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Shining Force II (Genesis) artwork

Shining Force II (Genesis) review

"Another of those really good sequels to good games. "

When push comes to shove, I’d say that the biggest weakness of Shining Force II is its age. As time has progressed, the turn-based strategy genre has really benefited from the improved storytelling potential that more modern systems have compared to this game’s Sega Genesis. As a backdrop to the dozens of battles your party will partake in against soldiers and monsters, you’ll get an epic tale loaded with intrigue and betrayal. Shadowy figures will make alliances behind the scenes and it will take hours and hours for you to discover the ramifications of those and other actions.

But you didn’t really have that in this era. The story told by Shining Force II is extremely simple by comparison. You’ll be in control of young knight Bowie and his friends as they struggle to contend with a series of demonic possessions. They’re able to free their kingdom’s ruler from his corrupter, but the neighboring ruler of Galam also is possessed and he’s a tougher nut to crack.

King Galam takes the princess of Bowie’s kingdom hostage in an attempt to blackmail its ruler into giving him a particular magical jewel — one of two used to seal away Zeon, a really powerful devil, but is thwarted. However, in the process, the princess has disappeared and the kingdom has been ruined, so Bowie and company set sail to find another land in which to rebuild their nation.

Of course, things won’t be that easy. Seems a bunch of Zeon’s other subordinates are also looking for those jewels to release their master. And with Bowie having possession of them, that means he’s a target. And so, you’ll spend much of the game traveling the world, fighting various creatures and meeting new potential party members while occasionally even legitimately advancing the plot.

Shining Force II screenshot Shining Force II screenshot

That would be my main gripe with this game. Future turn-based strategy games would show a bit better sense of pacing, where the vast majority of confrontations would have some sort of meaning as far as either moving things along or fleshing out characters and their relationships. In Shining Force II, a lot of these fights are just there for the sake of keeping your party members active and building levels. Early in the game, you have meaningful conflicts that advance you towards that moment when your party has to find a new home. At the end, you’ll be taking out Zeon’s main allies and preparing for your confrontation with that diabolical being.

In between, you’ll often go several fights without anything overly important happening. A number of them are even delivered to you in the form of classic RPG random encounters. You’ll be walking across the world and suddenly get taken to a battle screen to fight off a dozen or so enemies in order to be able to continue walking. Meanwhile, the vast majority of your allies lose all importance the instant they join your party. I mean, you’d think a thief looking for redemption after inadvertently releasing all this demon stuff would be kind of a big deal, wouldn’t you? Nope, after talking his way into your party, Slade is just another face in the crowd.

As a result, it was a bit trickier for me to be as invested in this game as I probably would have been for a more modern game possessing more mature storytelling. That should not be taken to mean I didn’t have a lot of fun playing Shining Force II — just that I wasn’t into it in a “gotta see what happens next” way that encouraged me to put off going to bed for a little long because I just had to get through one more battle to see what new revelations would be unearthed.

Fighting in Shining Force II is simple and intuitive. While you will eventually have to manage a dozen or so guys against as many or more foes, the game gradually eases you into those more large-scale confrontations. Bowie starts out with a mere handful of allies that help teach you the mechanics of the game.

Shining Force II screenshot Shining Force II screenshot

Bowie is a pretty powerful guy, but if he gets defeated, you automatically lose the fight. You have to walk a fine line where you make the most of his ability, but also keep him reasonably safe. As a priest, Sarah isn’t worth much as a combatant, but she can cast healing spells to keep everyone else on their feet. Chester might not be the most powerful or durable ally, but he is pretty mobile — at least on some forms of terrain. Jaha is stronger and has better defense, but his heavy armor cuts into his mobility. And early addition Kazin is a mage, so just let him pepper enemies with spells while keeping an ally between him and those foes. As you play, you gain more characters including the aforementioned Slade, a powerful werewolf and a few flying birds and bird-men — all with their own strengths and weaknesses.

As the game gets more complex when you get more characters and find yourself in larger battles, it also gets more difficult. In the early going, the main reason you’ll suffer the loss of characters in battle will be due to tactical blunders. Later on, though, virtually every foe is a beast on the battlefield. Whether it be brutal melee attacks, powerful spells that have a huge range of effect or even the occasional (and cruel) instant death attack, it is no easy task to overcome their challenges. At least, Shining Force thankfully doesn’t follow the Fire Emblem model of death being permanent!

There are ways to mitigate the difficulty. Bowie comes equipped with a spell that allows you to exit battle at any time, allowing you to effectively grind levels. After gaining enough of those levels, characters can be promoted to an advanced class. Some characters, if you find certain items, can even potentially access an even better class. I mean, priests and their healing abilities are nice and all, but if you can promote them to a master monk, they’ll still have those spells and also pack a powerful punch.

Even if Shining Force II doesn’t possess the sort of epic storytelling that one can count on from more modern turn-based strategy games, it’s a lot of fun to play through due to its combat. While the pacing of its story leaves much to be desired, I have no such complaints about how those battles are paced. Things start out simple and easy and gradually progress to large-scale conflicts against foes loaded with all sorts of devastating attacks. It might not be edge-of-your-seat captivating, but it does provide the sort of enjoyable challenge that could keep me occupied for a fight or two on a regular basis.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (February 08, 2024)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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