I enjoyed Shining Force, in fact I enjoyed it so much I decided to jump almost straight into the sequel. I’ll be honest, fatigue did set in a few times, and I struggled to play for long periods, but that was mostly down to playing a 35 hour game off the back of a 25 hour game.
Anyway, is Shining Force II good?
Some stupid rat bastard (Slade [an actual rat man]) steals the Jewel of Light and the Jewel of Evil which have kept sealed away the evil Demon lord, Zeon.
The king of Granseal falls ill (from demonic possession), and what follows is your standard tale of good vs evil as Bowie (the protaganist) and his friends set out to stop the devils, and bring peace once more to the world, and rescue the Princess Ellis.
There are a few pretty cool twists along the way, and it is nice watching your home town get destroyed fairly early on as it reminded me of Kefka on the Floating Continent before the World of Ruin in Final Fantasy VI.
Shining Force II is a tactical turnbased RPG. Battle occurs on a grid-based system, you move your troops based on their movement ability, and then get a choice of melee/magic/item as an attack. Physical combat can only occur with the 4 adjacent boxes, but your ranged troops may be able to attack 2-3 grid sections away. Unlike the X-Com games, you do not have a turn, and then the enemy has a turn. Instead, all troops will move according to their speed stat. This means you need to plan ahead, if your first move is a mage/healer, and you send them out towards the frontline, expecting a meat shield to be the next move, you could be in trouble. A number of times I moved a weakling, and fast moving enemies swooped in and punished my lack of caution.
Similar to Shining Force, you need to protect Bowie, as Bowie is the main character, if he dies, the battle is lost. You then need to redo the whole battle again. Thankfully unlike my savefile in Shining Force in Shining Force II my main character was awesome. In SF1 I promoted Max too early, and he was terrible for the second half of the game. You still need to keep Bowie safe and make sure he is well protected, I still had a number of occasions where enemies would make a beeline for him, and rape his face off, but unlike in SF1 this never really felt unfair.
In SF1, enemies would constantly spam Max, it meant I had to keep him back, and he was under levelled by the end. In SFii, enemies would still attack Bowie, but they wouldn’t ignore the 5 people in front of Bowie in the way they seemed to do in SF1, it meant Bowie remained one of my better characters for the whole game.
Levelling and Promotion
As this is an RPG, there is a levelling system. Attack (or heal) somebody in combat, get about 10exp, get the killing blow, and you’ll get about 45exp. Get 100exp, and you level up. It is all very simple, but it means characters can fall behind. Jaha the warrior starts off pretty awesome, but if he is not constantly getting kills he falls behind very quickly and can become useless. Healers also fall behind, as healing only nets 10 exp, they have to constantly be at it to get a level up, or promote a healer to Monk class.
One thing I noticed is that you can’t “over level”, there were frequent parts in the game where Peter, May and Bowie were getting 1exp for kills, this happened for a good 5 hour chunk of the game after battle 14 upto around battle 21, it let others catch up, but it did mean I had to have my 3 favourite characters sit back a little while the others got the kills.
Once you get to level 20 you can promote your troops, this is an improvement on SF1, as in the first you could promote at level 10, but if you did your troops would suck. Here you have to wait to level 20, and some troops get a choice of promotion path. Your Mage can become a wizard (harder mage) or a sorcerer (summons demons <- that are awesome), but this requires you find special items. Your knights can also become pegasus knights, which means they can fly. There are a few other different paths, and you get enough characters to experiment with promotions.
As an extra bonus you will find characters later in the game, that have already been promoted to the slightly different class. It means if you choose one Promotion path for one character, or don’t find the item, you aren’t locked out of a character style.
Similar to SF1, different characters level differently, some become AWESOME with a little grind (Slade), others start shit, and really never get good (I’m hate you Kiwi). As mentioned Jaha fell behind, as he is a slow mover, and I couldn’t get him to a battle in time. Slade did next to zero damage for 10 hours. Kiwi isn’t too bad, but it’s health does not grow, by the 12 hour mark when I dropped it, the health was 10ish, everybody else was into the 30s at that stage. Kiwi’s defense is phenomenal, but the totally awful hit points, still meant Kiwi was dying almost instantly. Kiwi only stayed in my party for that long because Slade is much more useless. Though Slade can become good after promotion.
Others like May and Peter are just freakingly BRILLIANT. Peter ended up with over 100 hit points, and all his attacks did 50-60 damage, he was pretty much able to take on Zeon with only a little healing from Sarah. May has frankly epic range too, once those two and Bowie were up to speed there was nothing stopping you.
I found SFii MUCH harder to begin with, the first few battles I struggled on, as Sarah was a useless healer, and Chester was a terrible Knight, so it was all down to Bowie to face tank everything, and hoping the turn orders were on my side. Once you change continents, and you have a larger party things start to get easy. Wrong moves are punished, but as mentioned early, the enemy don’t insta-gank Bowie in the same way they did with Max in SF1. It meant I only had to repeat battle when I was rubbish.
The battlescapes are much fairer too, there are much less battles with impossible pinch points. All staircases tended to be two squares wide, it meant you could get troops into position, whereas in SF1, you could be sending man after man into a death trap just to eek out as much health of the stair blocking asshole and his archer mate.
Towards the end of the game, the difficulty rightly spikes, though it never feels unfair like it did in Fallout 2, bosses get harder, and fodder get much harder, you really need to think about your troop placement, and maximise the use of Aura heals.
The last few fights have multiple enemies that are capable of smashing through your front-line like a hot knife through butter. It forces you to adapt your tactics, as you can no longer have a line of tanks absorbing damage, instead you have to DPS the enemy down, if you’re not killing some enemies on the first turn you get to them, expect a death in your squad.
It feels fair, and you will learn the nuances of battle as you progress, but Shining Force 2 manages to keep the battles fresh, and they never start to feel unfair.
I honestly don’t have any other than nit-picks.
The clunkyness of the User Interface has been refined from SF1, it still isn’t perfect, but the whole UI is at least bareable now.
Trading equipment, again, isn’t perfect, but is much better than the first as items can be swapped rather than moving one, then the other. Additionally, if Bowie picks up an item, and his inventory is full, he simple passes it to the next person with an available item space. This saves SOOOOO much time.
Characters in the first game did lack story, and were mostly there for the ride, however, in SFii, nearly all the characters have a background, and a reason/motivation for helping you on your journey. They aren’t all good reasons, but a lot more effort has been put into this.
The only gripe I have is still the music, the constantly changing music does grate, and I tended to mute the game and put a CD on. Also, the music can be jarring in tone. Right after the incident at the Tower of the Ancients in the first chapter, and the town is destroyed, the game plays jaunty music. It was odd, but nothing that would affect the score.
Shining Force II is pretty good, it doesn’t have a story that got emotionally me involved with like Final Fantasy VI, and it doesn’t have the strength of characters that a Knights of the Old Republic has, but if you’re you like strategic turn-based RPGs, then Shining Force II is a must.
There are plenty of secret items, which allow for special promotions, or ultimate weapons, meaning there are reasons to reply for the fan of hording. Additionally, there are 30 characters, so you could try weird runs with terrible characters, who knows, you might even try doing a run with Kiwi in your team!
Shining Force II can be very expensive to buy in the UK, but if you’re a cheap skate, there is always the SEGA Mega Drive: Ultimate Collection for Xbox360 and PS3.
Pros: Refined the clunkyness, more story, much larger world
Cons: Kiwi and Slade