Shin Force | Sega Saturn Review

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

Shin Force ~ Shining Force ~
Shining Wisdom
Geoffrey Duke
Sega (Japan)
Working Designs (USA)
Sonic SP
1x CD
Import / Domestic
1995 (Japan)
1996 (USA)
Action / RPG
Backup 17
     > Shining Wisdom is arguably the weakest of all the Shining games seen so far, but nothing changes the fact that it's an entertaining old-school Action/RPG nonetheless. That's right, it's an Action/RPG; you wander the land as a lonesome warrior slashing and stabbing anything foolish enough to cross your path with your trusty sword, as opposed to partaking in the usual strategic turn-based battle Shining Force games that have made this series so great. Still, it's refreshing to see a single series of RPGs explore different avenues of gameplay. Shining Wisdom is the very first Saturn Shining game, which in terms of storyline, continues not long after Shining Force 2 ended. It was developed by Sonic Software Planning (the name Camelot used when making games for Sega), a developer that needs no introduction. 

     > The American version was translated by Working Designs. As a result, there are a few translation errors in the American script absent from the U.K. one due to name ownership problems. Parmacia, a familiar setting to any Shining fan and the context in which Shining Wisdom itself is set, is mistranslated as Palacia, for example. Americans would also recognize Kazin and Sarah, heroes from Shining Force 2, if they weren't named Parn and Sala, respectively. Sega legally own the authentic names so Working Designs needed to work around them. Thus, fabricated names were born.

     > You take control of Mars, the son of a heroic knight who saved your homeland of Odegan from an evil black dragon long ago. Defeating the dragon cost Sir Jiles his life, yet his death was not in vain. Can you live up to your father's grand legacy and ensure that evil is purged from the kingdom once again? Ever since the death of your parents you've been living with your grandparents. Thanks to your father's reputation, an opportunity to prove your own worth has arisen -- as a guard at Odegan castle. However, not all is as it seems, nor is your homeland safe. Pazort, a whispered to be ancient dark elf wizard, plans to wreak havoc upon the innocent by resurrecting something even older and darker. And yet, few are willing or strong enough to stand against him, let alone thwart his plans. So, the weight of the world rests on the shoulders of an aspiring young knight...

     > Shining Wisdom is a non-linear Action/RPG: your ability to explore is only hindered by the items you possess. You'll need to find special items, which grant the user specific skills, in one area in order to navigate your way to/through the next, or a place you've already visited. Who minds going back and forth if you're free to do so, right? The mole claw, for example, allows your character to dig beneath sandy earth to dig underground tunnels (when tunneling is possible) to wherever you need to go, and some areas cannot be explored without it because the path forward will otherwise be blocked. You basically fight your way through monster-ridden dungeons filled with the standard Action/RPG obstacles inseparable from this RPG sub-genre such as moving platforms, pitfalls, spikes rising up from the ground and an occasional puzzle including fetch-quests and quests that require pushing things (like statues) into their proper place all in the name of righteousness. Life energy comes in the form of flaming life bubbles instead of hit points. More can be found in your travels of course. Monsters defeated at your hands drop money, life replenishing energy, or the occasional handy item. There are towns filled with helpful inhabitants to point you in the right direction (well just one large town actually, and another that's empty for most of the game) where you can save your progress, talk to people about your quest, and buy items you may or may not recognize from previous games in this series to pull you back from the brink of death. Healing herbs restore lost life, as they always have, and angel wings will either teleport you back to the entrance of a dungeon area, or all the way back home if used outside such areas in the main map. Both items have the same picture icons as they did in the earlier games as if someone is trying to remind us of their heritage.

     > Should a 32 bit console be generating 2D graphics? I don't see why not. Everything is rendered in colorful 2D magnificence similar to the Genesis prequels, but the Saturn's larger color pallet generates a smoother, vibrant, neatly outlined environment. 

     > The top down view is back but the character sprites are bigger. They seem CGI rendered to me, with protruding features that are clearly delineated from their surroundings thanks to the smooth edges. They pixelate when viewed close up, though. They are colorful, shaded, short and rounded. Cartoony yes, but polished and fluidly animated, especially the main character.

