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Review: Shining Force III Scenario 1 A Good but Obscure Sega Saturn Tactical RPG That is Simple Enough to Attract Even Those who are not Fans of the Genre

Thanks to everyone that comments! Also I'm wondering if anyone played this game what are your thoughts? As you can tell, I think it's good to get into a niche genre but not amazing or anything.

TL; DR:

Simple but challenging gameplay; no random battles; do not lose XP after losing battle; real-time rendered 3D graphics but very primitive; very long convoluted story but with political intrigue; has JRPG elements and can walk in and explore towns after battles; good Medieval style music; all battles have some kind of novel gimmick; too long so a bit of a slog; last boss may require a lot of grinding; around 35 hours but can take more; only 1/3rd of the story, worth trying out emulation-wise though difficult to emulate because on Saturn, not worth spending over $500 to get a physical Western copy.

Introduction:

In spite of a few JRPGs being my favourite games of all time, I’m not a huge fan of the genre. I’ve never really wanted to play tactical or strategy RPGs, since they never appealed to me. However, I do like trying new things, and seeing as how I like researching 5th generation e.g., Sony Playstation, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, and 6th generation e.g., Dreamcast, Gamecube games, especially for the Saturn, this game was recommended a number of times. Seeing as how I thought it would be fun to try something new, I decided to give this one a go. It was a lot better than what I expected, at first it was refreshing and addictive, and although this game is good it did have some flaws in my opinion that prevented it from being a truly standout game.

Plot:

First thing is first, the story in this game: although it does make sense (unlike those of some JRPG games that shall remain nameless) it is very convoluted, with so many fictional place names and characters that I had a really hard time making sense of what was happening. Apparently, I am not the only one who had this issue.

Basically, there are two main governments in this game, the Republic of Aspinia, and the Empire of Destonia. The Republic was once part of the Empire, but they broke away due to wanting a more democratic form of government. There was always tension and border skirmishes. Now there is a peace meeting between the two in the neutral town of Saraband, with Lord Synbios representing the military of Aspinia. All of a sudden, the Emperor Domaric of Destonia gets kidnapped and King Benetram of the Republic of Aspinia is implicated. It turns out that it seems like the mysterious religious Bulzome sect is actually responsible for it, to manipulate the two governments into war. It’s basically up to you leading Synbios and his friends to try to prevent the Empire from taking over, and at the same time trying to prevent the Bulzome sect from manipulating, and destroying your Republic, and resurrecting some kind of mythical evil powers and creatures and taking over the world. There are very many plot twists and turns in this game that I won't even try to describe, and it is famous for the political intrigue.

Gameplay:

The gameplay is straightforward. Each character occupies one square on a grid during battles, and can move a different number of squares. There are different classes of characters. The characters have different stats for attack, defense, etc., based on their levels which are related to XP, and character class. Some classes like the magicians, have special magical abilities that allow them to use their MP, however, they are generally weak for physical attacks and defense against attacks. Others can mainly act as healers. Some are better for upfront combat, I found generally the centaur and Lord Synbios second in command Dantares to be the best for combat. Aside from physical attack and possibly magic (for some characters) you can also use items during your turn. The inventory per character is very limited at 4 items. You can also “hold”, meaning stay in a place without performing any other action; but there is no way you can ask set the character to “defend”, sometimes they do it automatically and randomly. You have to make sure that your general Synbios does not die during battle or you lose the game. Also, sometimes during attacks your characters will perform special attacks randomly to deal extra damage, but only after these special attacks are learned through earning XP in battle, and healing.

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The AI is smart and will attack either your general, or any character with the lowest HP or stats. The strategy lies in how you want to position your soldiers, with their different abilities to defeat the enemy. There is a way to use MP or items to return to the last save point during battle. You keep all of the XP that you earn. Even if you die in battle you keep all of your XP, but you lose half of your money. No battles in this game are random, they are all part of the story of the game. One way that they stay fresh is because they all have some sort of gimmick to them. For example, in one of them you are tasked with saving refugees from getting killed by soldiers and that are separated from you by moving trains. You are capable of grinding the game by fighting the same battle that you haven’t won.

Something added to Shining Force III and not in previous Shining Force games is the friendship system. If you consistently have certain characters help each other during battles they will become better friends and earn more XP if they win and help each other. Another novelty in this game not typical for this genre is that just like a JRPG after battles you can go into town talk to people, and find items, craft weapons, and heal yourself. It makes it a more engaging and story driven game, and makes it possible to find secret items, weapons, and characters.

