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A Shining Series Game hitting the US Shores? Havenít had that in a while, so I figure it deserves some recognition. So here we are with Shining Soul. Everyoneís favorite rpg system, and mine, the Game Boy Advance has once again produced a game that while not spectacular is decent enough, and with enough patience can be found on eBay (like I did) for a decent price of 15 bucks. Of course I have the European Import version, but it plays in English, so itís all the same in the end. I wonít bore you with details of the history of Shining Force, but I will direct you to Shining Force Central for a definitive coverage of Segaís Shining Series (which is huge), or to Alex Lucardís great history of Shining Games at 411mania.com. Both are great assets to anyone who wants to know more about one of the most celebrated RPG series in history. But, anyways, letís get right on with this review.
So letís get this out of the way. Shining Soul for the GBA is not a traditional RPG, in fact it may not even warrant the label RPG, because the battle system is very like that used in the Diablo games. Basically you control one of four characters: the Swordsman, Mage, Archer, and the Dragonute. Each with distinct characteristics, it adds a different feel to the game depending on who you play with. You battle hordes upon hordes of enemies in a very Diablo like fashion, meaning a mass slaughter of evil. As you play through the levels you will sometimes have to clear every enemy contained within a stage, or you will have to beat a certain enemy that is slightly more powerful then a normal one. Each class of player has certain weapons, armor, and artifacts that can be equipped as they progress. They also have special abilities that you will have to assign levels to as you gain them. For example to use higher level swords and bows you need to progress from a level one sword to a level 2, and so on and so forth. The same thing applies with certain abilities like the Archerís critical hit. The more levels you assign to this the more times the archer will inflict a critical hit to the enemy. It is a very easy system to learn. In terms of statistics like strength, vitality (hit points), intelligence, and dexterity you will also assign them points. Every time you gain a level you get four points to divide as you see fit amongst those categories. It should be noted that the Mage is the only character to use the intelligence category, so normally you will only have to divide things up amongst the other three. It makes things interesting because you can do a number of things here: You can have a very evenly balanced character, or a super strong character with good accuracy but poor vitality. Throughout the game you can also collect 'Souls' of enemies that when filled up can be used in battles, which will give you the best visualizations in the game. Personally I have beaten the game with the Swordsman and the Archer. The Swordsman is probably the worst character to pick, while the Archer is a God character that when used right is next to unstoppable. In the end you have to use who you feel comfortable with, and it shouldnít be too difficult to defeat the game with any of the four.
This is one of the strong points of the game. The interface here will be very familiar to those who have played the Golden Sun Series. You can hold 25 items at one time, while also having an accessory, armor, and head protection equipped to raise defense. In terms of weapons you get three slots to equip weapons. For example the Swordsman can use axes, swords, and lances. So you can have one of each equipped at the same time and in battle you can use the left top button to switch them. A good feature is a quick item use area that also contains three slots. Here you can put healing items and when in battle you can press the B button to automatically use them. These can be toggled as well with the right top button. So you must be wondering: What happens when I run out of room? Well luckily in the one and only town of the game there is a locker shop where you have four tables to store items that you want to keep for future use, making it easy to be a collector if youíre a hardcore RPGer. I only have two problems with the interface of this game. One is the save feature. For some reason the good people at Sega and Atlus the publisher of Shining Soul here in the US), decided that when you save the game it will also reset the game, meaning you cannot save in the middle of a dungeon and then restart there at a later time. That is a bit harsh, considering some levels, while not hard, can be time consuming in terms of the amount of enemies you need to slaughter. This is a problem that really there is no excuse for. The other is the lack of a pause feature. Now yes the start button does bring up the menu, but in real time the game does not stop. So while your playing around in the menu you can, and will, be slaughtered by a ton of foes unless you make sure to clear them out first, making sure the coast is clear. This is more annoying then anything else. Those two problems detract a bit from the game, but not enough to really matter in the end.
