Shining Force EXA - Retroview  

Two Swords Are Better Than One?
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ Good character progression
+ Somewhat interesting story
+ Two leads with very different play styles
- Recycles massively from Shining Force Neo
- Defensive battles get annoying
- Many areas are too long
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Here it is, the last Shining game Sega bothered to bring across the Pacific. Shining Force EXA is no more worthy of the Shining Force moniker than Neo was due to the drastically different game style, but at least it exhibits considerable improvement over its justly maligned predecessor. The improvements are obvious when this game blatantly recycles huge swathes of its assets from Neo, though the experience is somewhat more pleasant this time around. As Sega has since ceased bringing the series across the Pacific, at least its Western end was on an acceptable note instead of a horrendous one

   Shining Force EXA begins with a young man named Toma and several companions hunting for the eponymous item, a sword said to promptly convey the status of world leader unto its bearer. Toma promptly finds it and is accepted by the sword, yet in a shocking twist the leaders of other lands prove unwilling to instantly obey the edicts of a teenager with attitude. His attitude is particularly repellent to Cyrille, a bookish young woman who seems extremely unhappy to see the Shining Force being wielded at all. Toma does wield the power of the Geo Fortress, a massive mechanical contraption with a variety of abilities, but unlocking them is a gradual process involving multiple fetch quests that takes up quite a bit of the narrative.

   Developments are a mix of interesting and tedious in EXA, with plenty of evidence for both. Toma and Cyrille are given enough development to avoid caricature status, but their relationship isn't fleshed out enough to make its resolution completely convincing. The initially one-dimensional world leaders also receive enough development to come across as somewhat more interesting personalities, but their actions at the climax deserve more examination than Neverland delivers. Instead of the frequent fetch quests that take up so much time, EXA would have been better off fleshing out its cast more fully. Even as it stands, the game's narrative manages to surpass earlier Shining tales from the post-Camelot age. Sega's localization isn't a noticeable improvement over what Neo displayed, which makes the presentation pedestrian, but not terrible enough to grievously affect the player.

   When it comes to the mechanics, EXA recycles everything it can from Shining Force Neo. The viewpoint is still too close to the ground for things which should be plainly visible to become apparent until they are directly adjacent to the protagonist, and the game's draw distance is so pathetic that even things which should be easily seen remain invisible for no reason. This makes the hacking and slashing more of a chore than is ideal, and the game's solution of changing the music whenever opponents are in the area doesn't help when it comes to actually finding them. The feeling of déjà vu is even stronger when most of the enemies in EXA are wholesale regurgitated from Neo with no visual changes, though they don't kill the player so quickly in this title.

One might reasonably ask how it is possible to distinguish the protagonist in a visual mess like this.  The answer is, of course, through blind luck. One might reasonably ask how it is possible to distinguish the protagonist in a visual mess like this. The answer is, of course, through blind luck.

   The major difference stems from the player being able to alternate between Toma and Cyrille, since the former specializes in melee attacks while the latter uses magic and bows. Their inherent statistics are also dissimilar, making the game feel appreciably different when switching characters. A means of landing charged attacks in the middle of combos also exists, but is only worth employing against enemies with very long HP meters when simply mashing the attack button mindlessly will get the job done most of the time. Toma and Cyrille can also keep different party members with them to fight, further differentiating their adventures. The other party members can equip the occasional item to somewhat alter combat abilities, but are just as uncontrollable as Shining Force Neo's protagonists were, making them hard to rely upon.

   Just as in Neo, a resource is accumulated that can be cashed in to upgrade character skills. Neverland made it so that both characters gain this Mythril concurrently, which is invaluable for ensuring that neither is allowed to atrophy. Proper skill upgrading will enhance a wide variety of parameters, from doing additional damage to certain enemy types to reducing damage taken. Enough abilities are useful that fully arming either character will require quite a bit of time, and doing so is often the key to survival when levels by themselves don't help much. The difficulty curve is much gentler here than in Shining Force Neo, but paying no attention to character upgrades is a quick way to die regardless. The mechanic of being able to instantly return to headquarters for replenishment has also been retained, and its usefulness remains high when a Game Over awaits the death of the protagonist on the field. Those seeking a challenge will find plenty of opportunities to be ripped apart, but they're optional and clearly marked as such.

