Review: Shining Tears (PS2)

Shining Tears
Developer: Amusement Vision
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 03/23/05

It’s hard to believe that two years ago I was lamenting how there were no new Shining Games. And now, in a span of 2 years, we have 4 games with that title. First there was Shining Soul, which was a good GBA game, that eschewed the Strategy RPG stylings of Shining Force and went into a weird multiplayer Action RPG format. Then there was Shining Soul 2, which offered more playable characters, but a decidedly duller gaming experience. And then there was Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon, a remake of the original Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention. That latter won our GBA GOTY award and Best Tactical RPG of the Year awards from us.

But all three of those games came to the US via Atlus, not the actual creator SEGA. Yet for some reason Sega brought over Shining Tears (Which is really just Shining Soul 3, which really needs to be focused on as this is NOT a Shining FORCE game, which no doubt has disappointed many. And Shining Force Neo is just an action game as well. Sorry guys, but the only Tactical Shining game for a long time will be the one only available on Japanese cell phones right now) Maybe because it is a console game and not a portable game like the others mentioned above? I’m really not sure to be quite honest.

But this actually marks the first time a game with a Shining title is on a US console since 1998. Yes, a 7 year glut without Shining Games. But now we have one for the PS2 and we can all rejoice that Sega’s amazing RPG series is finally returning to consoles, and no doubt this high tech release is coming off the momentum of the award winning SF:RotDD.


Let’s Review

1. Story

Shining Tears revolves around a lot of RPG cliches. We have not one but two secret princesses, we have an amnesiac main hero (which sadly something they’ve been doing in a lot of Shining Force games), we have an evil army picking on a small peace loving city, we have a betrayer who finds their conscience and double-crosses over to the side of good and justice. You name it, it’s in here.

And yet, somehow the story isn’t THAT bad.

The main character is Xion, who is found nearly drowned and dead by the Elf Elwyn who nurses him back to health with the aid of doctor and war strategist Pious. Pious discovers that Xion is the keeper of two mystical rings long forgotten and turned into myth thanks to the passage of time. One ring will not leave the finger of Xion and as long as no one else wears the other, he is himself. However if a person with a light soul wears the other right, both ringbearers gain an immense amount of power, but Xion’s soul turns dark and violent until the other person’s ring is removed. The same holds true if a person with a dark soul wears the ring, but in this case Xion becomes a holy virtuous warrior.

And although they try to hint this has a gameplay function (Dark Xios a better fighter and Light Xion a better mage), it really doesn’t.

You’re also introduced to a cast of characters besides the ones mentioned. You meat Ryuna the stereotypical priestess character and her bodyguard Lazarus the Dragon Knight. There’s the ice mage Neige who bears a remarkable resemblance to Anri, the ice mage of the first Shining Force game, and who also bears a secret that is ruined for you due to the description of an item you can easily pick up in battle. There is Volg, the werewolf leader of Weissritter, the mercenary army in the town this game takes place in. And finally there is Mao, the cat-girl ninja who is constantly irritating.

After those first few intro missions, the game becomes about trying to defeat the evil psychotic Rune Geist Empire. And that is really it until the very end of the game

And that’s really it. Most of the game is “Let’s convince another nation full of some fantasy race to come help us against the bad guys.” And then a quick 5-10 minute battle (although some can be as long as 30 minutes due to 3-5 sections of battle and if you kill every enemy out there.) The story scenes are long, drawn out and to be honest, I found them pretty boring and wanted to skip through them. And considering how the battles are only 5 minutes long between each 15 minute story section in the first half of the game, that’s saying something. Something I never thought I’d say about a game with SHINING in the title.

However, the characters are well thought out and characterized, even if cliched and most of the ‘big revelations’ in the game are forshadowed like someone holding a brick in front of you and then saying, “HEY, WHAT DO YOU THINK I HAVE IN MY HAND?”

In all, I was very disappointed with the plot of Shining Tears, but in truth, there was nothing truly bad about it. It was just a lot of overused RPG archetypes and stereotypical personalities blurred together with lip service being paid to a slight amount of classic Camelot created SHINING conventions.

Really, the plot is not that stellar, and if you’re new to RPG’s, I’d say this might be a good one to learn from, but for long time RPG gamers, you might find yourself bored by the plot and longing for the action part of the game, and how often does THAT ever happen in an RPG?

