Sega's long-running Shining series began in early 1991 with the release of a first-person dungeon crawler for the Sega Genesis called Shining in the Darkness. The following year brought Shining Force, a strategy RPG that featured turn-based gameplay, an engaging story, and multiple characters to recruit into your army. It went on to spawn sequels for both the Genesis and Saturn, and those games are collectively the most popular and best known in the franchise. While there have been other first-person and action role-playing games in the series over the years, none of them have really become known for their quality. Shining Soul is unfortunately destined to fall into that same void; it's a monotonous hack-and-slash action RPG that contributes little to either the Shining series or to dungeon crawlers in general.
The game takes place in the land of Rune, where a creature named Dark Dragon has gathered an army of Darkness in an attempt to bring about the destruction of the world. Your character is a hero of the Shining Fleet, which has trapped Dark Dragon and its five generals in the region of Runefaust and is now preparing to make a final assault on the enemy forces. They've left the actual assault to you alone for some reason, so you set out from your base in the village of Prontis to pave the way for your allies' effort to seal the dragon away once more.
You can choose to be one of four character types: a warrior, an archer, a wizard, or a dragonute, which is a humanoid dragon sort of creature. Each of these character classes ostensibly allows for a different game experience, but all four are functionally identical; you point your character at enemies and mash the attack button, occasionally changing your weapon or magic type. Archers and wizards have a greater range of attack and are a bit weaker, while warriors and dragonutes are strong melee classes that get up close and personal with foes. As you progress through the game and gain levels, you're able to allocate points for your main stats, like strength and dexterity, as well as distribute skill points. Skill points allow you to raise weapon and magic proficiency levels and to raise the levels of other abilities that are class-specific, such as defense for the warrior, critical hits for the archer, and so on.
The problem is that progressing through Shining Soul is accomplished by tediously hacking your way through a number of dungeons, forests, and caverns in an effort to reach Dark Dragon. Enemies on a given level will spawn and then generally mass themselves in an attempt to reach you, clumping into a large and slow-moving group that can often be dispatched without your incurring any damage at all. You can run through a crowd of monsters and they're too slow to hit you, you can run in circles and they're too slow to catch you, you can run around a corner or other bit of landscape and they're all temporarily trapped where you can still hit them, but they can't reach you. A special sound alerts you when you've cleared a level and opened your exit, and sometimes this is triggered by killing a single, slightly stronger monster among the many you encounter. Unfortunately, sometimes it's triggered only after you've denuded that level of enemies entirely, and this means a lot of time spent running in circles and whittling away at increasingly large numbers of creatures in battles that are more time-consuming than they are challenging.
If you happen to get killed in a dungeon, or warp out of one using an item, a portal in the village will let you return right where you left off on the level. Boss battles are an exception; if you perish you can warp back to them, but they start over when you return. You can also save within a dungeon, but you have to restart the whole thing when you next turn on the system. That fact, coupled with the lack of any sort of pause feature, can make it difficult to progress if you only happen to have time for quick snatches of play, a common occurrence with handheld games. If you've got up to three other friends who each own a copy of Shining Soul, you can link up to progress through the game cooperatively. There's no noticeable increase in difficulty, though, and since you can finish the game in single-player mode in 15 hours or less, you might not need the help.
Graphically, the areas in Shining Soul are pretty good, with some nice detail like lush, leafy forests with some transparent boughs and dungeons with dangling skeletons that swing as you brush past. The sprites are simple and can be brightly colored, which is important when trying to distinguish between the great numbers of palette-swapped enemies you'll meet. Though the minions can sometimes lack for variety, the bosses are, for the most part, suitably large and imposing, especially toward the end of the game. While they don't look too bad, they're all mute; the only sound effects you hear during battles are your weapons and magic whistling through the air and hitting things. The game's music consists of simple, short themes that loop endlessly and are completely forgettable.
In the end, the simplistic gameplay and the lack of both difficulty and any real pressing motivation to complete the game severely limit any appeal. You should only be playing Shining Soul if you're someone with weak thumbs in need of button-smashing exercise. Those who are looking for a good, engaging action RPG should stay away.