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Shining Force Neo (PlayStation 2) artwork

Shining Force Neo (PlayStation 2) review

"In less than a year, Sega has released two brand new games for its already impressive “Shining” franchise—Shining Tears and Shining Force Neo. As the saying goes you can’t get enough of a good thing and even though Shining Tears left me slightly disappointed Neo comes out swinging, reminding me that this series is not only salvageable but one hell of a contender for strategy supremacy. "

In less than a year, Sega has released two brand new games for its already impressive “Shining” franchise—Shining Tears and Shining Force Neo. As the saying goes you can’t get enough of a good thing and even though Shining Tears left me slightly disappointed Neo comes out swinging, reminding me that this series is not only salvageable but one hell of a contender for strategy supremacy.

For one thing the drab, simplistic storyline has been dropped and amnesia is only a distant memory. Max is well aware of who he is and where he’s going in life. His dream is to one day become a Force Knight, an elite group whose power is beyond measure and a group whose soul duty is to “be a shield for the weak and a sword for the meek.” The story starts off with a quick dialogue between the main character, Max, and the town captain and local Force Knight, Graham. But very soon you are thrust into your first battle. For the most part it is merely a tutorial as guards are strewn all about the town amidst the raging monsters, standing calmly to provide you with information. With the battle over, Graham finds himself reassured of your strength and decides it may be time to send you back to your hometown of Greensleeves so that you can undergo the Trial of the Force, but you are going to have to convince your father Gaia that you are worthy of the task.

What may have been a warm homecoming and a verbal debate quickly turns dire when monsters invade the city. Even though your father has denied you becoming a Force Knight, he has no qualms about having you protect the city. When the battle’s over Gaia reveals where the reason behind all this recent surge of monster attacks, as he has seen it before. His past flows out in the massive dialogue given for you to ingest and he more then mentions his fear of “The Clan of The Moon” returning—a clan he believed to be destroyed in the war 13 years ago. But now it seems they have resurfaced and only Gaia has the strength to stop them.

Of course that’s not true because the back of the box reveals the main character as Max, but telling you anything more would be giving away this games secrets. I know what you’re thinking and believe me I thought the same thing. Does Sega have the ability to keep secrets when they mention in the instruction booklet that Max’s brother is missing and there’s a man in a mask? Anyone who’s played even one strategy game by Sega knows the answer to that, but the wonderful thing about this story is its ability to introduce cliché, watered down ideas—ones that you think may drag on the entire game—and then dismiss them so quickly it is always going to keep you guessing.

Aside from a brief story introduction, the back also boasts brilliant Anime sequences by Studio 4 C. I’ve never heard of them before, but I doubt after this game I will ever forget the name. Those cut-scenes are easy to come by and with lush colors, emotional facial expressions and an obsessive attention to detail it makes Cowboy Beebop look like a finger painting.

However, the one problem Sega always has is the balance between cut-scenes and regular game play; providing us with mature, gorgeous sequences then trapping us in a childish, bobble-head form for the rest of the game. Not so here. Everything is proportioned and your characters during battle look exactly as they do in the scenes. Even the characters that are supposed to be tiny don’t carry the burden of that annoying style. It’s foolish and I’m personally glad it’s gone.

But the graphics have a strange quality about them as well. The monsters are menacing and original, magic attacks provide a moment of explosive brilliance and the environments are worthy of “Home and Garden” magazine but it’s the details I’m wondering about. They exist don’t get me wrong because when you smash a barrel you literally see the splinters topple onto the ground but when you step into the snow you leave no footprints. Strange.

Even more bizarre, though, is the games sound. How can a company struggle to make a game look so good but tolerate the fact it sounds so bad? The score is a bit dismissible with no lyrics and no real emotion driving it. Voice-overs are provided during the long dialogue scenes—which I appreciate—but where did they find their actors? The good guys sound like South Park rejects and the bad guys, although having a gloomy quality, sound like Igor with a nasal infection or a doped up Count Chocula. Thankfully they can be skipped and you are going to skip every last one. Aside from a voice over, every character also has a few war cries which they utter every time they attack. It would get annoying, but during battle you’re so focused on survival you won’t notice.

Yes, this time around the elusive little formula that escaped Shining Tears now dominates Neo: Intensity. No more “Now Loading” screens and no more long treks before you even see an enemy. Monsters explode from nearly every inch of the floor, engulf you to pick away at your hp and even set up traps by pinning you in the crosshairs of magic attacks. Your finger is going to get tired long before you even make a dent in the huge army the “Clan of the Moon” has to offer. This game is a far cry from the strategy Shining Force once had to offer but mass chaos and sheer battle insanity provides a brand new source of entertainment.

So many battles could lead the game to be redundant, but Sega anticipated such a thing and provided an ingenious way to build stats: The Force Frame. Every time you destroy a monster gate it will drop gold, energy or a force art. These arts can be added to your Force Frame, a symbol of your knighthood and a customizable tool. There are forty arts available in all—anywhere from magic to attack speed—and the energy you earn will allow you to customize it anyway you choose. If you find yourself burned out with the battles you can break it up by warping back to Greensleeves to spend some of that energy or drop off a new art. Don’t worry about losing your place, Neo’s wonderful little warp tool will return you right where you left allowing you to jump back into the bludgeon fest with a new technique under your belt.

And what would a monster slaying orgy be without your friends? Eleven total are available and you can bring two with you at any given time. Their AI is spectacular and they don’t just idly rush into battle. They follow your lead, if you pull back so will they, only leading themselves into as much danger as you have created yourself. The one problem I had is the inability to change or even see anything about them; their armor, their magic or even their stats are not only unchangeable but unreadable as well. Although it saves you money and time it’s an odd change.

I must play anything “Shining” It’s a sick obsession I have. Most people don’t and although many RPG/Strategy fans may have opted to pick up Y’s last year instead of Shining Tears, you are going to want to trade it in for Shining Force Neo this year. This game gets so many things right it easily dismisses what it does wrong. Its visuals are brilliantly soothing, its storyline is addictively enveloping and the intense battles are adrenaline gushing. Fast-paced, sword-swinging strategy games don’t get much better then this. Matter of fact, I can’t think of one that even comes close.

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Community review by True (October 28, 2005)

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