games / Columns

Steam Reviews: Shining Force

May 4, 2016 | Posted by Armando Rodriguez

Welcome to this week’s Steam Reviews. I hope you all had a great week and maybe purchased some awesome games on the Steam Anime Sale. I know I grabbed the Agarest War games and hopefully I will review one of them soon.  This week also marked the launch of Sega’s new LEGAL Genesis emulator on Steam. Actually, you could play many of these games on Steam already but what Sega did was basically add a really cool UI and F’N STEAM WORKSHOP support. How awesome is that? This is why I decided to review one of my all-time favorite games, Shining Force, this week. Although 90% of the review will focus on the game I will also add my thoughts on the new UI, steam workshop and such. So on to the review!


The Steam Sega Genesis/Mega Drive Emulator


First off, a few thoughts on the emulator/UI. When you boot up any of the Genesis/Mega Drive classics you own on Steam you will get two options:  “Simple Launcher” will take you to the old UI, the one in which you just scroll through your list of owned titles and select which one you want to play or the new standard option, “Play Genesis/Mega Drive Classics” which takes you to the new UI. The new user interface is very cool but I believe it was designed with VR in mind.  In it you see a representation of what could have been a teenager’s room in the 90’s, complete with a Golden Axe poster in the wall, Sonic comic books spread around the floor, a shelf with Genesis/Mega Drive titles and an old TV with the first edition Sega Genesis hooked up to it.  In order to select which game you want to play you actually browse the shelf with the games on it and when you select “Play”, the cartridge of your choice is inserted into the virtual Genesis console (complete with a satisfying click) and you see the game boot up on the TV before it zooms into full screen.  It is all very cool but I did find some drawbacks. First of all, this new interface is much slower than the simple launcher as it takes longer to play the games. Yes, it is really cool to browse a virtual shelf of owned titles, but after a few times I went back to the simple launcher so I could boot up games faster. Second of all, and this could be related to my less than ideal gaming rig, I noticed some games played slower or had sound skipping issues when booted from the new interface. I tested the same games from the simple launcher and those problems disappeared. My best guess is that the computer is actually keeping the entire “room” open while emulating the ROM on top of it and it causes technical issues on less than cutting edge computers.  While the “Room” is a great idea, I would love to see it expanded into some sort of virtual museum for these 16-bit greats. Imagine achievements unlocking collectible figures, making off videos, virtual strategy guides….the possibilities are endless.  Sega is also encouraging third-party publishers to bring some of their 16-bit classics to Steam for use in this new emulator and I wish they do. Finally, the greatest thing added is Steam Workshop support. It has already been put to good use: from hacks that allow you to play the Genesis Sonic games as Amy, Shadow or Cyber Sonic to full translations of some games to Korean and Portuguese (and other languages) to a complete rework of Shining Force II that adds new characters, weapons and enemies, Steam Workshop integration has been a hit so far. What else could we see? Expansion packs to some of the greatest games ever? New levels?  Brand new games? I hope Sega doesn’t over-regulate the mods so that we can get the best experiences possible. Besides that, the emulator includes some now standard features of these type of programs, like graphic filters and the ability to create save states and save any game at any time.


Shining Force: Legacy of the Great Intention


Let’s get this out of the way: Shining Force is one of my favorite games of all time.  I first played it when I was 7 years old and I have finished it over 30 times with all possible combinations of characters imaginable.  The first time I defeated Dark Dragon, I remember getting cold chills and then starting the game over immediately. When I finally discovered Musashi, a hidden samurai character (on my 7th play through back in the days when the internet didn’t exist) I called my Dad at work to tell him.  In other words, this game and I go way back. I have owned it on the Genesis, the Game Boy Advance, on PS3 (as part of the Genesis Collection) and again on PC (Genesis Collection as well) and I have beaten it at least 5 times on every system.