Story Rating: 4/10

2. Graphics

Shining Soul has some amazing character artwork, but that’s typical for Shining Games. Wonderful brilliant portraits that manage to capture the characters personality and emotions, but subpar graphics everyplace else. I will say the opening animation sequence for the game was gorgeous and captured my attention as well. Just some amazing animation here. But this is where I have to insert the “But…” paragraph.

The graphics really shouldn’t surprise anyone. As anyone who has played either of those games will be witness to prettier (but only slightly) versions of the enemies in that game. Yes, I’m serious. We’re talking graphics that look like the GBA/SP could feasibly pull this game off on the PS2. Yes Tears is shining and more colorful and better looking that the Soul predecessors, but not much more than that. Pull out your GB player, pop in either Soul game and have someone hook up a PS2 and play Shining Tears right next to you. You’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

The background/town/outdoor scenery graphics are noticeably better than the GBA games, and they OUGHT to be, considering the difference between the two systems power. But due to the action of the game you really can’t afford much attention to the graphics. Especially when your partner decides to trigger a Phalanx of enemies and you’ve got a massive battle ahead of you again. Urg.

Again, we’re scoring 2 out 2 in the disappointment column. Even if they wanted to keep the same engine and gameplay style as the Shining Soul games, there’s a lot they could have done graphics wise to improve this game. It’s not ugly, but only because the amazing portraits and opening animation sequence elevate the game to a rating of “average, but just barely.”

If you’re looking for a good looking action game for the PS2, wait for Atelier Iris or find Dark Alliance 2 for cheap.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

All Right! A section I can be positive in. Heh. Sounds like Phantom Dust, eh?

Shining Tears has some great classical RPG styling music to it. I really enjoyed listening to the various tracks, both in battle and while navigate the amazingly boring town, going to the same stores and being quite bored hoping for some combat to eventually open up. It’s not on par with any of the Sega Saturn Shining Games (Wisdom/Force III/Holy Arc), but it’s still quite good and has a nostalgic feel to it, returning you to the days when video games like this would get “WOW! Great graphics.” :-P

The voice acting is decent, but not amazing. Maybe that’s because there is so little of it. Store owners have the same two lines of dialogue. And all the smithies sound the same, all the tool stores sound the same, and so on and so forth. Even the characters has only a line of dialogue that plays when you select them as your partner. There is some in game chatter as well, like Elwyn’s “Nice Knowing You” catch phrase and other lines the characters speak when using their special abilities. The characters also speak when hurt or when they die, or when you complete a mission. This last bit is the only time dialogue changes as a character will say something different depending on how well you did in your mission.

Other than that, it’s all text based story telling.

I’d like to think that Shining Tears would be a good or great game 1-2 generations ago, but this feels more like someone’s first attempt at making a video game for the PS2. The music although decent, can’t carry the game alone.

Sound Rating: 6/10

4. Control and Gameplay

I was surprised that in porting the engine from Game Boy Advance to PS2, that I preferred the GBA controls to the PS2 version. Maybe it’s just because the O button is the attack button. Maybe it’s just because I got used to that control scheme for two straight games. But one thing I know for sure is that the item menu is annoying for the first fourth to third of the game.

In Shining Tears, you use the Analog Joystick to move around. You use the O button to attack. You use the X button to bring your Computer Controlled Partner to you, you use the Square Button to use an item, of which there are four different types. Use the Triangle button to cycle through the types and then after you have selected the type, use the D pad to select which item you want to use.

Yes, it IS time consuming. Only a few seconds, but often a few seconds can mean life or death in an action RPG game, and it’s hard to focus on attacking while doing this.

You can also use the D pad to choose from your special attacks and link abilities as well.

I should point out that Link Abilities are pretty much useless and are worth neither the skill points nor the amount of SP (magic points0 they consume in this game. Not to mention you have to be close to your partner and thus ripe for being swarmed. My advice is to focus only on Auto Skills or individual character powers.

Now you’ve probably noticed me mentioning that you have a partner. This is the big difference between Soul and Tears. In Soul, you could have up to FOUR people play through GBA connectivity. But in Shining Tears there are always two player characters on the screen. 99% of the time this character will be computer controlled, but before a battle you can select a friend to play the second character. This means the character will actually fight in a way that doesn’t come off brain damaged, and you can have a lot of fun with this game in this mode, even if the computer opponents are quite possibly the easiest I’ve seen in a game. But that’s a subject for Balance.

Often times the computer partner will just stand there, it will not follow you and it will not move when you are being chased down by a horde of monsters, effectively trapping you in and given you no choice but to fight your way out. They will annoy you. Greatly.

