MUSIC & SOUND
unhinged, insane, and quite unbalanced
35 to 50 hours
Shining: To distinguish oneself in an activity or a field; excel.
Force: To compel through pressure or necessity.
Neo: New and different.
Shining Force Neo: RPG that is neither shining nor neo but
does force the player to slog through wave after wave of enemies
only to endure a badly written storyline that was in dire need of
further revision and copy-editing.
The Shining Force series is one of the older continuous
RPG series out there, hearkening back to the days of the Sega Genesis.
Normally known as a strategy RPG series, the latest incarnation
took a dramatically different turn, remaking the original Shining
Force title into a real-time action RPG. Naturally, this direction
encompassed sweeping changes in almost every aspect of the game,
leaving a title barely recognizable as Shining Force.
Neverland Company took over the conversion as developer and borrowed
many elements from their previous action RPG: Record of Lodoss
War. Veterans of that game will find much that is similar or
even identical: basic gameplay, enemies, sound effects, unbalanced
difficulty, a weapon showcase, even the basic premise of gaining
Force power. Unfortunately, while some of those elements worked
well in Record of Lodoss War, they translated very badly
and result in a RPG with a distinctly rushed feel to it.
The story centers around Max, a young Force from the village of
Greensleeves. Thirteen years ago, a huge war was fought between
the Forces, including Max's parents, and the Clan of the Moon, a
group of people dedicated to destruction. The war ended in a pyrrhic
victory for the Forces and sets the background for the events of
Shining Force Neo. Monsters have started appearing again,
just as they did in the war, and the leaders of the peaceful kingdoms
fear that the Clan of the Moon is stirring again. These fears are
realized when the first Legions, hell-spawn that serve the Clan,
are discovered, and an enigmatic figure appears to shatter the peace
Golems = Death.
Through early events, it is realized that Max and Meryl, his adopted
sister turned love interest, are at the center of the storm. After
a disaster at Greensleeves in the first hours of the game, the duo
embarks on a quest to stop a madman from unleashing forces capable
of destroying the world. Along the way, they'll gather a small army
of Forces to help do battle against the rampaging monsters.
Battle is surprisingly simple. As in any action RPG, the goal is
to obliterate before being obliterated. Good action RPGs enhance
this simple premise by offering a diverse repertoire of actions
to combat the forces of evil. Shining Force Neo lets players
either attack or cast magic, both requiring a single, simple button
press to execute. Consequently, gameplay tends to devolve into mashing
the attack/magic button as quickly as possible. And trying not die,
usually accomplished by running away. That's also rather important.
Enemies come in a fair variety, but many will simply be palette-swaps.
Monsters are generated by monster gates which continuously spawn
a set number and type of enemy, after which it will only occasionally
spawn an enemy. While gates are in continuous mode, it is nearly
impossible to destroy them due their immediate HP regeneration.
Destroying the gates is a necessity as they generate more experience,
gold, items, and energy than normal monsters.
This design is good but does feature a few flaws. Enemies can run
or be hidden in the ground and trying to find the last one so as
to destroy the gate can get tiresome. Worse, gates are randomly
placed on the map, and they can choke off important passageways.
Normally not a big deal, but if the player is unable to kill monsters
because they are out of range on the other side, then the map must
The game is likely sloooowing
Players can equip Max with four types of weapons, easily switchable
through the menu: one-handed melee, two-handed melee, wand, and
bow. One-handed weapons are quick and allow the usage of a shield,
as do wands which also grant spell casting ability. Two-handers
have great range but are usually rather slow. Bows allow long range
attacks but are often weaker than their comparable counterparts.
Fortunately, the game does allow for serious customization of a
character. Much like Record of Lodoss War's engraving system,
players can permanently add Force Arts to Max and level them up
by spending energy collected on the battlefield. It is in this manner
that players can craft a unique character, especially since the
Force Arts vary widely. Some will increase defense, some might increase
the rate or damage of critical attacks, others will target specific
species of the enemy, and mages can level up individual elements.
With the nice customization that can be done to Max, it seems odd
that absolutely nothing can be done about the allies he fights with.
Max can have two allies on the field at a time, but he will garner
a rather large stable of Forces over the game. Other than usually
being able to freely choose who accompanies, players have no control
over these other characters. Fortunately, the AI is reasonably good,
although being able to customize its battle technique would have
been a plus.
Localization was clearly an afterthought and unimportant to game
designers. Dialogue is tripe, stilted, awkward, and has the dubious
distinction of featuring a grammar error every few hours - awe-inspiring
since the vast majority of time will be spent in battle. Not even
an Oscar-worthy plot could survive this treatment, and Shining
Force Neo falls well short of the red carpet. This is even further
compounded by the fact that every single character weighs in on
almost every major event, even when all they have to say is a variation
of "Go Team!"
A bright spot in an otherwise lackluster package is the ambience
and design of the in-game environments. But even here, the game
makes a mess of things since the hordes of enemies often slowdown
the PS2. Visuals consist of the in-game environments, character
portraits, anime-style cut-scenes, and CG cut-scenes. None of which
display any consistency with each other. It's almost like trying
to mish-mash four different styles into a single aggregation, resulting
in a hodge-podge of color rebellions that is an aggravation and
affront to the eyes.
Soundwise, the report doesn't get any better. The soundtrack is
completely unremarkable, and sound effects are literally copied
from Record of Lodoss War. Someone, somewhere in the design
process loved the character battle cries enough to have them be
uttered every few seconds, sometimes cutting off their previous
battle cry before it's finished. The true effrontery lies in the
voice acting, a shameful rendition of sorrow that rightfully belongs
in the Halls of Hades along with early anime dubs. The anime and
CG cut-scenes do not feature subtitles, lacking even the brief respite
afforded by normal character portrait scenes.
To top it all off, the game is ridiculously unbalanced in terms
of difficulty. Much of the game will be spent warping back to HQ
to save even the tiniest bit of progress since many of enemies can
kill Max within seconds, bosses with a single fell blow. Yet other
times, Max et al will wade through hordes of enemies with nary a
scratch. Arriving at the beginning of the end of the game, players
are presented with a choice of forging ahead and finishing the game
(read: die trying) or completing twenty or so insanely difficult
boss Hives. Finally finishing those off will result in Max having
godlike abilities - except for a few enemies who can still one-shot
Assuming that one somehow enjoys the game, Shining Force Neo
does offer reliability due the vast number of ways that Max can
be customized. Neverland also provided a bonus dungeon for completing
the game. Overall, Shining Force Neo is a very disappointing
and unpolished title and does not come recommended.