The story is your basic “good vs evil” RPG plot and won’t set the world on fire.  You play as Max (or whatever you choose to rename him), a young warrior who gets involved in the conflict between two warring kingdoms: Guardiana and Runefaust. Of course everything is bigger than it seems and quickly evolves into a race to stop Runefaust’s adviser, Darksol, from resurrecting the ultimate evil force: Dark Dragon. To be fair, the Genesis version available on Steam had a few holes in the story that required you to put two and two together and figure out some details, something that was addressed in the Game Boy Advance version. If you can grab the GBA version from somewhere, play it.  It did a better job of filling in the blanks and tying up all the loose ends. Still, the story is simple enough that you can get the basic premise of it and just run with it.

The gameplay is the best aspect of this title and I credit Shining Force for being the game that made me fall in love with RPG’s, strategy titles and turn-based combat.  Although the systems in place are very basic compared to how complicated the genre would become (I am looking at you Disgaea!) it is still very fun.  You take an army of 12 characters (Max and 11 others) into battle with you. You control their movement from an overheard perspective and when you attack an enemy (or are attacked yourself) the game cuts to a neat anime-style cinematic of combat. Once again, the cinematic is very basic, like a swordsman moving forward and slashing or an archer letting go of an arrow, but compared to the combat animations of something like Sega’s own Phantasy Star II this was amazing for the time. Most characters need to attack up close but some like archers and mages have attacks that can damage from afar or even multiple enemies at once. Terrain plays a factor as some characters are better at moving through certain terrain types than others. Among the different terrain types include plains, mountains and forests, each with their own “Terrain effect” percentage. Flying enemies and allies are not affected by terrain.


Another awesome aspect of the game is the character classes and the insane number of them you can collect. Each class has their own pros and cons and it is always recommended to go out with a balanced party.  You have your knights and warriors that work as your tanks and melee damage dealers. Archers can attack from afar but have really low defense. Specialty classes like healers and mages can cast attack and support spells but are really weak at melee combat and their defenses are super low. Then we have classes that act as hybrids or rely on one particular skill. For example, the game’s only Ninja can do both, melee combat and casting spells. Then we have the bird-men that can fly and move really far in one turn by ignoring all terrain effects but usually have weak attack and defenses. Most of the characters can be promoted to a new class when they reach level 10 and this turns them into stronger characters in the long run. At first they will return to level 1 and have most of their stats reduced, but over time they become stronger than they ever could on their basic class and get access to weapons the previous class could not use. It also becomes an important strategic choice: with a big battle coming up, do you promote now or later? The game has over 30 characters to find and some of them are hidden and difficult to find. Like I mentioned in my intro, it took me 7 playthroughs to find the Samurai on the days before the internet.


Although an experienced gamer can beat the game in 10 hours or so the game has a ton of replay value, in large part because of its character roster. You can only take 12 warriors with you into battle and if you want to see how strong each character can become then you need to replay the game and try a new roster. Sure, you will fall in love with some of them and use them all the time, like Pelle, Gort and Luke who in my opinion are too strong to not be the backbone of your team.  But the game is smart enough to throw some surprises your way. Characters that appear really weak and with time and effort become incredibly strong and useful and vice versa: characters that are super strong initially but overtime they become weaker and less useful.  I have beaten the game with every character in my team at least once….except Yogurt because he is an useless joke (NOTE: There is a Steam Workshop mod that makes Yogurt useful. Now I have to go beat this game again with Yogurt on).


Overall if you are a fan of RPG’s, strategy games or ideally, both, then you have to grab this game. I suggest you wait until it is on sale or do like me: I got over 30 Genesis games for under $5 as part of an Amazon sale once and they were all Steam codes. While I believe Shining Force II is the better game (better graphics, longer game, more classes, weapons, promotions and skills) I suggest you start with the first one since events in the story are related. Thumbs up!


Overall score: 9.0/10

That’s it for this week. I am undecided about next week. Do I do another “Genesis classic on Steam” review or tackle an entirely different game? Feel free to leave suggestions on the comments section or via email.