Shining Force III - Reader Retroview  

Bright light! Bright light!
by JuMeSyn

30-40 hours


Rating definitions 

   Shining Force III occupies a unique place among RPGs, and holds the top place in my personal list of favorite RPGs. The title played host to a fascinating idea of Camelot, its developers: create an interlocking story spread out among several discs. The three Scenarios were indeed sold separately, but to play any one of them alone is to cheat the player of the whole. Shining Force III was meant to be experienced in its entirety, not as the bastardization Sega of America made available in English. Sega actually did a (mostly) fine job of translating Scenario 1, but by forgoing the translation of Scenarios 2 and 3 guaranteed a lengthy dead zone between its abandonment of the Saturn and the Dreamcastís English debut. It also required all who wish to play the entirety of Shining Force III (which should be everyone who plays Scenario 1) to import Scenarios 2 and 3.

   Shining Force III Scenario 1 IS in English, however, so I can treat it accordingly. It begins in the floating city of Saraband, where a peace conference is about to take place between the Aspinian Republic and the Destonian Empire over the territory of Barrand, recently seized by Imperial forces after a revolt over lack of food. 20 years have passed since the Republic became independent, and that independence was after a brutal war that Emperor Domaric has never accepted the result of. The player assumes control of Synbios, son of Conrad, one of the leaders in the Republicís independence war and still a major name to be reckoned with. Conrad was unable to attend the conference himself, and Synbios is there to lend what aid he can.

The Masked Monk is a very aggressive dance instructor, and responds poorly to bad learners! The Masked Monk is a very aggressive dance instructor, and responds poorly to bad learners!

   The peace conference is ruined when it appears that King Benetram, leader of the Republic, has personally abducted Emperor Domaric under the cover of numerous explosions throughout Saraband. It becomes clear quickly that the real Benetram did not perpetrate this deed, but convincing the Imperials of this is no easy feat, and the many armies readied for action promptly begin battle. Synbios and his small-but-growing entourage are assigned the task of getting Benetram back to the Republic, along with investigating the suspicious Masked Monks of Bulzome who seem to be heavily involved with Domaricís abduction and the starting of the war. Getting back to the Republic is very far from easy when Saraband was docked in Imperial territory, and the repercussions of the war continue even once the Republic is returned to.

   Shining Force III Scenario 1 plays beautifully, as is to be expected of a Shining Force title. In the main it is just like the earlier incarnations of the series: the player directly controls up to 12 characters, with Synbios always on the field, in a tactical brawl. The view is overhead with adjustable zoom and camera angle (not practical on earlier systems), and whenever an action other than movement is performed the view switches to a 3D display of its accomplishment. Attacking enemies and killing them provides most experience, although healing and status-changing spells give experience also. 100 experience is required for a character to rise in level, and no action can give more than 49 experience at one time. Pressing ĎBí will allow the player to cruise around the battlefield looking at the enemy status and getting a good view of the action. Some characters use magic in addition to physical strikes, and magic comes in six elemental varieties with enemies frequently having resistance to some of them. Magic is (mostly) acquired by leveling-up, as well. At level 10 characters can promote into a stronger class, although statistics can continue to be gained in the starting classes until level 17.

   The changes from earlier Shining Force titles are definitely noticeable, however. Taking a page from Fire Emblemís playbook, there is now a nod to the weapons triangle. Swords have an advantage against axes, axes have an advantage against lances, and lances have an advantage against swords. There are more advantages that kick in against certain opponents however; while magic-users tend not to be best used with physical attacks, their weapons tend to be effective against certain dark creatures. Where characters were once limited in their choice of weaponry, the variety of weapon types has increased, with each weapon type having its own special attacks. Special attacks occur randomly but are far more likely to occur when striking an opponent that the weapon is strong against. Each character has his/her weapon experience also, and special attacks can only be seen after a character gains experience for that weapon. The top level is 3, and it will take awhile to reach. For many characters switching between weapons frequently (which is accomplished quickly and easily in battle) is desirable, because having experience in weapons with different uses is highly advantageous. Cybel, a centaur soldier, can use halberds, lances and spears. Halberds and lances are more-or-less the same in that they are both strong close-range lance weapons, but spears have more range in exchange for less power.

Julian calmly and quietly asks the Vampire Bat to Eat His Dust! Julian calmly and quietly asks the Vampire Bat to Eat His Dust!

   A character can possess four different types of spells (most spells having different levels of power) in Shining Force III. Three of these are learned via the usual leveling-up procedure. The fourth is granted by later weapons, and its strength is contingent upon the characterís aptitude with that weapon. Grace may be a healer, with natural magic that reflects this, but by making her strong with rods or wands she can wield powerful offensive magic later in the game. In Scenario 1, no character learns a Summon spell naturally, but weapons impart this magic. Summons are different from regular magic in that they distribute damage equally among their targets; a Wendigo level 2 summon that would do 70 damage to a single target will do perhaps 23 each (depending upon target resistance to ice) to three targets. Further changes will be described in the reviews for Scenarios 2 and 3, as the titles are inextricably interconnected.

   Interaction is blissful simplicity in any Shining Force title. Every character can have one weapon equipped, one accessory equipped, and has slots for four other items. Excess items can be placed into storage at headquarters between battles. Turn order is reasonably if not perfectly predictable in battle. Searching for hidden items in houses and various objects is very quick, a handy feature when there is so much searching to be done.

   Synbiosís Shining Force doesnít quite have the variety of those in the later Scenarios, but it still has characters who are wholly unique. Irene and Kahn are Monks, simultaneous magic users and fighters. Ratchet is a Steam Knight, using both arrows and shells (shells possess most of the characteristics of axes). Penn is a penguin, and a royal PAIN to level. Hagane and Murasame are ninjas, with magic, katana for up-close fighting and shuriken for distance fighting.

   Outside of the actions in battle, Shining Force III uses the sprites of older titles rendered in 3D. It looks superb. The battle actions use 3D polygon figures, and sadly these figures arenít particularly nice to look at in Scenario 1. They get the job done without being an aesthetic pleasure. Aurally Scenario 1 features a spectacular soundtrack by Motoi Sakuraba, downgraded principally because all of the music here and more is featured in the subsequent Scenarios. Sound effects often sound impressive also. There is another reason for the less-than-stellar rating in music however, and it is because of the one thing Sega of America flubbed in its translation. To demonstrate precisely how horribly the voice acting in Scenario 1 has been done, I submit this link:

   Simply completing Scenario 1 isnít too hard, but garnering all the possible hidden characters and items (especially those involving Ruins expeditions) is much harder. The only requirement for simply winning a battle is to keep Synbios alive, after all, and heís not a wimp. To keep other character from falling so that their Friendship levels do not decrease is also quite a challenge. The first Scenario will probably take around 35 hours to complete, with more or less necessary for individual players.

   Shining Force III Scenario 1, despite being a truly excellent title, is impossible to consider by itself. It is part of a greater whole, and in a pathetic effort to obscure this Sega of America altered some text in the epilogue to make it appear slightly less obvious how much was missing. The title as a whole receives the grade of 5, without any equivocation on my part. If I had to judge Scenario 1 on its own the grade would be lower thanks to what Sega of America did.

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