The only exceptions are Neige and Lazarus. Neige’s AI is actually good and she is very helpful, and thanks to the autoskill frozen armor, she’s not only the most powerful magic user, but a defensive wall as well. Lazarus you can have up over 100 ATT by level 10, and thanks to possessing ATT up and DEF up as auto skills, can cleave through most anything in the game and not take any real damage. The other characters though. Yeah, the less said about Ryuna and Mao the better. Okay, I’ll say one thing: NEVER USE THEM. Elwyn and Volg are good, but are overshadowed by Neige and Lazarus. Stick with them as often as you can.

In all the controls are okay, but not great, and more often than not investing in link skills or relying on your partner becomes a learning experience in terms of regret.

This game can be quite fun with two players as you have much less to worry about control issue wise, but with one person, the constant item management and trying to keep your partner from being a burden can bog down the gameplay.

Oh, and there is quite a bit of slowdown, which is frustrating indeed in the later battles, when the slowdown can occur for 60 seconds or so. It’s a shame really. You have decent controls bogged down by a lot of different things ruining the gameplay.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 5/10

5. Replayability

The saving grace of Shining Tears is the ability to really customize your character. Each character has ten skills to choose from, each with a power rating of 1-10. Of course each time you level up, you get one point to add to any ONE skill. So it’s going to take a while and the results aren’t apparent right away.

Unfortunately, there’s never more than 2-3 skills worth investing in on each character. For Xion it is Spark (His magical attack), Gravity Slash (multiple hitting paralyze sword attack), and Defense Up (Nuff said). The other abilities just don’t cut it really. And the same holds true for each character. Let me give you one more in Elwyn since she’s your first computer partner. Invest in Rapid Fire so she is useful, the auto-skill Critical as it raises both your characters Critical Attack rate, and Dryad’s Allure which charms an enemy into helping you. Everything else is pretty much worthless. The game tries to hype the Link Attacks, but much like the Soul attacks in Shining Soul, these are pretty much worthless.

So you have half a dozen+ characters you can customize, but with only a tiny amount of skills worth investing in, you’re more likely to waste the points and thus make a crappy character.

There’s also a double edged sword in that you ALWAYS have to play as Xion in the main game, meaning you never truly get to experience another character, which is a downer. I would have preferred a Lazarus/Neige team. Man, that’d be nice. However, in the Mirror Realm, you can mix and match however you would like, but then, it still loses something. When you can only play as Xion for 30+ hours, you have a feel for him. But still, at least the option to replay old battles your characters are far too powerful for now is open to you. Or something. Yeesh.

There’s a second mirror mode where you can play with a friend. But guess what? Then you BOTH have to be Xion. How awful is that?

I just keep thinking, “Why didn’t they just copy the multiplayer scheme of Shining Soul?” Do you know how sad that is that a two year old GBA game using this engine is superior to the brand spanking new PS2 version?

If the four player version was fun, why is the two player with one a AI controlled character so annoying?

Oh, that question rather answers itself.

Finally, there are multiple endings as there is an unseen “relationship” factor in the game. Watch a certain cut scene towards the end to see who you will end up with. And relationship doesn’t mean “Love and live happily ever after.” It mean just the character you have made Xion the closest to through various choices and actions.

In all the game has a decent amount of replayability, but only if you REALLY want to see all the endings or have a lot of fun playing this with a friend. Story mode really installs a “beat it, trade it” sort of mentality on the gamer.

Replayability Rating: 5/10

6. Balance

This is by far the easiest game I have played in years. Aside from the boss fights, the computer doesn’t attack until you attack first. The enemy is grouped into little tiny hordes and when you trigger them they mindlessly come after you. It is always the same. It doesn’t matter what type of monster or whether they have magic or poison or what, it is always the same. And you will get bored.

The boss battles actually require some thought though. But not too much. The bosses go down quickly and easily and usually the only time you have trouble is because they have a few hordes to go with them who beat down your retarded partner and thus you have to waste healing items on them. That’s it.

There is no Strategy to Shining tears aside from building up your characters properly. It’s just run in, use magic or a special attack, run away while charging up your special meter, run back, attack again, and repeat until everything is dead. Do this for thirty hours and you have your game. Congrats. You’ve beaten Shining Tears.

Again, this is a very good game for people under the age of ten. It can be Junior’s first Action RPG. They get a story, all the cliches and conventions that go into a stereotypical RPG, and it’s easy. VERY easy. So they just might get hooked on the genre.

Too bad the game has a “T” rating on it, eh?

Too easy, too boring, too long. That’s Shining Tears in a nutshell.

