The trio of Shining Force games for the Game Gear form a trilogy of direct sequels that loosely link the first two numbered entries on the Genesis, although the U.S. only saw the release of the middle game of the trilogy, Sword of Haija (subtitled Jashin no Kakusei in Japan). They tell the story of an area of the Shining Force world largely unvisited by the first two games with a cast largely unique to the three games, although characters from Shining Force I and II make appearances and join the party in the third of the games. From a gameplay standpoint all three play virtually identically to the first Shining Force, although given the smaller amount of data able to fit on a Game Gear cart meant that each of the three games was very short, and very easy given the brevity of each quest.
In total, all three games would probably be equal in length to at least Shining Force I, if not II, and it is likely this reason that prompted Sega to fund a fully scaled port to the Sega CD of the first two games (as the third game was still in development at the time of the port’s development). Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Shining Force sidestory games is that it was one of the few series of games to feature an interlinking storyline between entries in the series in a more direct fashion unlike the generational aspect seen in the Phantasy Star series and the Dragon Quest series. The closely shared continuity between the Genesis and Game Gear/Sega CD iterations of the series provided Western console gamers with a sense of plotting depth and impact rarely seen outside of Western PC RPGs despite the fact that the Shining Force series’ plot is painted in the broadest of fantasy tropes. The sense of character and shared overarching plot was easily the strongest aspect of the early Shining games, and given the later vast departures from this core that the series took under Sega’s later leadership and developer Camelot’s future output it seems that both have forgotten what it was that made the series unique.
Still, the sidestory trilogy remains an interesting footnote in gaming history, as it provides one of the few strategic gaming experiences available on a handheld for Western audiences (if only for the second game) until the advent of the Game Boy Advance and the release of the Fire Emblem and Advance Wars series.
Article by Andrew Bentley
GameSpite Journal 12: Shining Force Gaiden