Game Reviews
Shining Force II: Ancient Sealing
Score: 5/5
Gameplay
The main part of the game is of course the battle mode. Unlike many RPGs, the battle mode in Shining Force II is not based on random encounters, but large, pre-set tactical battles instead. Viewed from above, you control a Force of up to 12 characters (selected from the 30 that join during the game) in battle. The characters themselves vary in weapons and abilities, some being magic users, others being archers, swordsmen, centaur knights and more.

The battles are turn-based, with characters and enemies moving in order of agility. A turn is in two parts, movement and action. Movement ranges will vary based on the terrain and on the character type and are displayed as a flashing grid of squares, to incidate spaces accessable by the character whose turn it is. After movement, the character can opt to: attack (if there is an enemy within the range of their weapon); cast a spell (if there is an enemy within range of their attack spell, or an ally in range of their defensive/supportive spells); use, give, equip or drop an item (you may equip, and then attack); or hold their position. Likewise, enemies may make the same moves. Actions are selected and confirmed via a series of blue and yellow on-screen menus.

Being a role-playing game, statistics play a vital part in battles, to determine movements, and effects of actions. If during a battle, a characters HP (hit points) reaches 0, they are exhaused and retire from the battle. To bring them back, a fee must be paid to the church in the next town to restore the character. Statistics increase with level-ups, which happen as a result of experience being gained from battling and defeating enemies. When an enemy is defeated, you'll also be given some gold, which is necessary to purchase items and weapons.

Inbetween battles are the roaming and town modes. In the roaming mode, your characters wander around the main land map of the game, finding their way from town to town, and getting into battles. Cutscenes are added in at points to add to the story. Areas of the main map can be searched, to reveal hidden items. In some places, items can be used to reveal a new area.

On reaching a town, you are able to talk to the townsfolk, who sometimes provide clues for the story, or sometimes just chatter away. There are usually two shops in a town, one for weapons and the other for items (such as healing items, antidotes, rings etc), and it is normal to stock up and buy better weapons when you reach a new town, in order to prepare for the next battle. The other important building in a town is the church, where you can go to cure poisons, revive fallen characters, save your progress or promote a character who has reached a high enough level. Usually in each town there will be someone to talk to in order to make the story progress, such as a monarch. Sometimes battles will occur within a town, which can make them more intersting, due to the nature of the battlefield. While in a town, you are able to enter the houses of the residents (oddly enough, they seldom complain!), and search their homes for items that may be of use to you.

Some RPGs place a lot of emphasis on puzzles, however these are few and far between in Shining Force II. There are just a couple of "find this item, and then use it here" situations, and a maze. These are usually hinted at quite strongly through the game, and so it's fairly easy to get through them.

There have been some enhancements made over the original Shining Force, for example, talking and searching can be performed with just one button press instead of going through a menu; special weapons can be crafted with mithril ores found in the game, and certain characters have 2 possible paths for promotion, thanks to the addition of special promotion items.

The gameplay is very easy to get the hang of, and the control method is straightforward too.

Score: 3/5
Storyline
For the most part, the plot of Shining Force II is just plain average, being "rescue the princess, and defeat the devil king", however, a couple of unexpected extras in the plot and some poignant moments make it a little better.

The setting of the game is one of my favourite aspects. It's set in a fantasy world of swords and sorcery, goblins and dragons. Yet, amongst this classic fantasy world there are advanced technologies too, left by the Ancients, a race from the past. The technologies themselves are no longer practiced, but the items left behind are amazing indeed!

Score: 5/5
Longevity
Without a chapter-based structure to the game, movement is more free and as such you can return to towns previously visited, and replay battles much more easily. This has made the game less linear than it's predecessor, and through causing confusion to players (not knowing where to go next, because they haven't paid enough attention to what's been said), it can make the game last longer. But, that's not what longevity is really about, is it?

Depending on how you choose to play the game, it could be completed in anything from 20-50 hours. Many battles can be finished by simply defeating the boss character, allowing you to progress much faster through the game. Likewise, much of the talking in towns, and searching, can be skipped as its often nonesstential. To find everything, and get all the secret characters, a bit more work needs to be done, and would make the game last in the region of 40 hours.

Though some would argue that there's no incentive to play again once it's completed, I can find many variations on the gameplay to increase the lifespan of the game:

1. Ensure you get every item and every character
2. Play to get the highest levels you can, for all characters
3. Play through with only magic users
4. Never revive fallen characters
etc, etc.

There are so many different ways of playing the games, so many things you can aim for, that this game really could last a lifetime!

Score: 3/5
Difficulty
Unfortunately, like the story, the game is let down by the fact that it's so easy. As previously mentioned, it can be completed relatively quickly, the only real stumbling block on the first time through could be from the non-linear style of the game, or not paying attention to where you're meant to go or what you're meant to do next. As long as you listen to what the characters in the game say, you'll know where to go and what to do.

A couple of intentional flaws (which, IMHO were uncessary) in the control method have led to much frustration for some first-timers, for example, using the C button automatically searches, and using the A button allows you to manually select the search option - in a couple of circumstances, an item cannot be found using the C search option, only by using the A button. It might seem like a simple thing to work out, but for players who have used the C button throughout the game, it's not so simple - people tend to assume that they've missed something and need to go back for it. In fact, no mention is made of this during the game, there's no way to know other than working it out yourself or finding the information online. Despite these flaws, the game is still easy on the whole.

Few, if any, of the battles pose any problems at all, with the exception of the Fairy Woods Bonus Stage.

Score: 5/5
Graphics
Released at the peak of the Mega Drive's (Genesis) life, the game shows high quality, smooth graphics compared with the original Shining Force. I'd argue that the character design isn't a patch on the original, but opinions on this seem to vary somewhat - I'd say they're a bit too cutesy, though I do love the anime style. Without a doubt, the Mega Drive's limited colour pallette has been used to much greater effect. No matter what your opinion of the graphics is, the game would be great with any graphics, because it's the gameplay that makes the game, not the way it looks (unlike many casual gamers seem to think these days).
Score: 4/5
Sound
Though the sound effects leave something to be desired, the in-game music is catchy and always seems to reflect the mood well. A larger range of music would have been nice, but what is there is well composed, and even sounds good from the Mega Drive (though the symphonic versions on the offical sound track are much nicer!). It's not uncommon to find me humming these tunes as I wander around, and I'm sure many other players find the same thing!
Pros
  • Very easy to get into and play
  • Excellent battle system
  • Long lasting gameplay
  • Freedom of movement across map, non-linear
  • Controls improved from the original Shining Force
  • Addition of weapon crafting with mithril
  • Addition of Special Promotion classes
  • Experience in excess of 100 carries over towards next level-up
  • Looks, sounds and (most importantly) plays like a dream!
  • Cons
  • Not difficult enough
  • Storyline could be better
  • Some "puzzles" with no hints at all
  • Search in battle option removed in English versions
  • Translation from the original Japanese version is poor in places
  • Overall Score: 4/5
    Summary
    Though Shining Force II is often considered to be superior to the original Shining Force, I still prefer the original. The improvements and changes made from the original are nice, but I feel the storyline lets it down. A classic game without a doubt, but it would be even moreso if the plot was unique!
    Review by: Moogie