Shining Wisdom - Staff Retroview  

Low IQ
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

Click here for game information
Less than 20 Hours
+ Large item compendium
+ Interesting dungeon layouts
- Constant menu visitation
- Respawning enemies
- Wearying dash mechanic
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   Back before Sega started handing the Shining series to a variety of developers, it had a black sheep entry known as Shining Wisdom. The soon-to-be Camelot developed this title, and it deviates from all other entries in the series by taking blatant inspiration from The Legend of Zelda. Even in 1995 this tack did not prompt much praise, and played today Shining Wisdom's considerable price on the secondary market as a Saturn RPG is hard to justify. At the very least it's better than what Sega would produce for a brand revival, but compared to all the other Shining games Camelot made this one doesn't work very well.

   As a title drawing influence from The Legend of Zelda, Shining Wisdom is an action RPG with a heavy emphasis on the action part. The enemies drop money and the occasional item upon death, but nothing else will reward the player for an extended killing spree, since health is increased by finding items hidden around the landscape. In an aggravating decision, Wisdom has its enemies respawn when the screen is scrolled a short distance, instead of only when a room is reentered. For a number of occasions on which the player must swiftly navigate time-sensitive areas while trying to dodge adversaries that cannot be permanently removed, this mechanic is annoying. The enemies themselves rarely take more than one hit to kill, so their challenge definitely lies in the quantity thrown at the player.

   Shining Wisdom's hero has a sword with a range of attack more suited to a spear, simultaneously hitting a little farther than would be expected while having a rather narrow zone of effect. Sometimes even a strike that hits will be blocked, though how the game determines when an enemy can block is quite vague and subject to no clear rules. Usually it's simpler to just run around enemies, since there are very few instances in which they must be killed to progress.

   Where Shining Wisdom really should have emulated the Zelda games more is in its control scheme. The A button uses expendable items, the C button uses whatever is currently equipped, and the other four face buttons on the Saturn controller serve as a means of dashing. By having only one button make use of equipped items, a category that includes the sword, the developers ensured that constant inventory management is necessary. Zelda's mechanic of having the sword always equipped with a second item activated by another button would have been far better.

The signs are abundant, so this just might be a Working Designs localization! The signs are abundant, so this just might be a Working Designs localization!

   Shining Wisdom's dash mechanic also needed a revision, as using it repeatedly without a turbo controller is physically wearying. Of the four buttons dedicated to the job of dashing on the Saturn controller's face, the player must mash any or all of them until a meter on the screen reaches the desired level, at which point a button must be held down to keep the charge. Movement is naturally slow, so dashing constantly is the only way to dodge boss assaults reliably, plus numerous attacks can only be activated with the charge at full power. Getting hit slows the player down, and using any of the attacks accessible by charging a dash instantly dissipates the energy. Recharging will wear out one's thumb quickly, especially in boss encounters where staying at top speed is the only way to dodge attacks.

   At least the variety of abilities granted from dashing with certain combinations of items is quite broad. Numerous attacks accessible later in the game remove the need to stay at close quarters with the enemy, though at the expense of considerable button mashing. Shining Wisdom also sports plenty of optional things to find that are quite useful and rewarding to discover. The controls make enacting the solutions to many puzzles bothersome, but the challenges themselves are often interesting to behold and decipher.

   Shining plots were nothing revelatory prior to this game, and Wisdom certainly doesn't mark a new standard in writing ability. The player takes control of Mars, son of a now-deceased warrior who saved the kingdom of Odegan years prior. Mars swiftly gets to prove that heroism runs in the family when the evil Pazort shows up to attempt the unsealing of a Dark Titan that will cover the land in chaos. Pazort does this solely because he is evil, and his four minions exhibit similarly complex levels of characterization. Princess Satera of the kingdom also falls for Mars along the way, a development that was already archaic in 1995. Not a whole lot of time is devoted to the plot until the surprisingly long-winded finale, but this is for the best when the narrative is far from captivating.

Ghost on the water, and fire in the sky.  Really! Ghost on the water, and fire in the sky. Really!

   Where Wisdom's plot takes on interest is in some of the small happenings along the way, and the appearance of two Shining Force II characters for its climax. Working Designs turned out a lively localization that is by-and-large free of now-dated references, save a glaring one to Kaopectate. Townspeople exhibit the usual Working Designs style of often frivolous dialogue that has aged rather better than most localizations of contemporaries at the time.

   As an early Saturn game from a team not trying for great technical feats, Shining Wisdom does not exhibit much graphical prowess. For a Super Nintendo game it would look good, but aside from an unnecessary FMV prior to starting and some explosion effects, the sprite work does not push Sega's hardware. As for its audio, Shining Wisdom has an extremely odd sound effect when Mars is hit that would be far more appropriate for inhuman grunt enemies. The music is mostly catchy, except for a few tracks with horridly synthesized instruments that sound like worn audio cassettes.

   Beating the enemies is rarely an issue, since Shining Wisdom allows players to hold up to ninety-nine of perishable items, which should be sufficient to survive any beating administered by the foe. Boss patterns are not so insidious that never getting a hit will be a problem, though some enemies take enough hits to ensure tired thumbs afterward. Meanwhile, figuring out how to proceed in some places is challenging without a FAQ, while several late areas demand close attention to avoid restarting some lengthy spots.

   At the time of its release, Shining Wisdom seemed like an aberration from the rest of the series. It still does, but considering how many latter-day Shining games have gone the action RPG route, this game seems oddly prescient. While it's difficult to actually recommend this game, as I wholeheartedly would most other Shining games from the glory days of the series, this one is at least better than what I've played of Sega's revival attempts in the 2000s. It's nothing next to where Camelot would take the series on the Saturn subsequently, but at least it didn't make me want to scream while playing. That may be praising with faint damnation, but it's the best I can do.

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