Shining Soul - Staff Retroview  

Inferior Materials
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

Click here for game information
Less than 20 Hours
+ Satiates the reptilian brain
+ Character skills matter
- Extremely tedious
- Poor setup for portable play
- First post-Camelot Shining - it shows
- Cannot be paused in the action
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   After Sega and Camelot separated for good following the fiasco of Shining Force III's release, it looked like the Shining series was done. For several years it lay dormant, until Sega took the name and assigned it to Grasshopper and NexTech for whatever could be cooked up. Based on the resulting product, Shining Soul, Sega should have refrained from milking the brand name. The Shining series had no need of a dull hack and slash title, but it got one anyway.

   Four character models are presented when starting the game, and they make a noticeable impact on how the player will proceed. Each class has a variety of unique equipment and skills, with the choices made at level-up of what attributes and abilities to improve directly affecting the available options. The length of time between level gains also requires the player to make a long-term plan and stick with it. Doing this is only a necessity for completionists, given that the game possesses nothing demanding mastery of its skills, but is somewhat diverting regardless. The reward for good skill point allocation is usually in the form of making more equipment available for use, or improving the effectiveness of charged attacks to reduce the number of times one must press the A button, which are quite pleasant.

   The dungeons and enemies of Shining Soul provide minimal interest, however. Different coats of paint do not make up for the monotony of doing the same thing on every floor of every dungeon — killing all the enemies until the one that opens the exit bites the dust. As a limited number of opponents will spawn at any one time, killing everything in the player's path becomes mandatory. A bare few dungeon areas do something a little different, which usually amounts to finding the right warp spot. Otherwise fighting is a simple matter of mashing the A button repeatedly and moving around to find more targets, which gets dull long before the game is over.

This is new.  I would have remembered if the final boss of Shining Force III could teleport. This is new. I would have remembered if the final boss of Shining Force III could teleport.

   The enemies themselves move at varying speeds, but all the foes without ranged attacks must pause to strike the player, and since merely touching them is harmless this provides a window to walk through them when pinned in a corner. The opposition's sheer numbers can be troublesome, and some have projectile attacks to make them much more painful, but Shining Soul is generous enough to simply toss the player back to the encampment with no penalty save the loss of all money upon defeat. Bosses break this rule somewhat, but even this amounts to no more than being able to immediately try again after defeat with the boss at full health again. Skills may alter the speed and effectiveness with which the player can dispatch the hordes of enemies, but the formula doesn't really change when their AI is so easy to exploit. The game also supplies a character to hold spare funds that are not touched by death, along with generously providing a warp directly back to the dungeon floor on which the defeat occurred with everything exactly as it was left. These things make persevering through the game a matter of doggedness instead of skill, although receiving a lecture from an NPC every time the player is killed constitutes its own form of punishment.

   Persistence will eventually get players to the boss, but only with free time to spare. Shining Soul technically allows the game to be saved at any time with all progress recorded. Saving the game will boot the player back to the encampment with no means of returning to the last point in the dungeon except the hard way, however. This makes later dungeons with ten or fifteen floors demand an uninterrupted time commitment, hardly ideal for playing in any circumstance that could be interrupted.

   Plenty of loot will be dropped by slain enemies, much of which serves no purpose except to generate income since copious equipment cannot be used by certain classes. Shining Soul's inventory is relatively unobtrusive, save for the need to individually drag every item that is being purchased or sold around the screen when at shops — the game is kind enough to make clear which equipment is usable for each character class. Its lack of a pause feature can be unpleasant though. Entering the menu does not prevent enemies from attacking, and the lack of any means of freezing the action can be deucedly inconvenient.

   Shining Soul's story cannot be classed as perfunctory so much as almost nonexistent. It consists of being told that Dark Dragon has an army, inexplicably containing leaders who were the final bosses of the Shining Force games, and that the player needs to go out and vanquish darkness. The unskippable pre-fight speeches of the bosses contain about half of the mandatory text in the game. Never explained is why the people populating a single encampment that serves as a home base never do anything to help in this supposedly critical campaign, instead throwing the entire task onto a mute soldier and giving him pep talks. Atlus supplied a bland localization of text that has nothing interesting to convey, and says it slowly.

This is about as thrilling as the action gets, so drink it up, folks! This is about as thrilling as the action gets, so drink it up, folks!

   For a relatively early GBA game, Shining Soul looks adequate, with dungeons that are at least visually distinct. Its egregious use of palette swapping is hard to ignore, however, especially when most enemies with a different color scheme don't even attack differently than those seen earlier. The music achieves the bare minimum of sounding different for each area. Beyond that, it's repetitive and dull but cannot be turned off unless the audio cue that the exit has opened is also sacrificed.

   The Shining fanbase reacted with something less than unrestrained enthusiasm when this game was released, yet Sega ignored the tepid reception in favor of continuing on the action RPG path. The reputation of Shining games from this point forward is not so sterling as to make that decision seem wise, but the chance to steer Sega on a different path was lost years ago. At least the bar set by Shining Soul is not difficult for future games to pass — all they need to do is be more than thumb reflex conditioning. At one time the potential of multiplayer might have been a selling point, but finding two copies of this game and a GBA link cable is asking quite a bit nowadays. Shining Soul offers plenty of exercise for the part of the brain that thrives on doing the same thing hundreds of times in a row, and nothing else.

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