Shining in the Darkness could still teach modern RPGs a thing or two.
And with that paragraph sums up what Shining in the Darkness is. It took me 17 years to finally get past that crab, the game's first mini boss. The game is tough and doesn't apologize for it but can be immensely satisfying for each challenge conquered if you can persevere through it's otherwise unforgiving nature.
The game centers around a young man in the kingdom of Thornwood. His father, a legendary knight, has gone missing searching for the King's daughter who was kidnapped by an evil magician called Dark Sol. Having heard nothing, the king is desperate and has asked your character to venture into the ancient labyrinth to find them both. The story line is, much like many RPGs of this age, pretty thin, more of an excuse to get a party crawling through a dungeon more then anything. Though there are a few genuinely funny scenes here and there and occasional interaction with characters in the labyrinth itself, most of the game is spent simply buying gear in town, or fighting trying to get as deep down in the labyrinth as you can get.
The gameplay to Shining in the Darkness is rather simple. As already noted it is pretty much a dungeon crawler RPG where the goal is to get to the next floor of the labyrinth with monsters and basic puzzles standing in your way. The game is set in first person with random encounters occurring as the party travels around. Combat is all turn based with each character and enemy attacking based on their speed. Options in combat are fairly basic with the hero only really being able to attack physically though the other two characters can also wield various types of attack and healing spells that are gained at pre determined levels.
Battles in Shining in the Darkness can be tough, especially a lot of the boss fights so grinding not only for experience points to level up but also for gold is a must to progress. Add into the fact that a lot of the best weapons and equipment can only be gained by finding hidden mythril deposits in the labyrinth to have them crafted or by luck in the town's "special deals" section tends to make it fairly slow going though I found the challenge an enjoyable experience when scrapping through a hard fight.
Shining in the Darkness's biggest flaw though is that it has taken the "labyrinth" a bit too literally and can be impossible to find your way round as most of the corridors outside of an occasional landmark look identical. There is an item that has a one of use to show where you are and nearby within a certain radius but it often isn't very helpful and it saddens me to admit I had to use a map from gamefaqs to successfully progress past a certain floor.
The visuals to the game are actually surprisingly good for the time giving a decent impression of traveling through a 3D plane using 2D depth perception tricks. Many of the monster designs are also excellent and often colourful. On the flip side though the labyrinth is incredibly bland looking with each floor having one style with little variation. The music is surprisingly decent with some good sound effects though isn't anything to write home about.
Shining in the Darkness lasts a good 50 hours from my play through, not that the game is all that large but from the amount of times I had to replay labyrinth parts from where my party was defeated or where I was lost trying to progress. Knowing exactly where you were going I would guess the game could be finished in closer to 25.
Overall this game is solely for those that grew up in this sort of era. Compared to modern RPGs, Shining in the Darkness won't hold up though I personally think they still have a lot to learn from it. If you are an old school RPG fan, you could certainly do worse then play this bit of history.
+ Exploring the labyrinth is fun.
+ Presentation values are good.
+ Battles are challenging.
- Map is useless, got constantly lost.
- Labyrinth is a bit bland.