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 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.
Several new features have been added since the earlier games, including multiple weapon types, special attacks and the friendship system. Each character is able to use several different weapon types. As they use a particular type more (ie, using swords more than rapiers or blades; using spears more than lances etc), the character will learn new special attacks with that weapon. These special attacks inflict more damage.
Characters who fight together against monsters, or who aid each other by healing will give one another stat bonuses as their friendship level increases. The more they fight together, the higher friendship level they'll have. Friendship bonuses (ranging from a higher critical rate to an attack boost) come into affect when the two characters stand adjacent to one another. When the highest friendship - soulmate - is achieved, the characters can stand adjacent, diagonally or two squares away and still receive the bonus.
Some battles include mini-battles within nearby ruins. The ruins can only be entered if the Force has located the relevant map. During these battles-within-battles, the Force race to reach theives and their treasure before the ruins collapse.
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. Later in the game, some towns will also have a smithy, where you are able to have weapons and accessories crafted from the mithril you've gathered during the game. 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 there are very few in Shining Force III. There are just a couple of "find this item, and then use it here" situations, and not much more. These are usually hinted at quite strongly through the game, and so it's fairly easy to get through them.
A new concept included throughout Shining Force III is the synchronicity system. The events of one Scenario can affect those of another - ie, if a certain character dies, another character will join later on. If an item is found, something else will happen in another scenario. These event markers are carried over to the other Scenarios by using your previous save file when beginning the next Scenario.
The game is quite easy to pick up and get used to, but much more thought and planning can go into battles than in the earlier games, because of all the new features.
As with the rest of the series, 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, some left by the Ancients - a race from the past, others gaied through deals with the evil guys, the Vandals.
The only downside is that this is only one third of the story - Shining Force III was released in 3 parts in Japan, but only the first part made it to the rest of the world. As a story in itself, it is most enjoyable, but is clearly incomplete without the others.
There are so many features that you can't possibly try out in just one time though that this game is one you'll want to play again and again. With each character having several different weapons to master the special attacks for, it'll take a long time until you've seen them all. When you see the incredible bonuses soulmates receive, you may find you want to play through until each character is soulmated. You could keep playing through the training battles near the end of the game to increase your levels and prepare to continue on to Scenario 2 (the saved file from an English Scenario 1 can still be used with the Japanese sequels).
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!
Certainly not the easiest of the scenarios, but also not too hard... and no, that's not just because it's in English!
Yes, it's a beautiful game - but when you've seen the level of detail in Scenarios 2 and 3, I'm sure you'll agree that Scenario 1 isn't a patch on them. The main let down is in the lack of textures. Despite that, the graphics are nicely constructed and the character designs themselves are about as Shiny as you'll get!
I can't tire of this music, it's varied, sounds beautiful and each piece is long enough to not become repetetive. Yet another set of tunes I find myself humming in the shower ;)
The only let down is that the voice acting in the English version isn't as impressive as it could be.