Shining Force Neo - Staff Review  

RoLW 2: Except It's Not Fun This Time
by Tyler Willis

unhinged, insane, and quite unbalanced
35 to 50 hours


Rating definitions 

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 and tranquility.

Golems = Death. 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 be reloaded.

The game is likely sloooowing down now. The game is likely sloooowing down now.

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.

Mythology 101 Mythology 101.

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 him.

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.

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