Shin Force | Sega Saturn Review

Shin Force > Systems > Sega Saturn > Reviews N-Z

Shin Force ~ Shining Force ~
Shining the Holy Ark
Geoffrey Duke
Sonic SP
1x CD
Import / Domestic
1996 (Japan)
1997 (USA)
1st person
3D Pad
Backup 65
     > Shining the Holy Ark was created by Sonic Software Planning, also known as Camelot, the same company responsible for later creating Shining Force III. In fact, SF3 borrowed many of the game's story elements, or perhaps I should say continued them. The game itself belongs to the much vaunted Shining Force series, taking the simpler plots of the erstwhile games in a different direction. It is the second Saturn Shining game, and in my opinion the best. The story explores the extinct civilization only known as the ancients (namely the Thousand Year Kingdom) in more detail, and more specifically, the fate of its all powerful once noble rulers.

     > The story of the game is both mature in its own way and captivating to the very end. You take control of Arthur (a character whose name is changeable), a young swordsman and mercenary sent by the king of Enrich along with two other mercenaries, namely Melody a shaman and Forte a mage, to hunt down a rogue ninja named Rodi who has fled deep into the Desire mines. Not all goes as planned, however, because during a confrontation with him within the mines a small aircraft crashes through the ceiling without warning, causing a cave-in which severely wounds almost everyone involved to the point of being close to death. Returning to his feet relatively unscathed, Forte is the first to awaken from the sudden cave-in just in time to rain fire down upon a ghost that's hovering over Melody, only to be possessed by an evil ghost himself moments later while he is caught off guard. Forte mysteriously floats off the ground, once possessed, and levitates away as if nothing has happened. Three immaterial entities known only to a few as "Spirits" emerge from the wreckage soon after, finally revealing their presence to our heroes. Not only do the Spirits feel obligated to do everything in their power to undo the damage their ship, which is revealed to be an escape pod, has done, but they cannot survive on their own in such a place corrupted by evil, so they naturally merge with Arthur, Melody and Rodi so that they can repair the damage their ship has inflicted on the three young warriors. Still, even after saving their lives, some scars run too deep for the Spirits to heal so soon. Rodi suffers from temporary amnesia due to a rather nasty head wound inflicted by the falling rocks of the cave-in, which is something only time can heal. While his Spirit works towards reversing the damage, Rodi completely forgets who he is, and more importantly, the destiny that beckoned him to the mines in the first place. According to the Spirits, the heroes cannot die as long as the three individuals remain together (they can each die in battle but they'll be reincarnated automatically afterwards if the battle is won by any survivors). The former enemies must set any differences aside, and thereby cooperate in order to survive. Thus, setting a whole new stage in this long-running saga. Escaping the haunted mines alive becomes the team's first priority; finding Forte is their second. Each Spirit will heal its host, including Rodi's amnesia, but the healing process will take time. What the new Spirit hosts don't know is that these Spirits can offer their hosts immeasurable power. The same power that has changed mortals into evil incarnate a thousand years ago. Now, the legacy of the vandals must be dealt with, lest the power of the Spirit consumes you as well.

     > Shining the Holy Ark is an indirect sequel to Shining in the Darkness, a classic Genesis/Megadrive game (also the very first Shining game). Though there are vast improvements in graphics, the gameplay is essentially the same, but the storylines are completely unrelated. They are both 1st person dungeon crawlers, but the Saturn pseudo-sequel shows your characters attacking (except the main character, of course), and there are many more locations (the first game revolved around a single dungeon, albeit a huge one). The areas themselves range in appearance and atmosphere, from dark labyrinthine forests, to silent winding dungeons. You can easily become lost or feel trapped in any of them, and all are infested with monsters. Many areas are veritable mazes; they are most certainly not linear. The exploration element combined with constant battles defines this game. There are fully 3D towns in which you can talk to people, buy/sell stuff and further the storyline. In combat mode you fight monsters in front of you Only 4 characters can fight at once, but there are up to 8 selectable (you start with 3). They increase in levels after gaining experience from defeating enemies, like a typical RPG.

     > The anime-inspired characters as well as the colorful graphics constitute a unique game that truly stands the test of time.

     > The character artwork is akin to anime. The 2D sprites are the fruits of polished CGI graphics, but retain the cartoony quality of the earlier Shining games nonetheless. Some people perceive this as childish, but the artwork remains true to the original games. I have no complaints. 

     > The visuals are a combination of 2D and 3D graphics, something which the Saturn does exceedingly well (check out Dark Savior for a comparison). The colorful 2D animations (character sprites) blend seamlessly with the colorful 3D environments; indeed, the vivid colors make the 2D/3D graphics divide almost indistinguishable. The character sprites scale smoothly back and forth reminiscent of the fluid 2D scaling in Guardian Heroes. In very rare instances pixels break up on close inspection, however, and thus detracts from the polished look. The polygon areas, like dungeons, are extremely solid; the texture mapping is intricately colored (the Desire Mine walls seem like muddy waves, for instance). I'd go as far to describe the textures as lush. Slowdown does occur, especially in towns, but it's not that bad. The low roof dungeons help create a sense of claustrophobia; whereas, open areas like forests build an atmosphere of spacious freedom.

     > Enemies don't just come out of nowhere; you see them entering the fray unlike the original where they would literally spring up from the ground. The enemy animation is graceful, and all enemies are lavished in the same levels of colorful detail as every other sprite. Some enemies are even semi-transparent.

