon your healers will be twice the level of what your other characters will be. You should have guys at level 20 while your healers are at level 40 completely maxed out.

At least… that was what it was like in the original Shining Force game. In the remake, well… there’s an experience point bug. A very big one. And it affects the game dramatically.

Your cleric leveling up trick has been left untouched. So don’t worry there. It’s what happens after a class change. See, in the original Genesis version, when you did a class change, you would go to level 1 of your new class and your stats would shrink slightly. Sure in your new class your stats would grow a lot faster and your character would have access to new powers and weapons, but the decrease was off strong enough to hurt you if a major battle was upcoming. So sometimes it was worth waiting to change class until after a boss battle for example. Otherwise you’d be underpowered. Not so in the GBA version thanks to the glitch. See, when you class changed in the old one, the XP scale for the monster would take into account your previous ten levels of your old class. So instead of Max being a Level 1 hero, it was also adding his previous ten levels as a Swordsman. With the Experience point bug in place, it forgets those other 10 levels and BAM! Enemies you should only be getting 1 XP for you are getting 48 (the max) for! Can we say massively quick level up? Max gained FIVE levels in one battle after he class changed. And a level 6 hero is pretty damn good considering in the old game he’d ave to wait a few more battles to get that high.

So in other worse, once you class change… which you should do immediately thanks to this glitch, you’re pretty much set until you character hits level 10 or so of the new class when you’ll finally start to see some XP dropage. But it’s too late as by this time all your guys are powered up far beyond what they should be. How playtesters missed THIS little faux pas is beyond me, because I noticed it the first time a class changed non cleric attacked someone. And marked out.

Even now, this review is the first place online this bug is revealed. So what, this makes the third time in a row 411mania breaks exclusive Shining Force news first. We broke Shining Soul 2 first, the eventual release of this GBA version of Shining Force MONTHS before other sites, and now this. Isn’t this weird? Why it’s always Shining Force I’ll never know?

Okay, off a tangent now. Back to the main thing. This XP point bug DOES ruin the balance of the game and there is no way around it. Thankfully the game still can be a bit difficult due to the fact Amusement vision has upped the evade and defense rates of most of the enemies. But still, I should not have Max as a level Ten Hero by the time he faces the Laser Eye when I haven’t Egressed out of a battle ONCE. This is really the old bad thing about Amusement Vision’s version of this game.

Balance Rating: 6/10

7. Originality

Even eleven years later, Shining Force outdoes so many other Tactics games, it’s frightening. You can have twelve playable characters on the field at once! You have a multitude of unique characters. You have incredible music and characters that have deep backstories and are well designed instead of being generic scrubs. You have a game that is responsible for an entire genre of gaming. Yes this is a port, but it’s a port of a game with a legacy a decade long and that has spawned over a hundred games that have tried to capture the purity and greatness of Shining Force, but all have failed ever so slightly.

Shining Force: It truly has spawned a Legacy of Great Intention. Deal with it.

Originality Rating: 9/10 (point taken off for being a port/update)

8. Appeal

Let’s leave it at this. It’s impossible not to love this game. Not to be a screaming fanatic about this game. Me? I’m an RPG/Shooter/2D fighter gamer. I’m crazy about this. Big Daddy Cool Bebito? Platformer and Sonic whore. What game is one of his all time favorites? Shining Force! My Sophmore college roomie? A total yee-haw redneck stoner who like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil. He saw my old Genesis collection and was like, “Holy crap! Shining Force! EVERYONE love that game!” My Freshman College Roomate? Didn’t speak a lick of English. But he saw the Shining Force cart and gave me a big thumbs up.

Shining Force has the ability to draw people out of their preferred genres and give them an experience in gaming like no other. You only like action adventure games? You will still like SF. You only like pretty RPG’s without depth or any real gameplay like a certain series that starts with the world Final? You will put it down for this game. You only like BMX XXX and DOA Beach Volleyball? Well?umm. First we need to get you a hooker so you can have sex with something other than your hand. But then afterwards you will love Shining Force! You can’t get around it: this game will draw you in.

