Released in 1992, Shining Force was Sega's attempt to make another RPG series out of its successful dungeon-crawler title Shining in the Darkness [シャイニング&ザ・ダクネス]
. As with that game, Shining Force is fairly light on plot and what is there is fairly trite but the game keeps its exposition to a minimum and the plot never really detracts from the game, There are a few nuggets of an interesting idea, specifically the existence of an Atlantis-like advanced civilization, none of it is really fleshed out but it helps to separate Shining Force from its contemporaries like Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light [ファイアーエムブレム 暗黒竜と光の剣]
Shining Force is a pure SRPG, with no weapon triangle or "natures/attributes". Your character's fighting abilities are determined by their stats which are raised via level-up, there's no allocating skill points or anything like that. Thankfully, grinding is kept to a minimum. In my play-through, I encountered one area where I had to grind and even then it was minimal. The earlier chapters take a little while to complete due to the slower pace of the game and the large map size but are fairly breezy. Oddly enough, the later chapters of the game actually feature smaller maps but many more enemies. The cramped conditions of these maps and the simple nature of the battle system means that your survival feels almost entirely dependent on the RNG. In addition, your units' movement will be stunted by mountain passes, trees, and other obstacles but the enemies are rarely similarly handicapped. This only adds to the feeling of helplessness that was felt commonly in the last two chapters.
The addition of towns is a noteworthy addition, a good note for the back of the box, but really adds very little. Your slow walking speed makes traversing the towns obnoxious and even though the townsfolk dialogue is livelier than your average JRPG, it's still a game from 1993 and the clunky translation does the game few favors. More impressive are the wide range of characters you can recruit which encourages replays. Much like Fire Emblem, these recruits don't add much to the (minimal) story but they offer new ways to tackle battles.
The graphics are decent, with bright colors and animated anime portraits but it doesn't do much heavy lifting past that. The battle sequences are lush and detailed, far better than anything seen in the Fire Emblem series, but they lack a real visual flair after the first handful of battles. Some of the promoted units look especially muddled. The music is irritating, there are maybe seven or eight tracks in the whole game and only the ending theme left an impression.
For an early entry in the console SRPG genre, Shining Force holds up better than its contemporaries and it deserves some commendation for that. It shows its age in a few areas but is worth a look for those interested in retro gaming or SRPGs.