Review by Halron2
"Even one of the most stupid endings ever don't take away this game's class."
As with the first Shining Force, I can’t really promise to talk about this game in an impersonal way: the game is too much a part of my life to do it, as much as the first one is. I still remember the day I got the game, waiting impatiently for my step-father to arrive with the cartridge he had bought for me. Five days after that, I had already beaten up the game and started a new one. I have lost count of how many times I’ve played this game to the end, and it wouldn’t be false to say that I remember everything from this game: characters, monsters, weapons, items, music, even dialogue lines.
Basically, Shining Force II is an improvement over every aspect of the first game, except for a few details, while keeping the same basic gameplay. The game offers a much bigger world, travels between continents, the possibility of re-visiting places you’ve visited before, more monsters, more inventive battles and so on. Also, new details have been added, like animations in battle when your character or the monster avoids the attack. The only aspect in which Shining Force II is worse than the first game is the story.
In the game, you play as Bowie (what a stupid name), a young boy living in Granseal, studying with the wise Sir Astral. When the king of Granseal falls ill after a stormy night, the adventure begins as Bowie and his friends go to investigate an ancient tower located near the castle which had been closed for years but opened during the storm. From there, it’s the traditional ‘we have to save the world’ kind of story, even if there are interesting events scattered throughout the game, specially when the party is forced to leave their original continent and have to build a new town in a strange land. A good point here is that you have the possibility (and will have to, eventually) to go back and visit places you had gone before, something you couldn’t do in the first game, because there are no ‘chapters’ here. There are enough good plot twists during the game, but I can’t shake the feeling that this story doesn’t really offer anything new. Apart from that, the ending is one of the worst ever. After the great ending in the first game, it came out as the greatest disappointment in the sequel.
Again, this game’s cast is vast. I mean, huge. Thirty characters in all, and given the fact that you can use up to twelve at a time and that some characters can be promoted to two different classes (if you find the items that make the ‘secret’classes available), the possibilities here are immense. Also, as in the first game, a really deep character development is impossible, but the writers did what they could and came up with an impressively charming cast. Some characters actually develop quite a bit and keep the game interesting. Also, a part of these characters are hidden and although none of them is really hard to find, it adds to the overall feel of the game, since you’ll never be satisfied until you get all characters.
The setting of the game is also pretty close to the first one’s. This time around I believe the game has a more light-hearted feeling to it, even if there are still some pretty tragic moments in the story. The game is a typical fairytale-type story and the world it takes place in is just that, sword and sorcery RPG, with elves, dwarves, goblins, dragons and all of that stuff. Add a little bit of high-tech elements to the formula (all hail the ancient civilization!), and some unique creatures and you’ve got a not-so-original setting, but definitely a convincing one. It manages to have its own character without being completely different from what you’ve seen before.
The high point of Shining Force II is the gameplay. Again, it’s deeply related to the first game’s system, basically repeating the general gameplay with some small additions to make it more balanced. The game continues in the tradition of a simple, intuitive engine, with the four-icon-menu and very simple commands that do whatever you want to. There’s a button now exclusively for searching for items and talking so that no menus must be opened to do that, and it’s a simple, but really welcome addition.
The battle still remains as the most exciting moment of the series and each one requires different strategies to be completed, even if no one is really hard. All in all, that’s one of the biggest improvements in Shining Force II over its predecessor, more diversity. Although the game works basically like the first one, there’s more complexity and more kinds of situations you’ll find yourself into. In battles, for example, apart from critical hits and evades, you have the possibility of making double attacks and counter attacks, so that more must be taken in count when planning your strategy. Also, new spells were added to the previous game’s, giving the player more options in using them. Battles consist in moving your units, up to twelve of them, across the map (that works like a chess board – there is actually a battle on a real chess board during the game) and defeating the enemies or their leader. If this sounds stupid, give it a try and you’ll see how fun it is. It requires a bit of planning, but generally it’s not too hard. About the battles, it can be said that were leveled better in this game than in the first one and for one thing I’m glad the units don’t walk only 2 squares when moving through mountains or deserts like in the other game (which made some battles endless).
Also, the promotion and leveling-up engines have been perfected with small additions that all work pretty well. Like in the other game, you need 100 experience points to level up, but now you don’t lose the points that pass the 100 mark, like before. This makes you level up faster and so you’ll need to reach level 20 to be promoted, which changes your characters class, appearance, attributes, weapon compatibility and spells. Some characters, depending on their class, can be promoted to two different classes, one with the use of special items, adding more promoting possibilities than before.
Some good improvements were also made in the graphical department. Character design has been improved on a bit and there’s a lot more of variety in the designs, even for characters of the same class sometimes. The characters don’t look so odd anymore on the map view and the battle animations are quite well-done and entertaining. The addition of a different animation for each character or monster’s defense or evade also proves that attention to details can really add to the overall impression. The portrait designs are also pretty good and more characters now change their portrait design when promoted. All of them have new designs for promotion and that includes two new designs for the characters than can be promoted to two different classes. Also, the monster designs in Shining Force II are also pretty good and better than the first one’s in a general way. The map and background graphics were also improved quite a bit and they look really better and more diverse than in the first game, which means each location has more of a personality of its own. Good examples would be Pacalon and Tristan.
The music, although still not ranking with the impressive work being done in other games at the time, is also a strong point of the game. The worst factor here is the number of tunes: there’s simply not enough to play in the situations the story presents us. For example, when you enter a town where the gates were locked and all inhabitants are supposed dead, the upbeat, happy town tune plays, instead of a sad, depressing theme that would fit much better. However, the songs in the game are really good. The general impression is of a really epic, glorious score, which matches the game perfectly. Some of the music is worthy of attention, like the previously mentioned town theme, the main theme (that plays in the world map), and most battle themes. Also, differently from the first game, the attack tunes for monsters and characters are different, and promoted characters have a different attack tune as well, making the score less repetitive and, consequently, more pleasant. The composer here, Motoaki Takenouchi is not the same as in the first one, and, apart from this work, has also written solid scores for other Sega games, for instance, Landstalker. The game’s soundtrack doesn’t reach the level of excellence achieved in other games of its time, but it’s strong, focused and delivers just what is needed.
Basically, Shining Force II is a revisited and amplified version of the first game. Most changes, specially in gameplay, were done perfectly, making this probably the most fun of all strategy RPGs I ever played. Since I loved the original Shining Force so much, there’s no reason I wouldn’t feel the same towards the sequel. And, in fact, it’s possible that I like this one even better than the first, in spite of its faults, little and big. Anyway, I guess the weak story is the only thing I can complain about Shining Fore II. I really can’t stress this enough: if you have the chance, play this game.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 05/31/02, Updated 05/19/03
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