Nothing special here. The music is tolerable, but if youíre looking for great RPG music I suggest you check out other Shining games, or perhaps FF IX (a personal favorite of mine musically). You will not find yourself getting into the music, so personally I suggest listening to something else while playing. I wonít go as far as to say the music is horrible, but it could have been a lot better, especially with the great musical history the Shining Series has.
This game, while not startling original, is still fun to play. It doesnít make any startling changes to anything in this type of mindless killing play, but it does provide some fun, and it certainly doesnít make you wish for other games like it. I gave it a five here, but please donít let that deter you from this game. Shining Soul is a great way to get into the series that is Shining Force. It is an asset to anyoneís GBA collection, and with its multi-player capabilities, it can provide fun for a few friends as well with the option of fighting levels together. Of course you need a cable and some more game paks, and GBAís. But hey, Iím sure some of you guys have friends who have all that stuff, and a copy of this game, so get right into the multi-player feature.
So the world of Runefest is pretty peaceful, and what not, but now thatís all changing. The Dark Dragon and his generals are threatening to bring chaos and darkness to the world. Your objective is to stop them. The fun part here is that for people who have played other Shining Games you will see key bosses return like Dark Dragon, Dark Sol, and I-Ohm. This game, if I have it correct, is set 1,000 years before the first Shining Game. So itís a prelude of sorts. The plot is pretty basic, save the world, become the hero, seal away the Dark Dragon for 1,000 years. Nothing you havenít seen before. But when the Shining Series games came out this stuff was revolutionary so we have to keep it in context. Overall I think a six here is definitely better then your normal GBA rpg.
The reply value here is in a mixture of categories. Of course you have four different characters to choose from, each with unique abilities, so that in itself provides you with four play-throughs of the game. Also for those elitists out there, there is always the allure of finding every single rare item, which in this game is going to take you a long time. Certain items can only be forged by taking three pieces of a metal to a forger in the town of the game, and certain enemies will only drop certain weapons as well. Also when you beat the game the first time, an advanced mode opens up, which is considerably harder (although not insane in terms of difficulty) then the initial run through. In the advanced mode new enemies will pop up, and everything is harder to kill in general. It makes for a fun play, trying to slaughter a much more powerful horde of enemies, especially if you are playing with the Swordsman or Mage. Overall I gave it a nine here, because the original play-through can be done in a short amount of time, but the rest of the stuff will provide you with hours of Shining Soul goodness.
These honestly could have been better when you consider some of the graphics we have seen on the GBA thus far (*cough*Golden Sun*cough*). While still good, I think more detail could have went into the four characters in terms of design, and also in most of the normal enemies. The backgrounds for the stages themselves tend to vary in terms of quality. Some are good, while some barely make decent. The great visuals of this game are supplied when you are able to use the 'Souls', and also when you see the bosses of each levels. Those two things were enough for me to push the visual score up to a 6. But still, when I see the graphics, I feel that if a bit more time had went into them the game would have improved a lot, especially in the eyes of your average RPG gamer.
Itís a simple game to follow, with an easy to use interface, and an easy battle system that can be figured out pretty much straight away as soon as you start the game. The advanced mode is harder, but the same rules apply, and in the end you should be able to beat that too with very little difficulty. I will say that if youíre too cocky you will be beaten by some of the bosses, but that is rare if you know what youíre doing in terms of gameplay. This game is a good RPG for beginners and for people new to the Shining Series. Itís just plain out fun and I recommend it whole heartedly.
For me it took just under 10 hours to complete. That is pretty much an average time. But the replay value with the items, different character, and advanced mode easily push this game to a 30-40 hour experience at the least. So it will leave you wanting more, because it has a lot of stuff you can do within the game to expand and enhance your playing experience.
Once again I have to say that this game is worthwhile, and a great addition to anyoneís GBA collection. It has its shortcomings, but then again most games do. So do yourself a favor and pick Shining Soul up people, I promise you that you will not forget it.
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