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Resurrection Done Right
By: Anna Marie Whitehead
It used to be a rare occurrence when a new TRPG was released. However, many more are seeing the light of day in North America, thanks to an ever-growing audience of TRPG lovers. Many years ago the Shining series began as a dungeon-crawl style RPG, but one branch, Shining Force, one of the first games of its type, began a tactical revolution that spanned more than one Sega system. Now, Atlus and Sega have come together to recreate the first game once more, for a new audience 12 years later. Combine a smart battle system, a redeveloped and far deeper storyline, memorable characters both old as well as new, and top it off with portability and there will be the gem that is Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon.
Like many Tactical RPGs, Shining Force's battles consist of a grid and turned-based system. There is a limit of 12 allies including the main hero for each battle, so balancing from the more than thirty melee, fast-moving, ranged, and magic units is challenging and fun. Every playthrough of the game will be different depending on which allies are used. Victory conditions vary: mostly revolving around defeating one specific enemy or wiping out all enemies. Occasionally arriving at a specific destination is an alternative victory condition, though the option of giving up valuable fighting experience isn't a good idea, expecially in subsequent play throughs. Some maps may present a challenge to those who stick with a static team: terrain plays a large part in movement ranges, and some units may become quite stuck if used in unfavorable conditions. Once a unit reaches level 10 or greater, it may be 'promoted' to a new class-type. Though all characters thusly restarted regress to level 1, they retain a portion of their stats from their previous class and have ample opportunity to grow again into formidable units, accessing higher stats and most especially skills and weapons that an unpromoted unit would not be able to use. Finally, added from the original are new 'Clear Bonuses', where if a level is completed within a set number of turns, an additional item or money will be awarded to the party. As these items tend to foreshadow what type of enemies will come next, fulfilling these conditions, despite some being as few as 6 turns, is worth the time spent planning out.
Even as a remake of a Sega Genesis game, the graphics look very nice on the GBA. Each portrait and nearly all of the other graphics were redone. Some scenes were changed completely - for example, healing used to include both the healer's and the damaged unit's battle poses, but now experience is doled out before the HP is actually replenished, making for a quicker healing period. The music has stayed much the same, and this is definitely not a bad thing, as the music in Shining Force is beautiful, enhancing the immersive quality of the game's environments. There are some nice added touches to make the music, normally repetitive in battle after battle, different: or example, the battle music differs between fights in which normal and promoted classes are used. Sound effects fit in well, and add to the stirring environment that the music creates.
Though the game is a remake, there are still a lot of new additions, making it seem as if it was an original game. Though the main story arc changes minimally, included after most chapters is an epilogue which involves the enemy kingdom's changeover to a truly evil leader. From this epilogue spawns three new characters not found in the original version: Narsha, the princess of Runefaust; Zuika, whom Narsha awakens as she flees her country; and Mawlock, who is the most interesting of the trio. Mawlock uses 'cards' to battle; a new addition for the GBA version. Each of the 33 characters as well as most of the bosses have cards representing them. Character cards are either hidden or handed over by the people themselves - some require close friendships before they will be surrendered. Boss cards are received when certain characters deal the finishing strike against them. Some bosses are pretty obvious, and proceeded by foreshadowing; for example, a character may join the Shining Force to exact revenge upon the next fight's boss. Others are more obscure and may take time, trial and error to finally acquire. The story itself has been beefed up by adding subplots to each character between battles. In Headquarters, each ally will tell you about themselves, or their background, or other interesting information about the world of Rune. This makes the characters not just battle sprites, but someone that has depth and meaning. Characters will open up the more you use them and give them good items/equipment - but beware: for if they die, or don't get used in battle their friendship will be lost, and it can only be regained in a new game.
Shining Force isn't too difficult if it isn't rushed, and to do so would be a pure travesty in and of itself. You may retreat from any battle before the victory conditions are met, and start over repeatedly. With this method any party member, whether they join early or late, can be sufficiently powered up until no enemy can match their strength. Depending how much time is taken to develop each of the more than 30 characters, the game may run upwards of 20 or more hours; additional time may be spent in the new 'stars' mode, where the game can be repeated with more difficult enemies. Each time the game is completed, another star is added; and for each star, the game gets harder and harder. Though the same story is played again, how the game must be played changes each time. Additionally, this gives an RPGamer the opportunity to collect cards missed in previous runs. These cards are acquired only by having close friendships with the character in question and there are only 12 slots to use in battle, so it would take repeated playthroughs to finally collect an entire set.
Menus are simple and easy to navigate; each character has 4 equipment slots and 4 item slots which are accessible during battle; anything further acquired will go into the general 'Item Box', which will hold the extra clutter (such as overstock of healing items). Each character's stats can be displayed in two different menus, making it a snap to compare two allies. It is obvious a lot of care was put into the localization of the game, and it helps along the game where an average job simply wouldn't have done. Especially since there is so much added text in both the menus and overall, it's nice to see no discernable errors.
For anyone that is a diehard fan of older TRPGs, this is a game that should not be missed, as it brings together the best of what makes an RPG special. For those new to the idea of a TRPG, this is a game that should not be missed, as it brings together a package that is easy to pick up yet not so easy that mastery comes at just one play. With battles taking less time than they did in the original release, portability is also a big bonus, as a battle can be fought anytime, anywhere. Standing the test of time isn't easy, but with its shiny facelift, Shining Force ends up a prized possession in any GameBoy Advance collection.
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