Although the battles stay fresh due to some novelty, you may need to grind some of the harder boss battles, and it becomes tedious. Also, this game is very long and I felt that although fun for maybe 15 -20 hours beyond that it does tend to get boring. Another thing that marred my experience is that before the final set of battles my playtime was only about 24 hours, however due to the difficulty of the last battles and need to have many secret characters that you may not have picked up or levelled up you will need to grind a lot to finally beat the last bosses. It took me a whopping 42 hours to beat this game!

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The thing about it though is that this is only 1/3 of the actual game. Scenario 2 and 3 also exist but were never released outside of Japan although fan translations do exist, and apparently SEGA has allowed these to stay up. The second game looks at it from the perspective of prince Medion of the Empire, and the third from Julian a mercenary trying to avenge his father by taking on the most powerful Vandal (one of the powerful magic figures of the Bulzome sect). Apparently, we later find out that Julian is the real hero of this game. Apparently the third scenario is the shortest and best and wraps up the whole story. There was also a premium disc available from SEGA for those that bought all 3 scenarios and could send away proof of purchase of all three. It has some extra levels.

In my opinion the length is a double-edged sword, good for those that want a long game to get their money’s worth, bad because they are just too much of a time sink. Admittedly, the change of perspective and story does make it intriguing to try all of the scenarios, but I think most people would have their fill with only one game, unless they were to play sporadically.

I think this game would have been better if all three scenarios would have been shorter, and more to the point, without the need for grinding of the final bosses. Sega is unlikely to remake it because I think the source code has been lost.

Graphics, Tone, and Music:

By modern standards the 3D polygon graphics are a mess, and look mostly like 3D shapes put together, on the other hand they are somewhat impressive for the Saturn, also considering that most SRPGs at the time would use prerendered background rather than rendering them in real time in 3D. Apparently the graphics improve in the later scenarios. Still a remake of this game could desperately use new 3D graphics. The music is surprisingly good, I’m not sure how to classify it but it sound it’s instrumental and sounds like Medieval style music.

During the attacks scenes the perspective changes and your characters change from being sprites to being full 3D and the backgrounds change. This is actually a nice touch to see the 3D combat with some interesting animated moves.

The overall tone is fitting for this game, and basically what you’d expect it to be for a Medieval style fantasy setting.

Bottom Line:

Although this first scenario does have a lengthy introduction, the game is not difficult to understand and can be surprisingly addictive. This game isn’t cluttered with tons of options and stats like other SRPGs (or so I’ve heard). There is a general consensus among reviewers that although the mechanics are fairly simple the game is not easy, and you can lose if you are not careful of your strategy. It is refreshing that although it is an SRPG, just like a JRPG this game has towns that you can explore and heal in and tell more of the story in JRPG-like fashion, this is one of the few tactical RPGs that does this. The graphics are very dated but impressive for not being on prerendered backgrounds as was popular at the time but rendered in real time 3D. Although the story is decent it is very convoluted due to the large number of fictional place names and characters.

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Dying in a battle does not make you lose XP, and there are no random battles in this game. On the one hand every battle has some kind of gimmick to it that keeps it fresh and interesting, whether having to try to rescue refugees from being slaughtered with moving trains blocking your path or trying to fight a golem who keeps throwing rocks at you. On the other hand, the game does start to feel like too much of a slog after about 20 hours. The worst part is that the final set of battles will probably require you to do some grinding to level up, repeating the same battle over and over, which can even add up to about 10 hours or so of repetitive gameplay. It does feel like the game is too long, and it is only 1/3rd of the game, with 2 more scenarios available in Japanese and fan translations. From another view if you want a long game, with a long story, with different characters perspectives then this may be something you enjoy. For a casual gamer I could recommend playing it for a few hours to see if you like the action. Those that play Final Fantasy Tactics may be underwhelmed as far as the strategy part of the game is concerned.

It may be worth trying out if you haven’t played an SRPG, but you have some interest in JRPG. It probably will be difficult to set up a Saturn emulator (since Saturn emulation is notoriously difficult the results I had were not fantastic to say the least) but may be worth your time. Is it worth shelling out the $500 or more to get an actual copy? Unless you are a Saturn collector, or adore this game then Hell no. You could probably pick up a Japanese copy for a reasonable price though. It’s not a bad game; on a top 20 list I’d put it somewhere towards the bottom, which is pretty good. If this sounds like something that might appeal to you, put a bit of time setting up an emulator (I used Mednafen) because aside from that buying a physical copy and playing on a Saturn would be the only way.

Overall: 8.0/10 Great

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