Shining Force II is, in essence, the Mega Man 3 to the original Shining Force’s Mega Man 2. Rather than reinvent the wheel, Shining Force II simply loads up with even more of what worked in its predecessor. It’s a larger game overall than the original, featuring more characters, more secrets, more classes, and more battles. Everything about it simply feels bigger, aided by the fact that the game’s world can be explored in much greater detail this time around. The original allowed for little backtracking, but by the end of the second game the player can return to practically every previously explored locale.
The battles themselves feel ratcheted up as well. The original Shining Force had a number of interesting scenarios, but Shining Force II features several skirmishes that have become iconic in tactical RPG canon. Chief among them are the battle against the monstrous Kraken while the party rides a raft downriver, and the clash against the chess army in the magically shrunken town. Both of these are renowned not just for their difficulty, but also for the unique situations that they present. Defeating the Kraken requires luring his tentacles close to the raft while simultaneously positioning your own troops safely on a relatively tiny amount of space. The chess battle sees the player and his party fighting on an actual chess board against actual chess pieces. The player isn’t required to obey chess rules, but the total openness of the terrain combined with the shocking strength of the enemy forces the player to fight extremely defensively.
Aside from the expanded scope, though, little is changed between Shining Force and its sequel. The gameplay and characters are so similar between the two that fans often have difficulty remembering what happened in which game. Even the graphics utilized by the two games are largely identical. But the familiarity feels comfortable rather than dull, building upon the sense of warmth that both games share. Unlike their obvious gameplay inspiration, Nintendo’s Fire Emblem, the two Shining Force games are not punishingly difficult, and in fact take numerous steps to limit player frustration. At any point in any battle, even when facing the final boss, the hero may cast a spell to escape back to the most recently visited church, retaining all earned money, experience, and items. Even if the player is defeated the result is essentially the same, albeit the game does take half the player’s money, Dragon Quest-style. And unlike the permanent deaths in Fire Emblem, fallen party members in Shining Force are easily resurrected for a nominal fee (again, like Dragon Quest).
It’s clear right down to the almost Disney-esque character designs that the goal of the creators of Shining Force II wasn’t to make the most challenging, most innovative, or most revolutionary tactical RPG, but instead to create a game that was pleasantly familiar, something destined to create nostalgic memories in those who played it. And that’s just fine.
Article by Mike Zeller
GameSpite Journal 12: Shining Force II