Balance Rating: 1/10

7. Originality

Okay, the game gets some points for the two player mode, even though it’s not very good, and Shining Soul did multiplayer better, but other than that, this game is just a very long and boring second rate Shining Soul 3. There’s nothing original in terms of gameplay, story, characterization or innovation. It’s all rehashed crap.

Yes it is nice to having another Shining game on a console again, but this should not be it. Sega has been really butchering their A list titles as of late making third rate games and running what credibility those titles have left. Gabe and Tycho over at Penny Arcade were right when they said “Sega Makes Murder Porn” and Sega has just effectively added to the Snuff Film pile.

And for those of you optimistically hoping Shining Force Neo will revive the franchise after 3 straight Shining Soul/Tears games have kicked the Shining Force name in the male genitals…heh heh heh. Don’t get your hopes up.

Originality Rating: 3/10

8. Addictiveness

God help me, as much as I hated this game, I couldn’t put it down. I needed to beat it. I needed to be a proud Shining Tears survivor. The funny thing is while playing it I just wanted to scroll through the text and get to the battles so I’d be closer to being done. Just a little closer. That’s what I’d tell myself. Not “Just 15 minutes more than I’ll go to bed” like I do with games I love but, “I’ve beaten every Shining game ever made. Have to beat this one. I have to.”

That was the kind of addiction I was facing here due to my fanatical devotion to Shining Force 1 and 2. While playing it I would look forward to getting my characters leveled up. But that’s true of any RPG. And afterwards, I felt dirty that I spent my time on this game instead of something more fun.

But still, I did want to keep playing it and it was hard for me to stop. Maybe it’s like watching an awful horror film or a wrestler you love to hate. I certainly loved not playing Shining Tears, but it kept bringing me back with its insidious siren song.

Addictiveness Rating: 6/10

9. Appeal Factor

You know who this will appeal to? Hardcore Shining Soul fans. Oh. And people desperate enough to have a new console based Shining Game.

But other than that, I can’t imagine anyone picking this up. It’s got a 50 dollar price tag on it when this should be a budget title right out the gate due to the lack of being anything but a pretty GBA game. I can’t imagine anyone willingly paying more than 29.99 for this.

There are countless RPG’s you will enjoy more. And if you have a GBA, pretend this doesn’t exist and get Shining Soul or preferably Shining Force GBA and see what classic wonderful RPG gaming with the Shining Logo can be.

Please Sammy controlled faux Sega of evil, do not destroy Sakura Taisen or Dragon Force. Pretty please? I supported Sega for so long. For so very long. And what is being released now embarrasses me to have once supported Sega through thick and thin. Bad Sammy controlled faux Sega of evil. Release games worthy of the name value your titles have earned.

Appeal Factor: 3/10

10. Miscellaneous

I wanted to love this game. I really did. I enjoyed the first Shining Soul and it kept me really busy coming home from England. I though the second Shining Soul was nice that it had new characters, but that it might as well have been the same game. But I this though it was a hair above average.

But this? At FIFTY DOLLARS? At a time when Sega just released 2 Super Monkey Ball games on one disc for thirty? Or when there are good games being released for only 20-30 instead of a full blown fifty? Shame on you Sega. Shame on you.

The characters were nice but the story was boring and too long. The game was too easy and yet it has a Teen rating ensuring an audience that could enjoy this as their first intro to RPG’s never will touch it. The customization is nice, but just like my Shining Soul FAQ, you see there are only 1-3 moves worth maxing out.

This could have had a lot of potential. Shining Tears could have built of the Shining Soul ideas and run wild with them. Instead we get a game that doesn’t even live up to the GBA version’s quality.

And considering a lot of people didn’t like Shining Soul, that’s saying something.

Miscellaneous Rating: 3/10

The Scores:

Story: 5/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 6/10
Control and Gameplay: 5/10
Replayability: 5/10
Balance: 1/10
Originality: 3/10
Addictiveness: 6/10
Appeal Factor: 3/10
Miscellaneous: 3/10

Overall Score: 42/100

Short Attention Span Summary
If you want a good Shining Game, go get your GBA and play the heck out of Shining Force: RotDD. Heck, even the Shining Soul games are done better and offer more of a challenge and interesting gameplay than this game. If you want a great game, get out a Sega Genesis and track down Shining Force 2. It’s not that Shining Tears is an awful game. It is that is a game that could have been so much more and it feels like nothing more than a GBA port to the PS2. There’s no improvements from the original line. Instead it’s managed to get worse. Rent at most.



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