Review by Combat Crustacean
Kiwi, I love you!
I'm a little strange, so when I first got my start with the Shining Force series I played II before I. Naturally, the game was so good that it stuck with me all these years; otherwise, I wouldn't be here, singing this game's glowing praises. Shining Force II and the game that precedes it are valuable epics in the Sega Genesis's library and strategy RPG masterpieces.
See, as a youngster, I wasn't aware of the series's true origins. I had not yet heard of Fire Emblem, and thus did not realize that Shining Force was crafted by Sega in response to the wildly successful Nintendo series. When one puts them side by side, then a number of fundamental similarities come to the light. There's a high amount of characters to recruit, train and do battle with, as well as the traditional grid-based war scheme. Terrain figures into your movement and defense and you can outfit each of your little warriors with their own equipment for optimal damage. Certainly there are plenty of differences between the games too, but it doesn't take a genius to find the inspiration that Shining Force used. Ripoff or not, however, Shining Force II managed to absolutely perfect the formula and create a strategy RPG of such high caliber that it still sets the standard for SRPGs I play today.
As before, the game operates as many SRPGs do, with all of your units and the enemies splayed out on a grid. You advance your characters, the foe advances theirs, and they meet up to hit each other until somebody dies. Simple, but effective. Shining Force puts a few spins on that system, rendering it a game all its own. Unlike Fire Emblem, SF2 gives way to world exploration, allowing you to chat up NPCs and find treasures. Having a world at your fingertips is not absolutely mandatory for a great game (as we saw in Fire Emblem itself), but it really adds a lot to the atmosphere and overall feel of any title. The SF2 NPCs tend to be a little dull-brained, and the world isn't exactly bursting with secrets or minigames, but it still takes away the feeling of linearity that most SRPGs are bogged down with. Breakable weapons and characters who die forever are done away with in this title, so the feeling of urgency is diminished. Some might argue that the challenge is threatened as well, but trust me...the game is difficult enough.
Some time ago I started my first playthrough on Super, which has been quite an experience. Not only do enemies get substantial statistical increases, but they also receive a 25% damage bonus to all of their attacks as well, which basically means that your characters bite the dust in two attacks (the hardier ones might live through three). Even if you choose not to play on Super, the game provides you with more than ample challenge. You are often wildly outnumbered in gigantic maps with no allies but the 12 you start the combat with, and enemies will bear down on you with absolutely no mercy. You have to choose your heroes sensibly and make sure they're outfitted with just the right equipment and items to guarantee success -- you won't make it very far if your characters aren't toting Healing Seeds or using the best possible weapon. Oh and by the way, if your hero dies, the combat immediately ends and you are taken back to a church with half of your money. Fair! The only way to really abuse the difficulty of the game is training characters in a battle, then casting the hero's Egress spell to leave the battle and restart with experience still intact. This is a little bit tedious, but if you find yourself stuck in the game then there may be no other option.
All of that difficulty, however, pales in comparison to the actual fun factor of the game. Ultimately Shining Force II adheres to the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of gameplay. The combats vary minimally throughout the game, and though they always remain fun, I wish there were a few more twists added to liven it up towards the end. I find that a lot of the enjoyment in Shining Force II's gameplay comes from mixing, matching and trying out new characters. You get over 40 along the way, all of whom have a distinct look and feel and bring their own advantages to each combat. You can bring along a squadron of magic users, some shapeshifters, a sword-toting vampire or even a turtle. No one likes the turtle except for me. With that, however, this sort of variety doesn't really translate over into the combats themselves. Sure, you see stuff like Burst Rocks and disappearing floors, but it's too little too late. As far as I can see it, though, this is the only real outstanding flaw to Shining Force II.
...well, that and the music. SF2 is not exactly the prettiest game in the world; the character designs are interesting to look at in combat, but overall the game is fairly lackluster in execution. Animations have very few frames, spell effects don't look all that intense and the enemies palette swap at least three times throughout the game. Worse yet, however, is the music. There are probably 8 songs in the course of all of Shining Force 2, and none of them are any good at all. You're going to be hearing the same two battle songs for literally the entire game, except maybe the last combat. It wouldn't have surprised me if they didn't change it for that, but fortunately they were kind enough to give us that service. All of the towns have the exact same music, except for castles; temples and general Places of Great Significance feature a very familiar droning tune. Shining Force II is one of my favorite games, but it's sad to say that the music basically sucks. This flaw is a difficult one to miss, but fortunately it is not very debilitating; I recommend merely turning down the television and listening to the radio.
It would be a shame to miss a title as high-quality as Shining Force II on mere account of the music. Certainly one of the high points of the struggling Sega Genesis console, SF2 is a lengthy and enjoyable game with plenty to keep you entertained if you choose to indulge in it. With limitless replay value and overall wildly entertaining gameplay, this is a strategy role-playing game for the ages.
(...if they could remake the original, why not this one? Come on, guys. D:)
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
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