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.
Shining Force Gaiden is missing an area which I really used to enjoy in Shining Force and Shining Force II - the towns. Instead of wandering around towns between battles, and talking to residents, there is a simple screen showing a shop, and HQ. At HQ you can do all the things you'd normally do in a church or at HQ (ie, swap your team around, revive people, promote etc). At the shop, you can purchase items and weapons. Before or after you reach this screen, there may be a cut scene, that is a pre-animated sequence of the characters in a town or area of the map, having a conversation to move on with the story. Thankfully, though there's no searching in towns (because there are none), you are able to search in battle, an option I missed in Shining Force II. There are usually some items to find in battle, and even some hidden characters.
Though most RPGs have some kind of puzzle element, there really aren't any in Shining Force Gaiden. The game is just a lot of battles, with cutscenes to join them up.
In terms of gameplay, there's only one addition in terms of gameplay, and that's the option to set members of your Force to be controlled by the console.
The gameplay is very easy to get the hang of, and the control method is straightforward too. It is, of course, wonderful to be able to play a Shining game on the move, even if it is in Japanese :)
As with the other games in the series, Shining Force Gaiden is set in a fantasy world of of swords and sorcery, goblins and dragons. It takes place across Rune and another land called Cypress, which has yet to be placed geographically with the rest of the series, but is obviously not too far away.
There are of course some secret characters you might miss during your first play of the game. Some of the battles are particularly enjoyable, but not especially challenging.
Of course, you can still play through it in different ways, like never reviving a fallen character, trying to get the highest levels etc. All of these ways add new life to an old game :)
Better graphics can be seen in the later Game Gear Shining game, Final Conflict, but for it's time, Gaiden is well made.
The character designs are a real mixed bag. Some of them I think are great, whereas others are too plain or just ugly! It has, however, retained the Shining style.