|| Shining Force 3 - Reader Retroview
Time's a Charm for this Strategy Series
By: David Adler
20 - 35 hours
Any RPG fan who has owned a Sega system in the
past decade has heard of the Shining series, and is most likely a fan.
Shining games are a long running and numerous series that started with
Shining in the Darkness on the Genesis, and continued on the Sega CD, Game
Gear, and Saturn. They come in few flavors: First-person dungeon crawlers,
an action RPG, and the strategy RPG's known as Shining Force. Shining Force
3 was one of the very last games to appear on the Saturn outside of Japan
and did not receive much notice, but that in no way means that it is
unworthy of the attention of strategy RPG fans.
The Destonia Empire and the Republic of Aspinia
have been bitter enemies since the Republicans fought for their freedom 20
years ago. War between the two is about to erupt again over the contested
territory of Barrand and a peace conference is called to avoid open combat.
But all hope of peace is lost when the Emperor himself is abducted and all
leads point to the Republic's King Benetram. As Synbios, the son of a
Republican hero, it is your job to get to the bottom of this plot and save
Aspia from the vengeful armies of Destonia.
To do so will require lots of army to army
combat. The battle system is the most important part of a strategy RPG, and
the battles of Shining Force 3 are its strongest point. The general feel of
the gameplay is more similar to Vandal Hearts than to Final Fantasy Tactics
or Front Mission 3 because there is little character customization but many
characters on the battlefield at once. The strategy in Shining Force
doesn't come from building up powerful characters and then squaring them off
against the enemy as in Final Fantasy Tactics and Front Mission 3. Strategy
in Shining Force is in the formation and movement of your army. When you
have an army of 12, any one of whom can be destroyed in a few hits,
battlefield strategy becomes very important.
Battles in Shining Force basically follow the
standard formula of: Move your character a limited number of spaces, then
attack, cast magic or use an item. Earlier Shining Force games were little
more than this, but Shining Force 3 makes two additions to this simple
formula. The first improvement is the weapons classes. Most characters can
equip one class of weapons, which is made up of several types. For example,
knights can use the spear class, which includes spears, lances, and
halberds. The sword, axe, and spear classes follow a paper, rock, scissors
pattern, so it is important to properly match your fighters against the
enemy. Characters are free to switch between weapon types within the class,
but as they fight with one type, their attack power with that type increases
and they learn special attacks. It's too bad that these special attack are
activated randomly; it would have been more strategic if the player could
choose when they were most needed.
The second, and most interesting feature of the
battle system is the friendships that develop between your soldiers. Think
of it like this: as two fighters work together by attacking the same enemy
or casting helpful magic on each other, they become war buddies. Everyone
starts as allies, but their relationship can improve to partner, friend,
trusted, and soul-mate. When two partners stand next to each other on the
battlefield, they give each other support. The type of support depends on
the type of character. For example: warriors give their friends defensive
bonuses and archers give increases to the chance of executing a critical
attack. But if a soldier falls in battle, (and is revived at a church) they
lose one level of trust with their friends. The idea of the army's trust
rising and falling in this way makes perfect sense as well as adding a bit
more strategy to the placement of your soldiers and the timing of attacks.
This description of the battle system has been
rather lengthy because it is the central element in Shining Force 3 and the
principle reason an RPGamer would want to play a somewhat older game. As
such, its elegance lies in its simple basic structure, embellished by the
weapon classes and friendships, neither of which dominate the gameplay.
Everything else in Shining Force 3 is secondary
to the combat, but still merits discussion. The control of the game is
quite convenient. Menus are laid out in a diamond pattern so that all
options are no more than one press of the D-pad away. Battles are on the
large and long side, but move along well thanks a shortcut taken in moving
your characters and automatic targeting of spells and attacks. The player
can also save in the middle of a fight. Outside of battle, towns may be
explored as in any RPG (but not many strategy RPG's). But unfortunately,
the player cannot travel about the whole world freely and is limited to a
few locations at a time. It's nice that large towns are actually very big
and packed with citizens, which contrasts with the small backwater villages.
|Synbios takes a
Music/Sound. Sadly, the sound in Shining Force
3 is one of its weakest aspects. The soundtrack has its share of good tunes
and it's great that not every battle is accompanied by a pounding march. A
battle in front of a waterfall plays out to a peaceful yet eerie
composition. But each track is rather short and is only broken up by the
very short tune that is played when someone attacks, casts a spell, etc.
