Hi all, it is now October of 2023 which means Shining Force II is turning 30 and we’re playing it for the Monthly Game Club
Thanks to @◉◉maru for nominating it.
You can get the game on Steam here
(the following very helpful intro message is from @◉◉maru ) :
Ah, you look so confused. You don’t know why you’re here?
You are here to play Shining Force II, <arguably>the greatest game ever made</arguably>. OK, enough annoyingly random gushing.
Shining Force II was released for the Japanese Mega Drive on October 1st, 1993, then the following year on the North American Genesis and European Mega Drive.
What’s all this about?
It was a dark and stormy night, and a rat thieve named 🇯🇵Zippo / 🇺🇸🇪🇺Slade was about to commit a terrible mistake.
You play as Bowie (or whatever you wanna call him), a teenage squire and pupil of Sir Astral, your kingdom’s wise wizard and total Gandalf rip-off. As you and your conveniently diverse squad of schoolmates were about to snooze through morning class, Astral is urgently requested to the castle. Normal kids would welcome this interruption to goof off all day, but what makes this motley crue worthy to become (spoilers!) the next generation of the Shining Force is that they are going to reverse-Ferris Bueller this shit and sneak their way into their teacher’s business. Princess saving, curse breaking and world exploring ensue.
Shining Force II is a tactical RPG (or “simulation RPG” as Japanese call them) set in a light fantasy setting. Think Dragon Quest IV, except with jolly Mega Drive sprites and battles played like a Fantasy version of Chess.
The game follows on the ideas of its predecessor Shining Force, and technically the two games are connected plot-wise, but their connection is pretty much as shallow as Suikoden and Suikoden II. You absolutely can start the series with this one.
Compared to most tactical RPGs of that time, like Langrisser, Fire Emblem or Tactics Ogre, Shining Force II is incredibly friendly to the player. The battle system remains pretty simple. Characters are unique, but can only hold four consumables, four weapons or accessories, and learn four spells. And your party can only have at most 12 units on the battlefield. Units cannot be lost upon death, but you’ll need to pay to revive them. Battles can be cheesed by using the Egress spell to return to the previous city, conserving all XP and gold won in battle. It’s also possible, unlike 99% of this game’s peers, to return to previous areas and search for hidden stuff (although the story will often temporarily lock you in a specific region).
Here is a short review of the game by the sympathetic SNESDRUNK channel, adeptly highlighting its many qualities in just a few minutes.
Now that you know what is good about it, let’s quickly explain how that came to be.
The Quest from Camelot
The team behind the Shining series were a bunch of nerds who had been discovered by Armor Project, Chunsoft and Enix during the production of Dragon Quest III (1988), and would later play an important role in the successful shipping of Dragon Quest IV (1990).
The four key people in that group were the Takahashi brothers, who would later form the two (ambiguously distinct) companies Sonic! Software Planning and Camelot, Naitō Kan (who would form his own company Climax) and Orimo Kenji (who would eventually lead Max then Matrix Software). They would be joined by (the recently deceased) Tamaki Yoshitaka as their first lead artist.
In desperate need for RPGs againt the Famicom and the PC Engine, Sega poached the kids and let them create their own franchise. First, they would all collaborate on Shining & The Darkness (1991), a colorful and approachable dungeon RPG. Their next collaboration would take the form of a new kind of RPG, mixing the simple allure and memorable, colorful characters of Dragon Quest IV with the tactical elements of another 1990 hit among core gamers, Fire Emblem. This game would be Shining Force (1992), which would also turn out to be a big hit for Sega in Japan.
From that point, paths would diverge. Climax was more interested in trying out a new isometric orientation, using clever coding programmed by Naitō, and borrowed one of the characters from Shining Force to make him the hero of a spin-off, Landstalker (1992).
The Takahashi brothers, instead, were interested (and possibly convinced by Sega) to iterate on the Shining Force concept. And thus was born Shining Force II (1993): an even bigger game, with more characters, more enemies, more creative battle scenes and gimmicks, an incredible soundtrack and most importantly, more freedom for exploration by implementing the free roaming of the Dragon Quest formula into a tactical RPG. And of course, you will unlock various means of locomotion throughout the adventure.
Here is a cool two-steps conversation about the development of the game available on Shmuplations:
Why are we playing this?
Well, firstly, I asked nicely, and insisted only twice. Secondly, 30th anniversary now!
