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Hands-On: Shining Force: Resurrection of Dark Dragon (GBA)

Genre: Strategy/RPG Developer: Sega of Japan Publisher: Atlus Players: 1 Released: 6/8/04

I love Shining Force. The simple gameplay makes it easy to get into but still requires a measure of strategy. Sure, many people today will go on about how its been eclipsed by Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, and Phantom Brave. They’ll cite the thin plot and dated visuals of the Genesis Shining games as reasons for not playing it and even make cracks about those who do. The problem with their argument is that they fail to take into account just when Shining Force was released. During the time, no other game on console was like it, and many of today’s titles (including the aforementioned ones), owe a great deal to Sega’s landmark classic. Now Sega, teaming up with strategy/RPG gurus Atlus, have given the granddaddy of the genre a chance to entrall a whole new generation of gamers, as well as hopefully bring some stragglers back to the fold.

I was elated to find out that it was being rereleased for the Game Boy Advance. Though some gamers today may complain about the amount of ports on the handheld, I’m happy that so many older titles are getting a chance to shine. As time passes and newer consoles are released, many great games disappear from public view and are unfortunately forgotten. I will never understand the complaints made against these rereleases though, and I find it funny that so many people who criticize them have gigs of ROMs on their PCs that they play through emulation. Let ’em have them, I say. Just let those who wish to play these classics on an actual console the chance to do so.

But we’re not here to debate the pros and cons of emulation. No, we’re here to discuss another of Sega’s quality releases on the platform of their former rival, Nintendo. Notice that I said Sega’s quality releases. 3D6 is thankfully nowhere to be seen, and I for one feel that they have pissed on The House of Sonic’s catalogue long enough. Sega’s ports come out best when they themselves have some measure of involvement, as is apparent in Phantasy Star Collection. Thankfully, Shining Force: RotDD fits nicely into that category.

For those who have never played any of the games in the series, Shining Force puts you in command of a small army of characters and sends you out into turn-based battles against different foes on different battlefields. In this first installment, the king of Runefaust seeks to resurrect the evil god Dark Dragon and needs a sacred book located in the neighboring kingdom of Rune to make it possible. He invades and conquers the country, but makes the mistake of leaving one very amnesiatic knight named Max alive. As Max, you must battle not only to stop Runefaust and the Dark Dragon, but to also regain your lost memory.

There’s no deep and involved story here to be sure, but it’s enough to get you going. Besides, Shining Force has always been about the gameplay. The interesting thing that it does compared to others in the genre is that it allows you to manage your inventory, swap out characters, and buy items in town like a traditional RPG. Using only Max, you walk about, talking to townspeople and taking in the sights, and then head out of town to the next battle. Everything is pretty straight-forward and it’s essentially town-battle-town-battle all the way through. Combat takes place in a myriad of locations, including fields, caves, temples, and mountains; and the terrain can play a big part in the outcome. You’ll move your troops over a flashing grid that indicates their range, but the fighting takes place via awesome side view scenes depicting only the parties involved. Watch mages cast their spells with awesome effects or see warriors bear down upon their foes with powerful swings. It all looks great and goes by slow enough for you to enjoy but quick enough to not bog things down.

Though you can only use twelve characters at a time, you will eventually attract over thirty to your cause (some are even hidden!). Allies range from barbarians and centaur knights to archers and flying dragons. Each has a particular strength and weakness, which means you’ll have to think ahead as to who you’ll bring along into battle. For example, thought it may seem like a good idea to have a powerful front line of brute force, you can never underestimate the value of mages, which can strike from several squares away. This becomes more of a factor as your fighters gain experience, as they level up and eventually even change class a few times.

As if the original game weren’t complete enough, developer Amusement Visions and Sega have taken an already great game and made it even better. All the art, including character models and portraits, has been redrawn, giving spells and battles new effects. This puts a fresh face on Shining Force for today’s market but at the same time remains true to the original concept. The sound effects have also received an upgrade, and while some voice has been included, everything still sounds 16-bit-eriffic. We all know the problems the Genesis had with its sound chip, and it would have made sense to have the score take advantage of the GBA’s superior hardware. Also, the graphics are still ho-hum in most places, like towns and the battlefield. Not a lot of changes were made to general game outside of the ones I mentioned above, and even though the visuals are not up to the standards set by modern RPGs, like Golden Sun or Sword of Mana, they are by no means bad.

Not all the enhancements were cosmetic, however. Character stats have finally been balanced, making combat more challenging. No longer are there extremely weak characters that are so poor, you never use them. This gives some of the often less attractive members of your party, like healers, a chance to finally get in on the action. On the flip side, you can no longer barrel through combat with über-powerful members either, as they’ll now be met with some stiff resistance. Those centaurs will have to watch where they trot! This is a welcome change which only improves gameplay.

The story has also been fleshed out a bit more, through the inclusion of epilogues after each chapter. They tell you the consequences of each battle and even introduce three new playable characters to the game! I would have perhaps preferred some cut scenes but that’s only a minor complaint. I’m just glad that some attention was paid to the storyline, which is the game’s most glaring flaw.

Perhaps the best addition to the game are the new sub-quests, most notably one requiring you to seek out and collect cards. It’s well thought out and is really put to great use, as one of the newly-added characters can actually equip and use them, transforming into whatever character or monster is on the card. there are some extremely powerful cards to be had, and this additional dimension to a new character is a great treat for gamers.

The quest is long enough, and offers plenty of adventure and fighting for the price. The Shining Force series has always been more or less in the 30-40 hour range, and the changes to the this version’s gameplay actually make it a bit longer. The battles are balanced enough so that you don’t have to waste time leveling up, and exploring each town and the surrounding areas will take some time. Moreover, the sub-quests and hidden characters only add to the game’s life span.

I guess my only complaint with this release, aside from minor gripes with the visuals and sound, is the fact that it’s not an entirely new game. Yes, I played this all those years ago on my Genesis and would have liked a fresh installment. As I stated at the beginning, however, a great game is a timeless one and I am quite happy to see the original get some love and attention after all these years. Moreover, this is a great starting point for the series on handhelds, and with the DS and PSP out there, its success can only point towards future entries.

If you’ve played through Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Tactics Ogre; the decision is a simple one. Resurrection of the Dark Dragon isn’t as complex as those games but is just as much fun. Take some time and see where it all began. You won’t be sorry.


Rating (out of 5): 

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