Sunday, July 7, 2013

Game Review: Shining Force III

Strategy RPG; SEGA Saturn; Camelot Software Planning/SEGA; 1998
I hope you all have a good Fourth of July, even if you live in a part of the world where the Fourth of July is just the fourth day of the seventh month of the year and not some celebration of independence and the foundation of new nation. Anyway, a few weeks back I was going through the Nintendo eShop on my 3DS when I saw something that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside; Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya. I have fond memories playing the SEGA CD version of that game in the form of Shining Force CD, and it's nice to see a Shining Force game that is an ACTUAL SRPG, rather than a Diablo clone (There is nothing wrong with that style of game, it's just that it's not Shining Force). And this lead me to realize that I haven't played Shining Force III yet. So after acquiring the means of playing SFIII (what those means are I will not say) I've played and beaten what is considered the last of the "true" Shining games... Well, at least I beaten one-third of it (I'll get into that later). And so here is my review of Shining Force III.

There is only so many ways to so "Oh, F*&%."
Tensions are running high between the Destonia Empire and Republic of Aspinia, a former territory of the Empire who has recently won it's independence. In hopes of settling the dispute before another war breaks loose, representatives from both nations meet at a peace conference, including Emperor Domaric of the Empire and King Benetram of the Republic. However, the conference is disturbed when a group of masked monks known as the Bulzome Sect, intervene and it appears that an imposter Benetram has kidnapped Emperor Domaric. Now it's up to Synbios, a young noble's son from the Republic, and his small force to protect his king and get to the bottom of the conspiracy to have an open war between Destonia and Aspinia. Who are the Bulzome Sect? Where will this trail of deceit and betrayals lead? Will Synbios ever say a DAMN WORD!? Find out in Shining Force III: Scenario 1: The Titan of Aspin!

The story is far more complex than want is common to the Shining Force series.  While the series stable elements of "Good vs. Evil" and nearly cartoonishly and transparently evil villains, there are more complex motivations and surprise twists thrown in, most of which revolve around a number of characters who betray the Republic that you must fight throughout the game. It certainly is a welcome change from the "The evil army of Runefaust is marching against the good nation of Guardinia" from previous games. What isn't welcomed so much is the exposition. Too often in the game enemies will boldly announce to the player everything that happened to lead them into this position, which sounds unnatural especially since the same information could be shared with the player as speculation between the main cast in a much more natural setting. Also, like nearly every game made by Camelot, the main character is a silent protagonist, which isn't bad in of itself; however, the way it is handled here gets annoying. There are several instances where Synbios says "......." and then the rest of the character act like something was said. It's irritating and makes me feel like I'm missing out on important pieces of information. With that being said, the story is good, but the story telling needs work.

If you have played any of the previous Shining Force games, you will be right at home with Shining Force III. When the game starts out, it seems like a normal standard RPG. You walk around town, talking to people, rummaging through their possessions looking for things that they don't nail down, and progress the story. However, all that changes when you enter a battle and the SRPG core starts to show through. During battle up to 12 of your characters participate on a grid based battlefield; however, instead of the Fire Emblem style turn system where you have your phase to move all of your units and then the enemy moves theirs, instead a turn order is determined by each unit's Agility stat (The higher the stat, the higher up the turn order they are). Beyond that, the rest of the mechanics are rather simple, move in close to attack, deal damage, kill enemies, defeat the boss, move on to the next town or battle. However, some of the newmechanics in Shining Force III are the ones that they "borrowed" from Fire Emblem, namely weapon advantages and friendships. Weapon advantages gives your characters a boost in damage and Critical and Special Skill activation rates, when you are up against an enemy you have the advantage over, and just like Fire Emblem, swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords, and other weapons have advantages against other enemy types. In addition to broad weapon categories like Swords and Lances, there are also different weapon types within each category, like Swords are split into Swords, Rapiers, Blades, and Knives, while Lances are split into Lances, Spears, and Halberds. The more a character uses a particular weapon type the more proficient he gets at it, increasing his attack power for that weapon as well as gaining special skills that can activate when attacking. Also new (and also borrowed from Fire Emblem) is the Friendship system, as characters work together in battle (I.E. attacking the same enemy or healing each other) their Friendship increases, leading to class based bonuses when the two are standing next to each other. But be careful, because if a character falls in battle, not only do you have to go to the church to have them revived, but also all of that character's friendships decrease, leading to more Fire Emblem like strategies than in previous Shining Force games.

Silly Mask Monk, don't you know the Weapons Triangle?
The game isn't perfect though. The balance with the introduction of the Weapons Triangle doesn't seem to be as well thought out as it should be, often you will be fighting large groups of enemies of one weapon type, where you only have one character who has the advantage over them. One particular example is early in the game you fight a large group of Knights who are all wielding lances, and you have no axe users and your main character (the guy who's death means you've lost the battle) is a sword user. The 3D graphics also provide with unintentional frustrations as camera angles and terrain features make some characters look farther away from the enemy than they really are. And then you have the voice "acting." Yes, this is the game where the infamous "Now bear my arctic blast" comes from. Now, not everyone is terrible in this game, there is some "okay" voice work, but more often than not you will hear people who don't sound like who they are trying to portray, and lack any kind of emotion. Never before have I heard someone so apathetically say that they where going to "kill me." But perhaps more infamously than the hilariously bad voice work is the fact that Shining Force III is three separate games. Released as Scenario 1, 2, and 3 each game follows the same events but from the perspective of different characters, fighting different battles. The problem? Only Scenario 1 was released outside of Japan, leaving the story frustratingly unfinished, and leading communities of fans, to this day, desperate to get SEGA to release a complete version of Shining Force III. While the remaining two scenarios are available to play in English via patches (and I will review those games when I've beaten them) it isn't an ideal solution.

That being said, Shining Force III is perhaps the most definitive entry of the Shining Force series. It has all the addicting SRPG goodness of the older games. I changed my sleeping habits just to be able to squeeze in more hours of playing Shining Force III. If you have any means of playing this game, preferably legal ways, then you should go for it. Now let's hope SEGA remakes or ports these games and finally give us a complete version. What the hell are you waiting for SEGA!?

Until next time.

-Crescent, Why is it always Freakin' bandits!?

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