"An early console roleplaying game, my time with Shining in the Darkness may cruelly reveal my age, but it was a founding game in my RPG history and the architect of all things Shining - one of the bigger and better-known serials and a jewel in SEGA's crown. Much as nostalgia attempts to lend me its rose-tinted specs in this case, I shall do what I can to remain objective -- as always, my concerned reader, as always. "
An early console roleplaying game, my time with Shining in the Darkness may cruelly reveal my age, but it was a founding game in my RPG history and the architect of all things Shining - one of the bigger and better-known serials and a jewel in SEGA's crown. Much as nostalgia attempts to lend me its rose-tinted specs in this case, I shall do what I can to remain objective -- as always, my concerned reader, as always.
You start your epic quest when your custom-named protagonist is pulled up in front of the King; for some reason his daughter was merrily traipsing around in the dungeon labyrinth, located but a stoneís throw from the castle and nearby village, and has subsequently gone missing. If that wasn't enough, you soon find that, in a cunningly under-used story device, she was being escorted by your very own father at the time - holy plot twists, Batman! Cue the creepy evil bad guy wanting the kingdom in exchange for the kidnapped daughter, the fatherís and princessís current locations unknown, and the castleís kitten seemingly missing....
Alright, I admit it; the kitten's fine.
Granted, the plot does start off poorly, but in its defence, this was 10 + years back. You are asked to rescue the princess and subsequently your father, who disappeared alongside her, from the dastardly grasps of Dark Sol, ye olde evil villain, hell-bent on taking over the kingdom for his own rotten gains. From here on the story moves slowly yet predictably towards some good plot twists nearing the end.
Overall, the story is enjoyable enough, nothing epic whilst being suitably light-hearted and serious at the right points. For its time, it was still somewhat average, but it keeps the game interesting throughout. With age as a concern, and seeing as SitD is a cartridge-driven game, effects like the music manages to translate well; not that many of the tunes will ever really jump out and grab you, but they are certainly slightly above average for their time.
The various sound effects within do offer nice touches, like the characters 'voices' being made up of differing beeps, each individual with a unique tone. A simple soundtrack, perhaps, but a well-planned one that fits the game snugly; the main problem it suffers from is a sense of repetitiveness, as it can drag on a little. It's not always the case, though: even now I still fondly remember (and often hum under my breath) the townís tavern theme, but this can probably be attributed to rose-tinted nostalgia, so we'll file that one away for now. The music has aged the same way as the rest of the game; it's basic, simple, and utterly forefilling.
This echos over into the bulk of the controls, where you can move around your rather limited world using a charmingly brainless method. In both the castle and village, youíre fixed in place and rotate your point of view around the locationís circumference till you're facing where you want to go. In the castle, this translates as basically selecting the person you wish to speak to, whereas in the village, the screen scrolls round 360*, showing you the selection of shops and taverns you can choose to enter. Once in the dungeon, the first person view remains, but your movement is increased. You can move freely around the labyrinth, with up and down making you move backwards and forwards and left and right turning you.
These actions remain childsplay in battle. You are given your command boxes in a plus formation, and you simply select which one you wish to use. Some choices branch into sub-menus, but it's all very easy to learn and use; the system is present throughout the game, recycled for buying, selling, and the like.
The graphics shy away from simplicity and are, rather prominently, a thing of beauty; even now with systems out-powering the poor SEGA 16-bit countless times over, they still hold true to their charm. Like all Shining Force games, the graphics are in the bright and cartoony mould and are far ahead of their time. Every now and then they can bunch up, even sometimes looking a little fuzzy; in fact, inside the townís tavern, some of the occupants near the back resemble little more than nicely-coloured blobs. Still, overall, both the people inside the castle and the village look well-drawn and start perfectly the graphical legacy that the Shining games have retained.
Bravely venture inside the labyrinth, and you will find these feats continue still. The enemies remain colourful and well-designed (even featuring that ever popular RPG opening monster - the malicious slime!). You will find that in most first-person dungeon crawlers, things are made to look a little dank and dark, but not here, and if anything, it adds to the atmosphere. You can plainly see your attacks and magic take effect on those random beasties that dare challenge you, as well as you can see their responding animation's for attacks against you. Pallet swapping does happen, but it doesnít occur often enough for major complaint. A lot of work has gone into the graphical department, and it shows.
The winding innards of the evil, monster-choked lair contain more awaiting trouble than the odd oozing pile of slime heartily trying to disembowel you; more often than not, youíll get lost. There are so many twists and turns in the higher levels, including twist spots that spin you and make you face a random direction, that it would be almost suicidal to wander around the never-ending trails unprepared; perhaps some kind of map would have helped lower frustration here, but alas, none is given outside of a temporary reprieve granted by a consumable item and a handy spell.
Getting lost isn't enough? SitDís random encounter rate is perhaps truly the most random Iíve ever come across. You may find yourself wandering for an age undisturbed only to later find yourself with a teeth-filled nasty clawing at your throat every five steps. It helps get the experience and gold count up, but it also raises the annoyance level to the point of mild to heavy cursing. If you are levelling and hunting for battles, you can be sure they'll be scarce. Injured, poisoned, and limping heavily towards the exit? Expect all things evil to charge en masse.
In addition to the confusing navigation and irksomely fluctuating encounter rate, the game has a few more irritations. For instance, you'll rarely be challenged more in this game than at the first boss fight. You'll find that you'll need to level up a fair bit beforehand or be mercilessly destroyed. This can drag the start of the game on, seeing as you have little to do at the beginning but hunt down random battles and hoard experience and gold, questing for shinier weapons and armourments. On a plus point, once this battle is over with, everything else is made easier by your accumulated levels and money.
Shining in the Darkness was a founding RPG to me, and it still has the potential to be an enjoyable experience even today. Be warned, though - if you donít like old-school games, SitD may not be your thing. It doesnít have next-gen graphics, numerous plot-driven CGI scenes, or a quick-paced, epic story, but I find I like it all the more for lacking these things. It's a simple but hopelessly charming RPG that sadly becomes more and more overlooked in a now-overpopulated genre.
I want to give this game a huge score; I want to shake people by the neck and demand they try it, I really do, but I understand that this stems from my hopeless nostalgia. So Iíll give you chance to escape my claw-like grasp for now, dear reader, but I heartily hope you'll one day give this game a play. Few will be disappointed with it if a chance is given.
Try it, or the kitten gets it!
Community review by bside (August 08, 2005)
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