There are 3 areas in the game: the town, the castle and the labyrinth. The labyrinth is, of course, the primary playing area. Within the labyrinth, your character(s) (you begin with just one, and gain just two companions) wander around fighting random battles against small groups of monsters, in order to pass certain trials (Strength, Courage, Truth and Wisdom) and locate the Arms of Light. All of this is seen from a first person perspective, and during the entire game you'll only see your characters on-screen once or twice.
The battles are turn based, with each character and monster having a chance to attack, cast a spell, use an item or take a defensive stance (to reduce damage). Unlike the Force games in the series, the battles are not viewed from overhead, but are from a first person viewpoint, with characters and monsters simply standing facing one another. Any character can attack any monster, and vice-versa. Actions are selected and confirmed via a series of blue and yellow on-screen menus. The battle format is somewhat more restrictive than the Force style battles, and can become frustrating when every few steps through the dungeon, another battle begins.
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 town to restore the character. Statistics increase with level-ups, which happen as a result of experience being gained from battling and defeating enemies. The amount of experience required to reach the next level increases throughout the game. When an enemy is defeated, you'll also be given some gold, which is necessary to purchase items, weapons and armour.
Inbetween quests in the labyrinth, your characters can visit the town or the castle. In the castle, the King and his advisors may remind you of your quest, or give you some tips. On occasions, you may return to find something terrible has happened and they will of course bring you up to speed. In the town, there are several places to go (in first person view, as always!) - the church (for curing, raising and saving the game); the tavern (to listen to the talk of the town, or top up your HP and MP by staying the night); and a selection of shops. There's a weapon shop, armour shop and items shop (and an extra one that opens later on, but I won't spoil that for you!) with a huge selection of items to buy, ranging from the dirt cheap to extortionate (or at least, they seem that way before you've built up enough gold). One of the things I love about Shining in the Darkness is the fact that you can fully equip your character with a helmet, armour, shield and a weapon - it seems to give a much greater feeling of control, and it's great fun trying to save up enough gold so that you can buy a new piece of equipment, gradually upgrading your whole outfit.
There are a fair few puzzles in this game - the labyrinth itself is something of a puzzle, with large maps to try to remember your way around (where would we be without the wonderful "View" spell that maps the dungeon?!), and items that must be found and used in the right places. They're not too tricky, but making your way around the labyrinth to find an item, and encountering dozens of monsters on the way can be quite time-consuming.
All in all, a fairly basic system, but with lots of spells and items to use, there's a good bit of variation.
Though the story may lack originality, there is a definate sense of purpose in the game - as you play through it, you learn exactly what you'll need to do next and there's always somewhere to go, something to be found or something to be done.
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. A true Ye Olde Fantasye game :)
Unfortunately (though this could just be me), once it's been played through, there's little reason to take the time to do it again, unless you particularly enjoy the style of gameplay. If the random battles frustrate you as much as they do me, it's unlikely you'll want to sit and play the whole thing again anytime soon. After a few years perhaps you'll want to try again...