     > The spells are ok. There are some nice 2D transparency effects that scale in and out as if they were 3D (e.g. the boost spells). Most spells were inherited from the older Shining games such as Blaze (some names were changed though. e.g. Bolt is called Spark now). Melody's elemental spells are especially imaginative.

     > Bosses are introduced by seamless cinematic sequences. The bosses portrayed seem no different from their 2D counterparts.

     > You move in any direction one square at a time.  The game is menu based like the previous Shining games. The A button will activate a menu from which you can select more menus/options. B will cancel. Those who hate menu systems will be pleased to know that the C button will both initiate dialogue and search an area. The X and Y buttons peer left to right, and up to down, respectively, when held down. L and R strafe left and right. 

     > The frontal battles are turn-based -- a simple fight/defend/magic/retreat menu system, similar to the original game and Phantasy Star. You begin with three characters of three disparate classes who nevertheless combine their skills to form an effective fighting unit. Your swordsman will bear the brunt of a fight, Melody will support with spells mainly of the healing variety, and the ninja Rodi who is a fighter/mage
will fight and cast offensive spells. Each character gets one turn and upon deciding how to best use those turns, your team springs into action (they zoom in and out of the screen, but you see your character attacking from the same in-game 1st person perspective. He leaves a sword trail when he swipes his sword, too). Characters and enemies will fight in an order based on their statistics, which means your team won't necessarily strike first once a battle begins. Enemies attack on their own or in groups of up to half a dozen (and sometimes summon more allies!). The combat grows in complexity, especially against bosses, because enemies sometimes alter their routines or attack everyone at once. You need to learn how to juggle between fighting, defending, healing and switching team members. You begin with a balanced team
but you can pick and choose who you want to fight when you've found more than four characters. Everyone you recruit has strengths and weaknesses dependent on
their class, making in-fight substitutions prudent at suitable times. Experience points are shared among your party once an enemy has been vanquished, and increases character levels, hit points, magic points; critical hit chance points, etc.

     > Equipping party members is never as simple as buying a new weapon; here there's armor for every body part, adding a whole new meaning to personal security. Characters oftentimes launch spectacular critical strikes with the aid of rare class-exclusive weapons but sometimes without. All you need to do is find these weapons in which case I wish you the best of luck because they are usually only found in treasure chests or coffins located deep within the twisting bowls of dark dungeons or out-of-the-way places in other similarly hostile areas. Nothing beats the Force Blade's critical strike, which when unleashed, sends a palpable wave of energy towards a hapless target as the blade cuts through the air (this is without a doubt one of the best weapons in the game). Mithril makes a return from the previous games in this series as an indestructible material that can be shaped into weapons feared by all for their peerless effectiveness in combat, but smaller pieces of mithril can be found and forged into items like rings as well. Of course, pieces of this rare material are quite few and far between in the game world, and the costs of having them forged into your heart's desire aren't cheap.

     > Deadly magic can be unleashed on individual or grouped targets but of course drains your never unlimited supply of magic points. Knowing when and when not to use magic on your foes can often be the difference between life and death. Resting in towns is also often necessary to restore lost health and magic points so that you're prepared for return trips into hostile areas. Naturally, new spells are learned by gaining experience from combat. The offensive spells like the scintillating lightning bolt hurling Spark spell are nothing short of striking (pun intended). Most of the spells are visually impressive in fact -- impressive enough to be fun to watch as they rain down on your enemies (sometimes in slow motion). Seeing and fighting from a character's eye view is more dramatic than a top down perspective in my opinion, which is something you'll either love or hate about this game because it really puts you into the action. By 1st person turn-based combat dungeon crawler standards, this game doesn't disappoint.

     > The start button brings up a map that maps an area as you move through it, which is useful for backtracking and exploring every inch of an area.

     > The music is upbeat in some places and serene in others. The main boss theme is fast paced in order to reflect panic, but the vandal theme is more rhythmic. The regular battle theme is catchy even if it is repetitive. The music is chip generated, and yet produces ambient, atmospheric tunes. They don't merely create an area's atmosphere, but reflect it. I'm reminded of the gentle, melodic aborigine forest music becoming eerie pulsing beats. Of course, the forest itself is peaceful yet devoid of life at the same time. Creepy. 

     > Many sound effects were ported over from Shining Wisdom, which of course, reinforces the continuity.

     > I don't know why some gamers feel that the repetitive battles make this a bad game. When compared to Shining in the Darkness, Shining the Holy Ark is an incredible improvement. The original 1st person style gameplay has been refined a great deal. The locations are much more numerous and diverse, all for the sake of creating a larger world.

     > In spite of all the demons and ancient evil entities you fight, you learn that human beings who succumb to the power of corruption are the real monsters. That goes without saying, however.

     > I was hoping to find more adventurers in the dungeons, but the ones you do find make you feel that there is indeed a story evolving in the background while you're playing. The game immerses you in a deep mystery; you'll be relatively clueless for a long time. Nothing is more fun than hunting down the greater story behind the game itself.

Bottom Line
     > Shining the Holy Ark is a stunning addition to the Shining series. The game manages to take the old storyline[s] in a new direction, and successfully builds a new foundation upon which subsequent games can stand.
Overall: 9.3 | Graphics: 9.4 | Control: 8.9 | Sound: 9.2 | Fun: 9.5
~ Geoffrey Duke ~

[ PIX >> ][ PREVIEW >> ][ :: REVIEW :: ][ SCANS >> ][ WALLPAPER >> ]
[ << BACK ][ TOP /\ ][ FORWARD >> ]