Dating back to the era of the Genesis, the Shining series has always been distinctly Sega. This string of tactical RPGs, having begun in 1991, will soon have a new child added to its growing family as Sega releases Shining Tears come March 22. As Sega has no console to call their own, Shining Tears will be released for the PlayStation 2, and the use of the console is not the only new thing this latest installment will bring to the table.
As plots often do, the story of Shining Tears revolves around the main character, Xion. Washed up upon the river's edge, the seventeen-year-old amnesiac has no knowledge of his past when he is rescued by an elf-girl named Elwyn. Soon coming to mingle at the Heroes' Hearth Tavern, Xion begins to meet his other companions, including Volg the Wolfling fighter, Mao the Quarter-Beast ninja, and Ryuna the human priestess. Joining with his friends, he must fight to save the peaceful city of Shildia from becoming overrun by evil forces, while trying to uncover his past, the history of the wars at Valeria, and the true story behind a pair of magical rings.
"Whichever partner you choose will have an alignment of Light or Dark."
The Shining series has long been known for tactical battle systems, but Shining Tears' battles will represent a voyage into the realm of real-time action. Players will be able to select Xion and one additional character for battle, then they must hack their way through the onslaught of enemies and their leaders using a variety of blows, skills, and team attacks. Each character not only adds to the customization by coming with their own unique set of skills (out of Special, Auto Skill and Single Link), but the character chosen affects the way Xion himself can fight. In a distinctly Yin and Yang fashion, whichever partner you choose will have an alignment of either Light or Dark, and once an ally is chosen, Xion will transform into the opposite alignment, altering his fighting style. When Xion is light-aligned, his strengths will be angled towards a longer-ranged, magical style, whereas the dark alignment is useful for up-close, in-your-face melee combat. Players can only control one character directly, but they can also direct the other character, and move him or her with the right analog stick if necessary. If you are not fond of the artificial intelligence, and have a gamer friend available, the second character can also be controlled by a friend.
The first couple of battles in Shining Tears will be fairly linear, but as players progress through the game, both the companion character and the battlefield will be selectable, promising several game paths to lead up to the various endings. The ability to access previous battlefields will become available as well. Even though only one character can come into battle with Xion, except when returning to cleared battlefields where Xion is not necessary, the unused characters level up in sync with the battles, so none of the nine companions will become under-levelled. When levels are gained, the characters gain both statistics and distributable skill points, which can be used to learn new skills or master old ones.
Players are not able to roam Shildia and the surrounding area freely; rather, they must select their destinations from a list once they reach the main map, and explore the resulting sub-screens. Destinations will include rows of shops, for stocking up on desirable gear and items, a blacksmith’s quarter for powering up your weapons, and streets populated by civilians who will be more than happy to gossip and speculate about events, providing helpful hints for players.
As far as visuals go, perhaps Sega was aiming to appease fans of both 2D and 3D graphics, as the game will be populated by 3D character models roaming through colorful 2D backgrounds. Character portraits for dialogue and animated cutscenes, two recent trends cropping up in this year's games, will also greet gamers' eyes.
Boasting approximately fifty hours of gameplay, Shining Tears will also come with eight different endings. Outcomes are based on the player’s preferential choice of partner, decisions during major game events, and battlefield choices. There may also be a friendship factor between characters that may affect the game’s exposition.
With its departure from the traditional Shining gameplay, Shining Tears will certainly display changes towards the series’ loyal fans. And how will the hardware jump to the PlayStation 2 affect the game as a whole? For the curious, Shining’s newest baby will be delivered on March 22 to your local retailer.