The venerable Shining series has seen something of a resurgence in recent years with the development of the GBA Shining Soul titles, which are action RPGs set in the Shining milieu. Now we're getting treated to Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon, which is an upcoming GBA port of the classic Genesis strategy RPG. We were recently able to get in some quality time with this new version of what was one of the earliest console strategy games, and it appears to be holding up quite nicely. Fans will be happy to hear that all of the old familiar places and faces are back, along with some new allies and a few gameplay twists.
In Shining Force, you play the role of a young swordsman named Max (whose name you're able to change), who has been living in the Kingdom of Guardiana since he washed ashore on a nearby beach nearly a year ago. He has no recollection of his past but is possessed of excellent swordfighting skills, which he hones by training with Varios, the centaur knight who commands Guardiana's fighting forces. When there's a disturbance at the nearby Gate of the Ancients, you're sent out by the king, along with a small squad of allies, to investigate it. As a result, you end up battling armies of the Kingdom of Runefaust, which has recently been mounting offenses into neighboring territories for reasons that are unclear.
Battles are turn-based, and enemies and allies alternate attacks according to individual character speed. When you bring a character within attack range and then engage the enemy (or when you otherwise use an item or cast a spell), the view changes to a close-up perspective from behind your character. Strengths and weaknesses are dependant on both character class and the attributes of the actual character, so, for example, archers have a cruddy defense compared to warriors, but some archers are stronger than others.
Your movement around the field of battle is dependent both on the kind of terrain you're crossing and the movement type of the character. Centaurs have a huge range over grasslands but find it difficult to advance in hilly areas; werewolves are quick across forests and plains; birdmen will fly over just about anything; and your main character has an egress spell that can be used to retreat from the battlefield so that you and your party can be brought to a location where you can safely regroup and resurrect any members who may have fallen. You can also quit a game during battle, and you can pick up right where you left off the next time you play, which is a nice feature for those who play snippets of handheld gaming at a time.
You begin your adventure with the requisite motley crew. There's a centaur knight named Ken, an elven archer named Hans, a mage named Tao, a dwarf warrior named Luke, and your good friend Lowe, who is a healer. As you progress through the game, your Shining Force will attract all manner of recruits, so you'll find yourself regularly accepting offers of aid. In some instances, speaking to characters at an earlier point in the game will allow you to recruit them later--and in at least one case, you'll actually hatch an ally from an egg! The original cast is present and accounted for, but three new characters have been added. These characters are introduced via epilogues after the conclusion of each story chapter; these epilogues are new to this version of the game. There's Narsha, who is the daughter of Ramladu--the leader of Runefaust; there's Zuika, an insectlike assassin who serves Narsha; and there's Mawlock, a mysterious creature who is able to harness the power of cards in battle.
The cards are the other new addition to the game. The bulk of the cards you receive are character cards that correspond to your recruitable allies, though we did receive at least one card from a boss. You acquire cards through dialogue with your party members and townspeople. You also find some that are hidden in towns and some that are left behind by defeated enemies. Mawlock is the only member of your party who may use these cards, and he may only equip four cards at a time; therefore he can only use these four equipped cards during a battle.
Once a given card has been used, it cannot be used again. The effect of the card used depends on the attributes of that specific card, but in general, you can use cards to copy another character's abilities, create a clone of another character (with fewer HPs, however), change your type of movement or attack range, or give another character a new attribute that will last until the end of the battle. Some cards allow you to give a party member a second turn so that he or she can then attack twice per overall battle turn for the remainder of the skirmish. Cards that copy abilities give Mawlock that particular ability with no penalty, so, for example, he was able to copy a healer's level two heal spell and could then cast it at will with no MP cost. There are many, many crazy things you can do with these cards, and while it affects gameplay balance somewhat, playing around with the numerous possibilities is quite interesting.
The game's environments appear much as they did in the original Genesis version, insofar as battlefields and towns go, which means that they are simple and saturated in color. The characters themselves have gotten a graphical face-lift. There is new artwork in the character portraits (though the essential appearance of individual characters is unchanged), and the character models seen in battle are slightly more sophisticated in appearance and gradation of color. They are still highly detailed and do possess their original animations for each attack. The music and sound effects are true to the original--from the almost maddeningly cheery town theme to the various battle tunes--and it all sounds good.
We're pleased to see this classic getting a new chance at life, so fans of Shining Force and strategy RPGs will want to keep their eyes on this nice little port. Atlus is publishing this title for the Game Boy Advance later this year.