Genre: RPG Developer: Climax Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1 Released: 1991
Blessed by Water, armed in Light, Darkness fears a Shining Knight.
So begins the very first foray into the world of everything Shining. Undoubtedly Sega’s longest running series, it has endured for almost fifteen years, and has appeared on about a half dozen platforms. Yes, the battle against the Darkness has been a long one, and it all began right here on the Genesis with Shining in the Darkness.
When first released back in 1991, SitD enthralled gamers with its lush, detailed graphics, stellar soundtrack, and incredible combat engine. It was such a radical departure from everything else available at the time that it instantly struck a chord with RPG fans. A first-person dungeon crawler on the Genesis? Sure, the window was small, but it was very fluid and clean. Not since the original Phantasy Star back on the Master System had Segaphiles had such an adventure to call their own, and expectations were high.
Climax has always had a way with creating a particular personality to their games, and SitD could be said to be the game that pioneered that sense of individuality that makes their games so special. Even more remarkable is the fact that each game in the series manages to fit in nicely with the rest, while still maintaining its own distinct flavor. Presentation plays a big part here, and SitD nearly overflows with it. From the remarkable soundtrack (I’m listening to it as I type this!), to the lovable characters, there’s just so much done right here.
The story is classic old-school RPG. You volunteered to enter the dreaded labyrinth to rescue your father Sir Mortred, and King Drake’s daughter Princess Jessa, who have disappeared within. In order to prove your worth, you were forced to pass the four Trials of the Ancients- Strength, Courage, Wisdom, and Truth. Along the way, you were joined by Pyra Myst (a wizard), and Milo Brax (a monk). Entering the dungeon, defeat the evil Dark Sol to save your father and the princess, and return peace to the kingdom of Thornwood was a daunting task for a novice such as yoursef, but when has inexperience ever a problem when it comes to saving the world in a video game?
The first thing you noticed was just how gorgeous everything looked. The Genesis’ lack of color onscreen never seemed to be a problem here, and the incredible attention to detail created a style still mimicked today. Each and every enemy had a personality all its own, and the labyrinths themselves were all beautifully drawn. The amount of love and care that went into crafting this game is apparent from the onset; it’s just so darn pretty!
The magic effects are especially spectacular, and each spell is wonderfully animated. Cast “bolt” and a huge ray shoots down upon your foes, cast fire and watch them burn! As you level up, so do your spells, and the higher levels are full of the power and force you’d expect them to be.
Eye candy is meaningless if the gameplay isn’t there to back it up, and thankfully SitD delivered the goods on this front as well. Among many of the pioneering aspect of the game was its simple yet practical menu system. Using small, animated icons to accompany the command text, it was quite possible to manage virtually all aspects of the game without ever having to even read (something warmly welcomed by impatient gamers ready to import). So innovative was this system that it became the standard for every game that followed in the series, as well as other RPGs made by Climax for other consoles (ever hear of a little series called Golden Sun?). Quick and easy to use, it made SitD one of the few RPGs of the time that could be played instantly, without the need for huge manuals or guides.
That’s not to say that the game itself was easy. Far from it. Enemies were often relentless, and some even had a few tricks up their sleeve. For example, many foes, like the Ostrik and Mad Gnome, would call for help when their numbers were depleted. This meant you could go from certain victory back to square one with a full compliment of enemies to engage. The random battles could also pose a problem if you had to trek all the way back to the surface. Not having the “egress” spell meant you had a long walk in store for you, and since you could only save in the shrine back in town, you could conceivably lose hours of playtime if you were killed on the way back.
The hardship didn’t end there. The dungeon itself was so huge, that getting lost was quite easy. There was no standard automap, only a “view” spell that momentarily allowed you to see a small section of the area around you. Gamers also complained of the huge, claustrophobic corridors that seemingly went on without end, and though the game consisted of little more than a single dungeon, its multiple levels and side areas (the trials…oh the trials!) were challenging enough to keep you playing for about forty hours. There was also only one town, and NPC interaction was minimal at best, but thankfully, the story didn’t suffer for it. Heading into the tavern at times was hilarious, and who could forget Gilius Thunderhead from Golden Axe as the weapons vender?
I’m sure there’s no need to tell you that you need to play Shining in the Darkness, if only to discover and experience the origins of the entire series. The main villain here is also the bad guy in the first Shining Force, and the relation between all the games is the series’ biggest strength. Yet even if you’re not a Shining fan, you’ll still have fun. There’s a massive, well-made RPG here, and that’s something not to be taken lightly on the Genesis. Find yourself a copy and spend some time in Thornwood. You’ll be glad you did.