**This is the part of the show where we spotlight a game from the 80s or 90s and tell you why it’s worth a replay on your Raspberry Pi, NES Classic, retro console, or whatever emulator you may use**
What It Is: A turn-based, tactical RPG
Who Made It & When: Sega, 1993
Where You Could (Originally) Play It: Genesis, either you bought it, or you rented it at Blockbuster for the weekend, bro!
What’s It About: The land is Rune. The city is Guardiana. Your hero is a guy named Max (but only if you want — you can name him whatever). The evil kingdom of Runefaust, ruled by the evil Lord Darksol, plots to reawaken an ancient, evil god named Dark Dragon.
(Let’s be honest, the names are pretty bad.)
When the ancient gate that the kingdom of Guardiana, err, guards is disturbed by a small force from Runefaust, the king decides it’s best to send apprentice warrior Max and a small band of inexperienced nobodies to investigate. I mean, this one gate is the only reason your city exists in the first place, it only seals away an ancient evil that will destroy the world, and your only excuse for sending out Max and his flunkies is that you don’t want to freak out the town’s like 12 residents by sending your best warriors?
Somehow, Max and co. (very quickly dubbed the Shining Force, with no narrative reasoning whatsoever) manage to thwart the invaders at the gate, but they somehow got whatever it was they came for, and the entire city of Guardiana is destroyed in the process. Now, the Shining Force must travel the world, one blinky square at a time, recruiting new soldiers as they go, in order to stop Darksol from summoning Dark Dragon (which they do anyway…hello, final battle!) and save the world.
Okay, so the plot is basically a thinly veiled veneer designed to take you from one battle to the next. Late night Cinemax has better story lines.
Why It’s Awesome: Despite all of the cheese, or maybe because of it, this game was what refined my love for video games. While Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series was what really set the bar for tactical RPG’s in Japan, we in America didn’t experience those games until 2002 when the Game Boy Advance finally brought the series to the bastardized West.
We had Shining Force, and I had never played a game quite like it. Sure, I’d played Final Fantasy, and that was cool, but this game took the best of Square’s RPG series, gave you a whole lot more recruitable characters and made you move them like a game of chess on your TV.
Just being able recruit the 30 folks made it impressive, but when you factored that each was mostly unique, ranging from staple fantasy characters (dwarves, mages, elven archers, and a small of army of centaur knights) to the B-sides of a TMNT casting call:
Guntz, the giant, mutant armadillo in a steam-powered Iron Man suit that hit enemies with spears.
Jogurt the Yogurt, who was essentially useless with no stats and no hope of advancement, but he was a cute hamster in a helmet.
Adam, the ancient robot that shot lasers from his hand.
Zylo, the werewolf, whose leap-slash attack slaughtered armored foes like sheep.
Domingo, a floating jellyfish that froze the balls off his foes with his powerful ice magic.
Bleu (like the cheese) was a baby dragon when you got him, but evolved into a very powerful, lightning-spewing beast that dominated the battlefield.
It was more than just characters that were unexpected. Like how you could change the appearance of your magic users by equipping them with secret items found only on battle maps, making one fight in a bikini and another in a mini skirt.
However, the real cheat for the die-hard Shining Force player was the rename code. This code is how we discovered the secret ninja and samurai characters. You needed two controllers for that, plus a friend (or your bare feet if your were sufficiently flexible).
Here’s how it worked: start a new game and enter the name of your player. Highlight END and press the following buttons on controller 2: hold A, B and C and press Start . At the same time, on Pad 1, press A, C and Start together. Once your main character’s name is locked in, it will cycle through every playable character, in order, allowing you to rename each.
I digress. Back to the characters, getting each one was just the beginning. Then the fun began to level them up, improving their stats and getting them ready to be promoted. Sure, these days, it’s not an uncommon thing for a tactical RPG to evolve its characters. Final Fantasy Tactics did it famously with its class system, something that made that game truly stand out. In Shining Force, once your character reached level 10, you could talk to the priest and have him promoted. This meant higher stat gains every level and, of course, a more unique and powerful look. Essentially, it took the game’s 30 characters and made it feel closer to 60. Guntz went from rocking a suit of armor to basically driving a Camaro.
Granted, in the game’s relatively few battles and the roster of great characters, it becomes very difficult to casually upgrade and promote every one. So, for the dedicated, to truly level up your characters and get the most out of them, you had to grind hard, retreating from battle maps after defeating 90% of the enemies and re-battling through it again and again.
The thing that really makes Shining Force stand out is that with few exceptions, there has yet to be a tactical RPG that holds a candle to the quality of game play that this series offers.
Thankfully, I still have my Genesis and a copy of the game, so I guess I know what I’ll be doing this weekend.
Where to Play It Now: Thankfully, if you still have a Wii (or Wii U) you can grab the game from the Virtual Console.
Max Out the Nostalgia while you play… by listening to “Zombie” by the Cranberries, “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree, and anything from Hootie and the Blowfish.