And a few tracks are plain nerve-wracking, one of which plays in 3 battles
in a row. The sound is worse. Spells rumble nicely, but when they impact
with the enemy it sounds the same as an axe or sword. Most other sounds
fall somewhere between unrealistic and cheesy. In addition, characters
shout threats and taunts when they cast a spell or use a special attack, and
for the most part, these are done well. But a small minority of the voices
are just terrible, and the worst of these is Synbios, who sounds like a
village idiot who recently took a punch in the jaw.
The Shining Force series has been around for
awhile, and has not really changed much. But number 3 gets originality
points for the additions to the battles, and the step up in quality of the
plot. While not really "new", it is certainly "improved". The most
original part about this game is that it actually comes in three parts. The
problem is that parts 2 and 3 were released only in Japan. Each is a stand
alone game, but some things you do in one part can affect what happens in
the next, allowing someone who plays more than one part (and keeps a
completed save-game) to get additional characters, and items. Part 2
follows Prince Medion of the Empire through the same period of time as part
1, and part 3 follows Julian (who appeared briefly in Shining: the Holy Ark)
to the final conclusion. ItŐs disappointing that these weren't released
outside of Japan because they are both slightly better than part 1. Very
poor form for Sega of America to only give us part 1.
The plot of part 1 is adversely affected by the
missing parts 2 and 3 because part 1 ends in a cliffhanger. Besides that,
the plot is actually several steps better than previous Shining Forces,
which were basically quests to kill the big bad demon. The plot won't be
the selling point of the game, but it provides enough politics and
double-crosses (almost too many) to surprise the gamer. Despite the
interesting plot, most characters, and the player characters in particular,
are one-dimensional and have no past and little motivation. There is at
least one minor plot hole, and sometimes the writers take the easy way out
by relying on magic instead of human motivation and action to advance the
plot. The localization team did a good job of avoiding all spelling,
grammar, and punctuation errors. The few small complaints about this aspect
include a few
oddly-worded sentences, character classes abbreviated to four letters, and
tell you their deepest, darkest secrets just because you barged into their
are only small problems, and the end result is that each battle is worth
winning just to
find out who is really behind the latest conflict.
|It's a good day to
This game can be played through and enjoyed
almost exactly twice. Without the aid of a strategy guide, it is impossible
to find all the characters and interesting items the first time through.
Starting a new game with a completed save-game in memory allows three harder
difficulty levels to be chosen and the game music to be changed at any time.
These added features plus the large number of characters from which to
choose your force make the game worth playing through twice.
Shining Force 3 graphically stacks up quite well with other
Saturn games. It begins with a nice rendered FMV which looks stylish even
though the quality pales in comparison to the movies of recent Square games.
Battles, towns, and the wilderness are presented as pre-rendered sprite
characters moving on polygonal terrain. Buildings and some battlefields
look blocky, but detailed textures and the fully rotateable camera give them
a polished look. The fact that the characters are computer-rendered, rather
drawn, and have 8 different sides makes them fit in with their 3D
environment. The use
of movement in battle backgrounds adds some excitement to the battles on a
train and over a rushing river. When one character attacks another, the
game switches to
a fully 3D display of the action. These look really good. While they are a
characters move smoothly and have a huge variety of animations. Spells and
bathe characters in colored lighting or make them glow from within. And
border on seizure-inducing with their kaleidoscope colors. The best part
is, these scenes
load, and then play out very quickly and don't slow down the game at all. A
camera panning and zooming would have utilized the 3D engine better, though.
Difficulty. Like most RPG's out there, Shining Force 3 is easy.
Enemies are sometimes weaker than Synbios's fighters and appear in small
groups spread across the battlefield. The AI is no worse than in other
strategy RPG's, just a bit too timid. The game can be made even easier by
fighting most of a battle, retreating, then returning to kill the same
enemies again to gain more experience. But after beating the game once and
then choosing the hardest difficulty, the enemies become much stronger than
the heroes and present a real challenge. Too bad this option is not
available from the beginning.
this town's dirty laundry
The plot of Shining Force 3 is mediocre, and the sound is just
bad. These are balanced out by nice visuals, control, and some good music.
And then there are the battles, which make it all worthwhile. The large
armies and focus on battlefield tactics give it a different, more epic feel
than other recent strategy RPG's. While certainly not a must-buy for
everyone, Shining Force 3 is a premier example of the strategy RPG genre.