     > Should 32 bit RPGs be text-based? Again, I fail to see why not; reading isn't a thing of the past yet. The traditional portraits appearing in the upper left corner when someone important speaks/starts a dialogue makes a comeback from the Genesis games. Of course, it's just an excuse to put well drawn pieces of artwork into the game! The blue text box that appears at the bottom of the screen and text font is the same as the previous games too, just in a sharper resolution and deeper colors.

     > When you begin you are greeted by a fairy (she also appears in Shining Force III). Options include start, continue, delete save file, or copy. Notice that with the exception of Shining the Holy Ark, every Shining game thus far has someone who greets the player at the beginning, and says good-bye at the end. I don't mind being inundated with similarities.

     > Shining Wisdom may be a "Zelda-clone" technically speaking (comparisons are inevitable), but it's by no means a bad one. Some people wouldn't be so quick to complain about this being an (old-school) Action/RPG if Landstalker had remained a part of the Shining series (as some of you may already know, Landstalker was originally going to be called Shining Rogue before Camelot/Sonic Co and Climax drifted apart). The gameplay is similar in many respects. 

     > The controls are simple: A uses an item, B runs/activates magical orbs, and C attacks/uses a special item. The Start button lets you select items for use. You have to tap the B button in order to gain speed (as shown by a speed monitor at the top of the
screen), then hold it down to maintain that speed, and pick a direction with the D pad. You can ram into enemies this way, but it's awkward if you want to run and jump off an edge with the aid of the spring shoes, or make multiple running jumps (presumably, your right thumb would be holding the B button down so you'd need to reposition your fingers to adapt, or quickly slide your thumb over to the C button). However, the X, Y,
and Z run buttons alleviate this problem. Enemies are hardly sparse, especially on the overworld map, so avoiding them while running isn't easy. The controls are sensitive but perfect for quick reaction and movement.

     > The music is synthesized by the Saturn sound chip, and builds atmosphere wherever you are. It's reasonably varied and sets the appropriate mood, mostly a sense
of urgency, but mysterious slow silent music is in there, too. The outdoor music is quite catchy.

     > The sound effects are so good that there's little surprise they were reused in all the later Saturn Shining games (like Kahn's orb attack in SF3 Scenario 1). They are piercing, crisp, and audibly represent what they are trying to with crystal clarity. These
sounds are distinctly diverse -- ranging from stabbing sword sounds to elemental magic being unleashed.

     > There are more than enough dungeons to explore, puzzles to solve, enemies to kill and bosses to fight to keep fans of this dying genre glued to their screen. Some dungeons will require you to put all the skills you've learned and items you've obtained to the test. I especially love making death defying leaps. Who doesn't? The bosses, who are usually the guardians of some treasured item and require strategic thinking and fast-acting responses to stop in their tracks, don't disappoint either; wielding your full repertoire of items as weapons is sometimes demanded of you when fighting against them. Countless items are also hidden away and can only be found with the help of the skills granted to you by special items. They open up more doors for you, metaphorically speaking. The slide shoes grant you the ability to slip through cracks in the sides of canyons or hillsides that would normally be inaccessible without them, for instance. Also, many dungeons have such extra areas on their many levels, so going back later when new tools have found their way into your inventory is rewarding by itself.

     > The most interesting items in Shining Wisdom are the elemental orbs. These magical orbs can be used in conjunction with other special items, producing spectacular results. Using the stone boots that normally breaks weak flooring with the Fire Orb produces a rising nuke effect, burning everything in the immediate vicinity. Sweet. Combining the Shining Sword with the Freeze Orb releases icy spears in a chosen path hurting anything in their wake. Who said it was just a sword?

     > Bookshelves in Odegan castle contain books that refer to Bowie and his Shining Force (army of light) defeating the devil king Zeon. However, the American translation is off by miles calling them "Puck" and "Zhaion", in the aforementioned order. I've only played the U.K. version (translated by Sega of Europe), but American gamers didn't deserve to miss out on those references. The Shining games often have books in shelves that speak of events in previous games and that tie them all together. Shining Wisdom is no different in that respect.

Bottom Line
     > Shining Wisdom reveals many layers of depth if you're willing to delve into it.
Overall: 8.9 | Graphics: 9.0 | Control: 8.5 | Sound: 9.0 | Fun: 9.0
~ Geoffrey Duke ~

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