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Shining Soul (Game Boy Advance) artwork

Shining Soul (Game Boy Advance) review

"Something this tarnished cannot be Shining. "

Sometimes, I wonder exactly how certain thoughts enter the heads of certain people in the gaming industry. You have the Shining series. It’s a long-running collection of games, with several of them being well-known turn-based strategy titles. They might not be my all-time favorites in that genre, but I do find them quite enjoyable.

And so, on the Game Boy Advance in 2003, a new Shining was created. It wasn’t overly subtle about providing fanservice for those who’d played through its games, as its main adversaries were all important bosses from those turn-based strategy games. And, well, that’s about the only true Shining in this Shining game as it’s actually a lazy rip-off of Diablo that takes delight in being repetitive and tedious.

Yeah, this game is a bit of a disaster where the main silver lining I took from my experience with it was that I do love penning a good bash review and it has been quite some time since I’ve had the opportunity to do so. So, really, when I think about it, thanks to Shining Soul, it’s my time to shine!

You open by picking between four different character classes and talking to people in your little hub village. Among the important ones are the guy who restores your health and a variety of shopkeepers, including one who can identify certain weapons and armor you’ll collect during your explorations. The most important of these folk is probably the one who sells items, as you can acquire medicine and, more importantly, angel wings that allow you to exit a dungeon to sell and/or buy goods and then return to the exact place you’d been.

Upon getting tired of twiddling your thumbs in the game’s lone safe zone, you’ll leave and gain access to the first of eight dungeon regions. It’s a short one with only three floors followed by a boss fight, which makes it easily the least objectionable of the bunch simply because you’ll be through it before minor details such as each of those three levels essentially being the same causes things to become tiresome.

As a warrior, I used melee attacks as opposed to the ranged ones that, say, an archer would have at his disposal; however, since enemies tended to operate the same way, my reliance on being up close and personal with my axe, sword or spear didn’t really endanger me. Foes would slowly walk up to me and attack, so it was pretty easy to take a swing or two at them, back up a bit to avoid their reprisal and repeat that until they were dead. The only deviation from that “tactic” happened when I took on the world’s boss — a giant beast-man with multiple attacks that tested my ability to evade his moves while performing hit-and-run maneuvers.

After that, it’s back to the hub to talk to people again and see if the shops had better equipment before heading back outside to visit the second level. This one takes place in a dungeon-like building and forces you through seven levels before tackling the boss. Things get a bit more difficult here, as there are a few archers and magic-using foes capable of hitting you from a distance. They also get more repetitive, as you’ll be doing the same thing level after level, with only minor differences between one and the next. Maybe a particular level is fairly large and sprawling, while another puts you in a confined area where you have to beat many, many monsters before the exit appears, but you’ll only be hacking and slashing enemy after enemy after enemy.

And occasionally gaining levels. Whenever you do so, you’ll get a handful of points to put into your guy’s stats, as well as the ability to increase one of a handful of attributes. With a warrior, you can improve his proficiency and charge attack for each of his three weapon classes, as well as his defense and resistance to ice and thunder attacks. Or perhaps make it so using healing items restores more life.

So far, while Shining Soul wasn’t anything special, it was a competent action RPG. The sort that I zone out and play for a while each day and then lazily write a review with a middling score. Unfortunately for me, there were six more worlds to explore. Most of them contained 10 levels before their boss, with the final one possessing a whopping 15. Levels that mostly blended together with the main difference being how each world has its own background graphics.

You’ll do one dull level after the next while in this weird mental state where you both want them to be large and small. Large due to how those stages have more monsters, meaning you’ll get more experience towards gaining levels and improving your character. Small because at least that means you’ll be advancing through the game more quickly and after a while, that’s all you’ll want to do. Simply put, there’s not much to the average level of a Shining Soul dungeon. No puzzles, no keys to unlock doors, no imagination. Just you, a bunch of monsters and a lot of attacking, backing up and attacking some more.

And only a few enemies stand out in any way. I hated anything that could poison me because that ailment would eat through health for a long time unless I was holding an antidote potion. And with how limited your inventory is, I didn’t really want to hold too many healing items or I’d have to return to base constantly to sell off stuff. Anything that used lightning as its magical attack also sucked. While fire and ice spells are emitted from enemies and travel in a straight line towards you, lightning just sort of cracks down somewhere. If you’re near that magic-using monster, “somewhere” tends to be directly on you, meaning that this is an attack that might miss, but more likely will be a frustrating source of unavoidable damage. There also are big dragons that show up midway or so through the game. Those guys, as well as bosses, are the reason you have that charge attack, as it’s required to dispatch them remotely efficiently.

For me, things really came to a head in the seventh world. On the surface, you might look at it as being one of the less annoying ones, as its nine levels are mostly pretty short. On the other hand, with a couple early-world exceptions, each is a brief ascent where you fight foes in narrow corridors with little room to navigate. Included among those foes are those big dragons, which have both magical attacks and an area-of-effect stomp. An area-of-effect attack in tight confines makes it VERY likely you’ll be taking a fair amount of damage whenever one of these things appears.

That’s bad enough, but let’s say you follow in my footsteps and forget to purchase an angel wing after one trip back to town. And then realize you can't exit the dungeon when you’re just outside the boss’ level and nearly out of healing items, which leads to your demise against that foe. You’ll then get warped back to base minus ALL your money. Unless you have plenty of goods to sell (I didn’t), you won’t be able to purchase healing items without replaying one of the shorter early-game dungeons and after doing that, you’ll have to start the current one over again from the very beginning. That sucked.

But I did collect myself and finish Shining Soul. The game wasn’t all bad, as a number of the boss fights provided challenges that were, if not truly fun, at least enjoyable compared to everything else. Which is, admittedly, a very low bar to clear. Eight worlds, with most having a fair number of levels that regularly blended together to make it feel like I was trapped in a never-ending journey, destined to do the same things over and over again. Personally, I’d prefer to save my eternity in purgatory for after I’m dead — an early sneak peek was not necessary!

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (March 05, 2024)

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

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