   New to EXA is a means of keeping the protagonist not out exploring busy. Periodic defensive battles occur in which a fragile piece of the Geo Fortress is assaulted by enemies, and the character not currently in the field needs to get out there and strike down the opposition's leader to win the day. At the beginning of the game these fights can be dangerous since letting the machinery get broken is an instant Game Over, while later on they simply exist as a means of farming extra resources from the hordes of foes that will be killed after the mechanisms have been sufficiently upgraded. Defensive battles force the player to pay attention to them by preempting whatever might have been happening with the exploratory party, making them a nuisance.

   Some of Shining Force EXA's locations are new, but the majority are taken directly from Shining Force Neo with minimal alteration, which makes even less sense when there are no apparent ties to Neo in terms of storyline. Neverland also recycled the same music tracks for these areas, reinforcing the sense that little effort was spent in designing this game's playable world. A few new enemies do exist, with the most prominent being a number of boars until the climax introduces a few others. Otherwise the same opponents from the previous game are reused ad nauseum again, and with the same trick of sometimes having larger sprites to convey more dangerous adversaries but just as often bestowing no difference at all.

   Just like Neo, frequent inventory reorganization is the bane of the player's experience due to a quickly-filled item limit. An NPC appears to combine healing water items so that they take up less inventory room, but going back to headquarters because the enemies have dropped more equipment than can be held is a constant bother. Also retained is the need to tediously identify each piece of equipment individually instead of having an option to peruse everything simultaneously. EXA adds the new wrinkle of needing to swap equipment between the characters to see if it's worthwhile, but is otherwise as time-consuming as its predecessor. At least the effects of newly appraised things are clearly shown, though it takes multiple statistic screens to fully observe what the things can do.

Apparently this brand of royalty doesn Apparently this brand of royalty doesn't think the thighs need any protection.

   By having occasional story scenes with animated character models instead of relying exclusively on portraits talking back and forth to each other, Shining Force EXA displays some nice cel-shaded visuals. Equipment also makes a visible difference for Cyrille and Toma, allowing their figures to alter while wearing various apparel. It's hard to forgive how much material was already seen in Shining Force Neo though, and the visual mayhem on the screen often makes it impossible to keep track of exactly what the protagonist is doing. In an odd twist, the few new areas on display take a long time to slog through due to the sheer volume of villains that must be dispatched. None of the mandatory material is particularly difficult thanks to the ability to go home and restock until the final boss, which will require certain skills to be upgraded if one is to win the battle.

   Plenty of the music in EXA will be familiar to veterans of Neo, since it is reused wholesale. The new tracks range from forgettable to catchy, but the constant switching between a piece for placid surroundings and one for enemy assault becomes annoying. Sega of America's skill with localization has improved somewhat for this game's voice acting, but not to the point where most of the performers would be likely to take pride in the result. Battle consists of hearing the same vocal clips thousands of times before the game is done, while the story segments vary in quality but have a consistent problem with expressing believable emotion.

   It's true that Shining Force EXA is considerably better than what came before it, but nothing it does is sufficient to place it among the company of Camelot's tactical entries in my eyes. If one must experience the hack and slash resurgence of the Shining series, this is better than the Soul and Tears incarnations. Its sales have managed to kill the Shining series outside of Japan, and Sega seems ill-inclined to let that state of affairs be changed in the future. Since Sega apparently had to choose characters from its newer Shining games to be in Project X Zone while ignoring everything earlier, EXA was the best of the bad options available.

Review Archives

© 1998-2017 RPGamer All Rights Reserved
Privacy Policy