Appeal Rating: 10/10

9. Addictiveness

Let’s go back in time to when Alex was a long almost 16 year old. Of course he was still the Showstoppa and the Main Eventah, but it’s half a decade before Ol’ HBK could add the phrase “Sub Cultural Icon” to his list of titles.

I had a slightly freaky but cute little Alterna-chick I was dating. Personality wise she was bleah, but the physical benefits were great. Let’s leave it at that. Then came Shining Force. Three days in a row I broke dates. Why? Because they were the first three days of me owning this game! I didn’t sleep. I barely ate and if I did it was salads or food my parents brought into my room. I barely went to the bathroom for Cthulhu’s sake! On the third day she called and was like “Have you beaten that game yet?” I replied that I had beaten it the day before and was now playing my second game of it. She exploded verbally and said “Alex, it’s that game or me. And I give you sex!” I thought for a moment and well?I obviously chose the game. And of course had someone the first day of school that next year.

So yes, I chose Shining Force over poontang and pretty much everything on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It is the only video game I have ever obsessed over that much. Even the Sequel which is better than the original didn’t elicit that reaction in me. Not even Pokemon. Not any game ever. And oddly enough, I ask other people, and they had similar reactions. And I’m not talking your typical acne ridden gaming geek severely lacking in social skills and hygiene. I’m talking jocks, people that have hobbies outside gaming. Casual gamers. People like my friend Rick Byzewski who never has really enjoyed video games at all but became insanely addicted to two game and only two games that I know of in his entire life: Shadowrun (and he never liked Table top gaming) and Shining Force.

Make no mistake about it, this gaming is f*cking crack. Does it affect me the same way now 11 years later? No. But since owning this GBA version, I have broken a date to just play the game. What? I was about to get Zylo! How could I not???

Addictiveness Rating: 10/10

10. Miscellaneous.

What else to cover? Anything I left out? Hmmm. I think I’m mentioned just about everything that’s changed in this game. Everything that has been improved. Everything possible. I mean. I’ve just talked for 9 pages about one single solitary game. Last time I did that , it was Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox.

All that needs to be said is this: This is the best RPG on the GBA. This is the best GAME on the GBA. This is the best RPG on the GBA, the Xbox, the Dreamcast, the Cube, or the PS2. Hell, there are only two games up there on a next generation system I rank as highly as this one: The Suffering and Ikaruga. And we all know how scary I get when I talk about Ikaruga, right?

Trust me people. This game is reason enough to buy a GBA or GBA SP. Hell it’s reason enough to buy a Game Cube and a GPA Player. This game is proof that gaming is still gravy and not full of games that were made without care and half assed by the developers who thought “Screw the engine, let’s put in some TITS.” This and River City Ransom alone are proof that the GBA is going to be the best system for games this year. And oddly enough, both games are remakes/graphical updates of games that are over ten years old.

I don’t know whether that means these games are just that amazing that they stand the test of time no matter what, or it says something about the quality of the actual games today underneath their graphical beauty.

Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10

Final Score: 9.0 (All Time Classic)

FYI: The original Shining Force on the Genesis scores a 9.5 in comparison as it didn’t have the XP bug or the Narsha/Mawlock/Insect boy bits.

Short Attention Span Summary
It’s a little bit different, but in the end, it’s still the same wonderful incredible game that has created millions of RPG fans around the world. Thank you Amusement Vision for not messing with the original vision or gameplay or really anything at all except adding three new characters that are pretty much not needed or wanted. Thank you THQ for a spot on translation. Please Atlus, please do as good a job. Sure you made Mark in Persona black, and butchered Shining Soul 2. But you’re ATLUS. ATLUS!!! I know you’ll do the US version of this game proud. And every single one of you reading this better damn well go out and buy this game so that Sega let’s AV do Shining Force 2, or so help me god I will eat your pets. Yes. EAT THEM. RAW. And no one wants to see that, do they?