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Shining in the Darkness | Review
> Climax Entertainment
> Sonic! Software Planning
8 Megabit
Mar. 29, 1991 (Japan)
Aug. 6, 1991
2D/Pseudo 3D
3rd Person
Shining in the Darkness is the first game in the long running Shining series. The Shining series has so much potential for greatness that Sega are still making Shining games today. While the new games have clearly strayed from their roots, we can always go back to where it all began. 

This game was made by Climax Entertainment and Sonic! Software Planning (later became Camelot) when they were still a Sega first party developer. Camelot later separated from Sega and became independent. Hopefully Camelot will revisit the series one day. After all, they are the original creators of the series. Imagine what they could do with modern graphics. Camelot were a division of Sega which is why Sega owns the rights to this series. 

Strangely enough, this game is called Shining and the Darkness in Japan. It's easy to see why Sega changed the conjunction "and" to the preposition "in" for the English version. "In" denotes a location. For example: A light shines in the darkness. Like a true Republic in a sea of empires. A Republic will give you a chance to be free. An empire will bend you to its will.

Shining in the Darkness is a first person dungeon crawler with constant random battles. Therefore it's not for everyone. You explore seemingly endless mazes from a first person perspective while fighting your way to the end. You gain levels from killing monsters and become more and more powerful like a typical role playing game. You can build your characters with new weapons and armor which you can buy or find, and you will need to use many items to progress (like healing herbs at the start).

You play the son of the knight Sir Mortred. Following in your father's footsteps, you are a good knight in your own right, but the time has come to prove your skills. The princess of Thornwood and your father who was protecting her have disappeared and it's your job to find them. It's soon revealed that an evil sorcerer named Dark Sol is responsible. He wants to rule the kingdom and no one has the power to stop him. Not long after you begin your journey you are joined by a red headed female elf mage named Pyra Myst and a male hobbit priest named Milo Brax. You must venture into an ancient labyrinth where no one dares to tread. No one returns from this labyrinth and you will soon find out why. You need to become the hero that you were always meant to be...

The main character is a young knight named Hiro in official cannon lore (pun intended I am sure) but you are forced to name your own character at the beginning before you can start. The game puts you in the shoes of the main character as if you are him.

For an early Genesis/Mega Drive game, the graphics are great. The game is 2D but renders impressive pseudo-3D dungeons. The dungeons don't use the whole screen but it doesn't detract from the gameplay. You can see everything clearly. The game has 2D graphics that create a great illusion of 3D and depth. The graphics are great for the time, although no one will appreciate it now.

Everything runs smoothly, or at least as smoothly as you'd expect from this console. The enemies, apart from bosses, lack attack animations but the art is impressive. The art was drawn by Yoshitaka Tamaki who I wish Sega would hire more. The art in Shining in the Darkness is dark and distinct anime art. You will never take 2D graphics seriously in an era of photo-realistic graphics but I like this art style nevertheless. I prefer it over the brighter more smiley art seen in later games. The art in Shining in the Darkness is the same in Shining Force (it's literally the same art style) which might lead you to believe that the stories are connected. The art is unique and thus creates a unique world.

You use menus to interact with everything and combat is turn-based. RPG fans will be familiar with how everything works. You need to move forward and turn a lot in order to explore your surroundings. The controls are very user-friendly and easy to navigate. You won't need to spend much time learning the basics so you can focus on the game straight away.
Not bad. You hear attack sounds that sound like they make an impact. The music makes you feel like you are on an adventure. The music has a good pace and has a faster pace during battles which creates a sense of urgency. Keep in mind that the Genesis/Mega Drive didn't have the greatest of sound chips. If you keep that in mind then the sound and music are very good. Camelot/Climax didn't let the limitations of the Genesis stop them. The music tries to emulate drumbeats and trumpets. The results are good for a 16 bit console. Camelot/Climax pushed the Genesis to its limits to produce memorable music which is no small task. The music is quite catchy. You will be thankful for that because once you enter a dungeon you won't be coming out for a while.
Whether you like this game or not depends on whether you like this type of game. If you do then SITD is highly enjoyable. SITD was the best game in its genre when it was created. Sadly people will judge this game based on modern standards even though it's an unfair comparison. This was a great game for its time when RPGs were in their infancy; it rises above other RPGs in terms of quality when compared to other games at the time of its creation. 

This game isn't easy. The game revolves around a single labyrinth but the labyrinth is full of mazes that are full of monsters. You can easily get lost and overwhelmed. You won't complete this game overnight. You will have to fight through armies of monsters to reach the end. If you call that fun then this game was made for you. Some people have different definitions of fun. SITD is a good game for what it is and a great game for its time. I can't emphasize that enough.

There's only one small town to explore but you meet quite a few interesting characters in your travels. You might not notice it at first but the weapons merchant is Gilius Thunderhead from Golden Axe. I guess he retired in Thornwood. I feel sorry for anyone who tries to rob him.

Shining fans will hate me if I don't mention that a few things were lost in translation in this game. Firstly, the name of the kingdom where the game is set is Stormsong in the Japanese version, not Thornwood. Secondly, the name of the main villain "Dark Sol" was a mistranslation. He's named Mephisto in the original Japanese game. This is confusing because Mephisto bears a striking resemblance to Darksol in Shining Force which leads you to believe that they are one and the same. They're not. Perhaps they were meant to be the same originally but Camelot changed that later (both use similar spells as well, Demon Breath and Demon Blaze respectively, which are dark balls of chaos). The similar characters and the same art style of both games created a good sense of continuity that never really existed, which is a shame.

Yoshitaka Tamaki also drew Nigel from Landstalker. If you compare the art style, Nigel looks very similar to Pyra because they are both elves (you need to see the Japanese cover of Landstalker to see what I mean). To make things even more interesting, the two characters actually meet in Timestalkers where different people from different times and places are brought together. Both Nigel and Pyra are from the same world but different times. Pyra is shocked to learn that in Nigel's time Pyra's kingdom has fallen. It's not official cannon of course because the games aren't officially related (it's more like a what if scenario) but it's a shame that no one expanded on this lore. I always wondered what happened to Nigel and his female fairy companion Friday.

Bottom Line
Shining in the Darkness is a 9 out of 10 game for its time. I can only recommend this game to people who like exploring endless mazes and like constant random battles otherwise this game will drive you mad.
Graphics: 9 Sound: 9 Control: 9 Fun: 9 Overall: 9/10

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