Shining Force III - Staff Retroview  

A Shining Past
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Easy to Moderate
30-100 Hours


Rating definitions 

   In the US, Shining Force was the grandfather of console tactical RPGs (Fire Emblem was a Japan-only series at the time). Shining Force III is the Sega Saturn continuation. This gem took the very basic concepts used in the original game and polished it up with a fresh coat of paint, unique characters, and an appealing story. What you get is a recipe for success or, at least, part of the recipe.

   US shores only saw the first of the three scenarios that make up Shining Force III, but luckily this review is not hindered by such limitations. Shining Force III is truly a sum of its parts, and with the help of imports and a good translation, I hope to bring you the whole picture.

   Shining Force III's gameplay is simple, yet fine tuned. It uses the same traditional square grid movement system as most tactical RPGs. Each of your characters gets a turn to move and perform an action. Nothing fancy or new in this area. Luckily, the game's unique characters give the game its heart. Though character classes are nothing new to the world of tactical RPGs, Shining Force III has one of the most robust selections of any to date. You have the classics: the sword wielding hero, lance touting knights, pointy eared archers, priests, and mages. Along with the normal classes are bird soldiers, robots, penguins, fairies, and many other unusual characters. It makes for a very fun experience as you have quite a variety from which to form a party.

   Like most every tactical RPG, battles make up the majority of the game. Shining Force III's battle pacing keeps the story going while not dragging the battles on for extreme lengths. Lots of story elements take place during these battle sequences, so you're not constantly fighting as a means of filler between plot points. Battles are fun and interesting, and that is essential in a tactical RPG.

I don't know how we are going to get the pig up there. I don't know how we are going to get the pig up there.

   Exploration is slightly more involved than in many other tactical RPGs, but not by much. Unlike many games in the genre, you actually can explore towns and cities. Shops are more than just a menu option in this game. However, with a linear storyline that is typical of the genre, exploration is not robust.

   The game's control and menu interfaces are the same as every other Shining Force game. This made playing the imported Japanese scenarios a breeze. The interface offers nothing really new in term of innovation, but you know what they say about things that aren't broken.

   Shining Force III's soundtrack is nothing special. Sakuraba's work isn't bad, just bland. You shouldn't feel the need to mute the game as the tracks aren't painfully repetitive, but you aren't likely to rush out and buy the OST. The game's sounds effects are fitting, but there's nothing special about them either.

   This entry in the Shining Force series follows fairly closely to all other Shining Force games, so no big points for originally for the game itself. However, the use of multiple scenarios spanning across three separate releases did add some new life to the series, if only for those in Japan and those who imported.

Caption Who's there? Wait, this isn't Metal Gear Solid.

   Starting off the story of the initial offering is Synbios and company of the Republic of Aspinia. You begin this side of the quest in an effort to prevent war from breaking out again between Aspinia and the Empire of Destonia. The evil forces of the land don't want that to happen and interfere in an attempt to destabilize the peace. Synbios leads his crew throughout the nation trying to bring the conflict to a halt, but the Bulzome fanatics are quite the force to be reckoned with. Throughout the three scenarios, the story becomes much deeper as you progress with Medion of Destonia in part two and mysterious Julian in the third. All three parts weave together to create a rather epic story. Choices you make in one scenario effect whether or not characters you meet will join you or do battle with you in another. Though the climax of the plot is mediocre, the path you take to get there is entertaining.

   The biggest failing of Shining Force III is the lack of an official US release of scenarios two and three. The US release does feel unfinished. It's truly a shame that nothing was ever done to remedy this.

   Visually, Shining Force III was one of the best Saturn offerings. Battle areas, cities, characters and battle animations are all quite well done for a game of its time. FMVs are nice, but seemingly secondary as they really add nothing to the game. Unique character graphics help out, as many times in tactical RPGs all you get is a palette swap.

   The difficultly of Shining Force III remains constant throughout all three scenarios. Through careful strategizing, no battle should be too difficult, though the random luck factor plays a big part. Some battles will come down to the wire, while others should be a breeze; however, it all depends on the layout of enemies and your chosen party. The US release should net you about 30 hours of play time, and if you were lucky enough to get all three you are looking at close to 100 hours of gaming goodness. Shining Force III is a real gem. While it broke no new ground, it really gives a good experience from start to finish.

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