Sunday, April 11, 2021

Shining Force Gaiden: Towards the Root of Evil


The Another Story of Shining Force

Sega’s Shining Force was my first strategy RPG, of which I have fond memories, though I wouldn’t see it through to the end until the turn of the millennium. Before their release of the next numbered game in the franchise, Sega would develop a side-story, Shining Force Gaiden: Towards the Root of Evil, which remained untranslated, although Anglophone gamers would receive it a few years later as part of the Sega CD anthology Shining Force CD, which packaged the first gaiden game with its sequel. The first Shining Force side-story was definitely good for its time, and has aged surprisingly well.

The first book of the CD collection opens a score after the events of the original Shining Force, with Anri, a playable magician in the first main installment, becoming Queen of Guardiana (which the localization team rendered as “Gardiana”), and ambassadors from the Kingdom of Cypress visiting and unleashing a curse that causes the monarch to go unconscious. Thus, it’s up to a new Shining Force, composed chiefly of the silent Nick and relatives of heroes from the first game, to lift the curse. The narrative was definitely good for its time, with Nick receiving a reveal later on, and the game decently continuing the story of the original entry, although many other playable characters lack depth.

The translation’s main dialogue is definitely legible, although the names of characters and locations differ from those in the first game, with Luke now Lug (and mistranslated as “Rug” during the initial save menu dialogue), and other oddities existing such as the fact that character class names are only four capital letters long and largely incoherent, and the names of the cast themselves are in all caps as well. There’s also an issue that would play part in other entries of the franchise, with “point” pluralized whenever a character gains only one experience point from combat. The localization definitely wasn’t perfect, but there were many things that deserved a once-over.

Fortunately, the gameplay serves the gaiden far better, with turn-based and grid-based tactical combat largely following the same rules as in the original Shining Force, albeit with changes such as the player’s characters and enemies being able to counterattack. The pace of battle seems to be a bit faster than in the first entry, with good features such as being able to suspend-save in the middle of battle and the ability to Egress and retain experience (also still retained when Nick perishes, which ends a battle) preserved. There are some twists like a battle where the player’s characters can’t use magic until destroying an orb, and while many flaws present in The Legacy of Great Intention come into play, such as the lack of a turn order meter and unbalanced leveling, the mechanics work well.

Unlike the original Shining Force where the player could freely roam town maps in between battles necessary to advance the central storyline, the first Gaiden game features a structure where the town interface is far simpler, consisting only of a church where the player can save the game, revive dead characters, and such, and a shop where one can upgrade the party’s equipment. Aside from the endless dialogues and confirmations necessary to perform tasks such as buying an item or exchanging an item between allies, the Gaiden interfaces alright with players.

The soundtrack, chiefly composed by Motoaki Takenouchi, is easily the game’s high points, with a number of rousing, orchestral-quality tracks such as that which plays during the introductory backstory cutscene, the royal palace theme, the enemies’ music, the overworld track, the different battle scene tunes for the player’s character and the enemy, and so forth. Granted, there are occasional Genesis-era effects from the second numbered entry such as the promotion and revival jingles, although they still sound good, and the Gaiden is overall more than easy on the ears.

The visuals contain considerable polish, as well, with the character designs, whose lips and eyes move during story scenes, looking good, along with the vibrant colors, sprites with decent anatomy, and especially the battle scenes, detailed to the point where the player or enemy’s side has a dodge animation if they avoid an attack. There are some reskinned antagonists and occasionally player character sprites (although their designs never reflect this), but otherwise, the graphics look nice.

Finally, the game is fairly short, at least eight hours with a straightforward playthrough, with the only significant side content being grinding characters to the heart’s content, and maybe a story scene difference depending upon which enemy character the player kills first. The different difficulty settings do add some lasting appeal, though.

Overall, the original Shining Force Gaiden is a good side-story, given its simple but effective combat system, straightforward structure, good continuation of its story from the original Shining Force, one of the best soundtracks on the Sega CD, the pretty graphics, and different difficulty settings adding some lasting appeal. Granted, it does struggle in areas such as the foresight sometimes necessary in combat, its control, and the translation is inconsistent and contains some portions obviously rushed, such the occasional disparity in the names of characters. Regardless, those who enjoyed the first main entry and are looking to continue its plot will enjoy the gaiden game.

This review is based on a playthrough of Book I of Shining Force CD on Easy difficulty.

The Good:
+Competent tactical gameplay.
+Straightforward structure.
+Good continuation of original Shining Force.
+Probably the best soundtrack on the Sega CD.
+Pretty visuals.
+Different difficulty settings.

The Bad:
-Combat sometimes requires foresight.
-Some interface issues.
-Inconsistent translation.
-Not much lasting appeal.

The Bottom Line:
One of the best RPGs on the Sega CD.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Sega CD
Game Mechanics: 7.5/10
Controls: 6.5/10
Story: 7.5/10
Localization: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 8.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 6.0/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 8-16 Hours

Overall: 7.5/10

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