Saturday, June 12, 2021

Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict


A Shining Lynchpin

When Sonic! Software Planning developed the original Shining Force for the Sega Genesis, they didn’t jump right into producing its second numbered entry, instead producing side-stories for the portable Game Gear system, similar to what Squaresoft (later Square-Enix) would do with a certain crossover RPG franchise. After the release of Shining Force II, Sega produced a third gaiden game to link the numbered entries’ narratives, Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict, which is a good lynchpin for the franchise, and inarguably one of the strongest games for the portable system never translated (except by fans), although it’s not without its flaws.

Rather than continue the story of the first two gaiden games, Final Conflict opens with Max, leader of the original Shining Force, pursuing the villainess Mishaela alongside his robotic companion Adam, who receives damage and becomes unable to fight, although he does serve as an assistant to the enigmatic Ian, leader of a new group of heroes. The narrative is superb Continuity Porn, with a few characters from the second numbered entry alongside the occasional descendant of the character from the first game, although development of the playable cast is somewhat scant, and ties to the first two gaiden games would have been welcome, as well.

Final Conflict’s basic tactical mechanics mimic those of the first two Gaidens, with grid-based combat where the player’s active party of up to twelve playable characters squares off against opponents, gaining experience, up to fifty points at a time, a hundred to level, from performing actions, the bulk attained through eradicating enemies. As with before, given the absence of a turn order gauge, some foresight is necessary, though boss units don’t seem terribly cheap, and leveling characters to twenty before promotion makes the endgame a breeze, given consequential faster grinding in more powerful classes. Like with other games, however, leveling weaker characters can be difficult, and status ailments such as sleep can prolong fights, but otherwise, the gameplay serves the gaiden well.

Control is one of the weakest aspects of Final Conflict. While the general structure of the game is straightforward, with the impossibility of getting lost, tasks such as reviving characters in camp or shopping for new equipment involves a great deal of confirmations, with an additional lack of descriptions for items and magic spells and absence of an in-game measure of playtime. There are, however, some amenities such as a suspend save in the middle of battle, adjustable text speed, and skippable cutscene dialogue, with no need most of the time to rewatch narrative scenes if a battle is lost, but interaction could have definitely been better.

Composer Motoaki Takenouchi’s soundtrack is one of the Gaiden’s high points, with many tracks lifted from Shining Force II such as its main theme, “Warrior of the Reviving Light,” the player character and enemy battle scene tracks, and so forth, although there are plentiful original tunes such as the title screen theme, among others. There isn’t much in the way of sound effects except perhaps for the wing flapping with aerial player characters and enemies, but the aurals definitely serve the game well.

The same goes for the graphics, with great character designs, even if all but the girl on the save screen lack lip movement during story scenes, the combat scenes being the high point of the visuals, although standard attacks appear telekinetic. The character and enemy sprites largely resemble their respective designs, although there are a few palette swaps on both sides. Regardless, while the visual presentation isn’t superb, it’s definitely above-average.

Finally, the Gaiden is fairly short, taking somewhere from twelve to twenty-four hours to complete, with very little lasting appeal given the lack of different difficulty settings and side content aside from secret playable characters.

Overall, Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict is a short but sweet tactical offering, given its general straightforward strategic game mechanics, great link between the first and second numbered entries of the Sega franchise, its excellent sound, and its good artistic direction. However, there are some issues such as the necessary foresight at times with regards to participating in combat, the weak control, a few nitpicks with the graphics, and especially the lack of significant extra content, but fans of the other games in the franchise will likely enjoy this one, with fan translations available to those who would prefer to play the game in English.

The Good:
+Tight tactical mechanics.
+Great link between stories of first and second numbered games.
+Excellent soundtrack.
+Good art direction and visuals.

The Bad:
-Requires some foresight.
-Weak control.
-Some graphical issues.
-Little replay value.

The Bottom Line:
A good short strategy RPG.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Game Gear
Game Mechanics: 8.0/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 9.0/10
Music/Sound: 9.0/10
Graphics: 7.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 3.5/10
Difficulty: Just Right
Playing Time: 12-24 Hours

Overall: 7.0/10

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