Good Things Come in Threes

Mike 'JuMeSyn' Moehnke

As someone who came to RPGs relatively late in life, I have no childhood reminiscing to do. Almost everything I played as a child fell into the action genre, with RPGs not making an appearance until after I turned eighteen. When I finally did play RPGs, I didn't discuss them much with others, at least until I found RPGamer. One aspect of my RPG-playing character that does actually make for a story, though, is the effect of Shining Force III.

Shining Force III wasn't my first import game, as I'd played several Super Famicom titles before it. The difference with Shining Force III is something that Saturn owners everywhere remember with rage, however: Sega of America's refusal to bring the whole game across the Pacific. Upon completing Scenario 1 and being greeted with a mammoth cliffhanger, my reaction wasn't like the few Super Famicom RPGs I'd played, where I was simply trying new things heedless of the language — I had to play Scenario 2 and Scenario 3. Despite fudging the translation at the very end of the game, Sega of America was unable to keep the story's obvious incompleteness from being noticed.

The story of Shining Force III's localization is so heinous that it demands a retelling. Camelot developed the game in three Scenarios: the first was told from the perspective of Synbios, son of a famed Aspinian Republic leader. The second stars Medion, third prince of the Destonian Empire. The third is told from the perspective of Julian, currently a mercenary determined to find the inhuman killer of his father and administer vengeance. Only by playing all three will the complete story be known, but Sega of America determined in its stupidity that only Scenario 1 was worthy of a release, and then rubbed salty lemon juice in the wounds of everyone paying attention by localizing nothing at all in the year that preceded the Dreamcast's launch.

What hooked me about the game and made it so I had to finish it, instead of accepting that Sega of America had given me the shaft and moving on? Simple enough: Scenario 1 hooked me so thoroughly that I had to immediately play the rest of Shining Force III, no matter what. I owned Scenario 3 at the time, but not Scenario 2 because its eBay price was considerably higher. Never mind! It may have cost somewhere around $60, but I grabbed Scenario 2 ASAP in order to continue the story of Shining Force III, just because I had to have it and wouldn't be swayed by anything so mundane as getting a good deal.

It would have been enough to hook me if Shining Force III's gameplay stayed with the rock-solid mentality of the earlier games in the series — which it did, save for the improvements Camelot made that didn't overcomplicate anything. Its plot is also incredibly interesting, not just in comparison to other Camelot games, but set alongside anything from the late 90s until now. The single most compelling aspect to me is the idea of having multiple Shining Forces moving around the world, and only by experiencing events from the perspective of everyone does the plot make sense. Synbios, Medion, and Julian are Camelot's standard silent protagonists with nothing more than ellipses to relate — but manage to sneak in some genuine dialogue whenever they meet another of the three. At the time, Shining Force Central's translation of the game's script was far from complete, but that didn't matter. I printed off everything I could (not having my own computer yet) and just plowed through the rest without bothering to stop just because I couldn't read Japanese. Since I'd done badly at a couple of things in Scenario 1, I played through it again while waiting for Scenario 2 to arrive, then because I did a couple of things badly in Scenario 3, I played all three parts again. Then I annoyed my roommates in college during the fall by playing the whole thing a third time, though this time I'd shelled out something like $90 for the Premium Disc to test my skills after beating Bulzome.

I've been hooked by games in the years since Shining Force III sucked up every waking hour I could devote to it, of course. Looking back, though, nothing else has been quite so effective at making me impatient to get back to my Saturn controller to play some more. On a long car trip, I managed to regale my grandfather with the plot of the game (though without mentioning its source - he had no use for video games then and has even less now) — something I couldn't have done with any other RPG, because I committed to memory everything I possibly could. It's been years since my last completion of Shining Force III (and I blame this on all the other stuff I have to play for the good of this site) but I still remember more about it than 95% of the things I've played since. Life may have gotten in the way during the intervening years, but this is a game that will hog my brain cells until the day I die. Or get Alzheimer's.

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