Shining Soul - Staff Retroview  

Fails to Shine
by Derek 'Roku' Cavin

10-20 hours


Rating definitions 

   The Dark Dragon has awoken and is wreaking havoc on the world alongside a massive army of monsters. Battles won't be fought in a tactical manner this time around though; unlike many of its more popular brethren, Shining Soul is an action RPG. After selecting from a small handful of classes, the player is given a very brief introduction to what's going on before being sent to save the world singlehandedly a minute or two later. With a setup like that, it should come as little surprise that most of the game is spent in battle.

   Despite the fact that fighting is the clear focus of the game, battles are very simplistic. As with many lesser action RPGs, they focus almost entirely on hack and slash with fairly minimal variety and AI. There is a decent increase in AI and required tactics for some boss fights, but everything else is rather bland. The best part of the battle system is actually the character customization that takes place at the beginning of the game and when the hero levels up. Each class has several areas that points can be applied to in order to increase proficiency with weapons, unlock new skills, increase tolerance to certain elements, and the like. As upgrades must be chosen very carefully without leveling up to a ridiculous degree, there is actually some thought involved here. Another bonus gained when leveling up allows the hero to distribute points among various statistics such as strength, agility, and vitality, allowing another layer of flexibility. In addition to all this, there are various weapon types for the hero to make use of, each with their own unique fighting style. This customization is a nice addition, but it goes to waste in a game that consists almost entirely of mindless hack and slash. At least it helps reduce the monotony a little.

   As with most hack and slash RPGs, Shining Soul is rather easy provided the player doesn't run into any of the game's major glitches. Since the hero can run much faster than most enemies, even close range fighters can avoid melee damage easily. Special techniques can also be used when desperate to quickly clear the screen of any opponents that are bunched together. While all of that added together can make a game quite easy, none of it compares to a special item that allows the hero to exit a dungeon and re-enter it in the exact same place after visiting town. This allows players to store excess items, appraise equipment, and restock healing items at almost any moment. The only time this cannot be done is during boss fights.

The best part of the game The best part of the game

   Despite the fact that the game itself is easy, the poor interface can easily complicate things. While there isn't anything wrong with the basic control setup, there are some rather annoying issues with the inability to pause and the save feature. Possibly the most annoying part of the game is that there isn't a pause button, and that the game isn't paused while the menu is open. Aside from the obvious inconvenience that this causes, it also means that enemies can spawn on the screen and begin stabbing the hero while the player is busy sorting items or trying to decide which level up bonuses to apply. The only time the player gets any rest is after killing everything in the area or while they are in town. As far as the save feature goes, players are forced to start any incomplete dungeons from the very beginning whenever they quit, no matter how far they were. Given that both the ability to pause and ability to save are vital to portable games, especially portable RPGs, it can be difficult to play Shining Soul without a relatively large amount of free time without distractions. It is difficult to commend the localization either. Most characters have very few lines, and quite a few of them speak in what is hopefully purposely broken English.

   As one might be able to infer from the lack of lines, Shining Soul's story is almost entirely neglected. It has only one focus: the hero must travel through the world in order to defeat the Dark Dragon and anything else in the way. There are a few characters that the hero meets along the way, but none of them are developed at all. Most of the hero's many exploits do nothing to add to the central storyline, either.

   Unlike most prequels that at least elaborate on the premise on which they are based, Shining Soul makes no attempt to offer anything new to the original storyline. As far as gameplay goes, hack and slash games have been around for ages, and this one hardly stands out in any way. Most of the enemies found within the game even come right out of Shining Force. While the level up and customization systems are fairly new and make good additions, the rest of the game is sorely unoriginal.

But he can't even beat a level 10 warrior But he can't even beat a level 10 warrior

   Despite the fact that each dungeon is too long for casual portable gameplay, there aren't enough of them to give the game a particularly impressive completion time. Since there's hardly anything optional to add extra hours, the only factor determining the length of the game is how much time the player wishes to spend leveling up. Either way, it will probably only take around ten hours to play the game to completion. There is an additional mode unlocked after playing through the game that can double the amount of time the player spends, but that is only because it involves playing through pretty much the exact same game again on a higher difficulty.

   Despite the short length of the game, almost all of background music becomes very repetitive by the end of each dungeon. This is likely due to the fact that most of the tracks are relatively short in comparison to the length of each dungeon, though they are also generally of below average quality as well. The sound effects are much better in terms of quality, but they aren't especially good either.

   The one thing the game does a decent job of are the visuals, as each character and enemy sprite is large and has quite a bit of detail. Dungeon backgrounds have also generally received a decent amount of attention. The only major drawback is that almost all enemies other than bosses hardly have any frames of animation and are palette swaps. There are a few bosses that are fairly static as well, but it isn't as noticeable due to their fighting styles.

   When all is said and done, Shining Soul isn't very good. The battle system itself is generally quite boring, the inability to pause or save in most places without losing progress isn't user-friendly, the story is virtually nonexistent and what little there is is almost entirely cut out of Shining Force, and the background music becomes stale very quickly. Luckily, there are interesting bosses, good visuals, and character customization to liven things up a little, but they're hardly enough to rescue the game. Overall, the game is well below average and adds so little to the Shining Force storyline that those that skip it won't miss much of anything.

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