In many ways, Shining Force II is a prototype for their next big successful RPG : Golden Sun. It would take them a lot of time (eight years!), trial & error (Beyond the Beyond) and a few different directions with the Shining series (Shining Wisdom, Shining the Holy Ark, Shining Force III) to get there.
So thirdly, if you want to know how the Takahashi brothers went from Dragon Quest IV to Golden Sun, the only great game you need to play is Shining Force II.
(I guess you should also play Beyond the Beyond, but that one was rushed through and is a pretty mediocre game, so beware.)
Insert Credit has an entire thread dedicated to the Shining Force series:
How are we playing this?
Luckily, Shining Force II is playable on many current platforms. The game was released on the Mega Drive, which is both a very common and commonly emulated hardware. The game cart isn’t that rare either. It was also included in almost every Sega collection of Genesis/MD games since the 360 era, released standalone on the Wii Virtual Console and Steam, included in the Genesis Mini 2, and made available on the Nintendo Switch Online.
One important thing to consider is the Japanese version of the game was rushed and poorly debugged. The game suffers from bugs and funny (easy!) glitches, has a few poor balance issues in some battles and, most importantly, the items required for secret class promotions are sometimes hidden way too late into the game to have real merit. The Western version rebalanced the game, including the placement of said promotion items, and removed a lot of bugs. (I still enjoy playing the Japanese version.)
Any advice or important tips?
Sure! Off the top of my head…
◉ An infamous famous bug did remain in the Western version. They fucked up the difficulty selection screen and, as a result, the third difficulty setting HARD is actually harder than the fourth, SUPER.
◉ Although the Western version fixes many bugs, the additional memory required to translate the game and fix the bug has forced the developers to remove some lines of code, including the ability to open chests during battle. Alas. they forgot (or could not fix in time) that one specific chest in one specific battle (pretty far into the game) can only be opened by a flying character, which can only be controlled during battle. Oops. Fortunately, the item forever stuck inside is just a consumable.
◉ Unless you play in Easy difficulty, the first battle against the Evil Gizmos is ironically one of the hardest battles in the game! Due to how weak your characters are and how hard an unlucky critical hit can punish you. Remember to save before you get inside the tower or you’ll have ro restart the entire introduction. Sarah hits surprisingly hard in that first battle so don’t make her just your healer. And remember Bowie can always Egress.
◉ The other infamous difficulty peak of the game is the Kraken, shortly after you find the raft. Remember Peter is a Phoenix, and therefore resurrects for free. And remember Bowie can always Egress. i.e. in the worst case, farm Peter’s levels to make him take care of the Boss for you.
◉ The last famous stump is not battle-related. The original Shining Force followed the Dragon Quest convention of requiring to go through a command menu with A or C to perform any action. One of the great improvements of Shining Force II is the addition of an automatic “interact” button with C, which allows talking to characters or opening chests directly. However, the game does make a distinction between “searching” (A button → search) or “interacting” (C button) and this distinction is crucial for two specific enigmas late in the game (and a couple more optional giveaways). This is especially easy to miss without the game manual.
◉ There are, of course, secret optional characters you can recruit. However, most of them are pretty average and/or have a better alternative found in the mandatory roster. Don’t worry, you are not missing much.
◉ You can promote characters to an advanced class from the moment they reach level 20 (it was level 10 in the first game). Promotions are done at the church. A few character classes also have secret promotions which can be accessed if they possess a specific item when you try to promote them. For reference : Chester, Sarah, Jaha and Kazin (your four first companions) have four of the five classes which can unlock a secret promotion. The fifth one is the archer class but, weirdly, the first archer you get is pretty far in the game.
◉ There is some level min/maxing about promotions if you know what you’re doing but, on a first play-through, don’t bother and just promote your character as soon as they reach level 20.
◉ Take good care of Slade. He is a pretty weak thieve early on, but he becomes a phenomenal character once he is promoted into his advanced class, <IWONTSPOILIT>.
◉ Many of the tactical RPG basics work here: divide your enemies in groups, lure enemies to you instead of the opposite, try to have your healers or under-leveled characters deal the final blow for some XP boost, etc.
◉ Mythril can be found and used to forge secret super strong weapons at a not-so-secret blacksmith late in the game. The result of the forging is randomly picked among a list of potential weapons, so you may want to save before you waste mythril to RNG and to reroll if your forged weapon barely improves your stats.
◉ Cursed weapons / accessories are not worth it.
There you go! Use it wisely!