Game Reviews
Shining the Holy Ark
Score: 4/5
Gameplay
Shining the Holy Ark is very similar to the first game in the Shining series, Shining in the Darkness, as it's also a first person dungeon-crawler. It's actually improved on it's younger brother in some ways, as the area in which the game takes place is much larger, the labyrinths are more varied and you're able to see your characters attacking!

There are three main play zones: labyrinths (in the form of woods, mines, dungeons, mansions and more), towns and the main world map. The labyrinths are, of course, the primary playing area, which you fight through to reach the next town, and find out more of the story. Within the labyrinths there are items to find, bosses to fight and pixies to recruit.

The battles are turn based, with each character (from your group of 4) 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 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. It's nice that in Holy Ark you're able to see your characters when they attack.

Being a role-playing game, statistics play a vital part in battles, to determine the effects of actions. If during a battle, a characters HP (hit points) reaches 0, they are exhaused and retire from play. 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 labyrinths, your characters visit nearby towns, and wander around the main land map to get to various places. In the towns, there are several places you'll need to visit (in first person view, as always!) - the church (for curing, raising and saving the game); and a selection of shops from which items and weapons can be purchased. You'll also be able to wander into people's houses and other buildings to talk to the residents, and hunt for items or pixies.

As with most RPGs, there's a puzzle element in Shining the Holy Ark. Besides the labyrinths, which are all puzzles in a sense, there are of course items that must be found and used in certain locations in order to move on in the game.

Score: 4/5
Storyline
The storyline of Shining the Holy Ark is more in-depth than it's predecessors, as it begins the story of the vandals and innovators which is continued in Shining Force III.

Though the story is already set in stone, and is not really affected by your actions in the game, the end is left open to interpretation, and has lead to much speculation.

As with all the Shining games, Shining the Holy Ark is set in a fantasy world of monsters and demons, swords and spells. There are some signs of more advanced technologies, from the past, but little is used in the game

Score: 4/5
Longevity
The game will take quite some time to complete, as you'll spend a lot of time getting rid of the monsters than randomly spring out at you. Likewise, the labyrinths themselves can take some time to navigate and certainly it would take more than just one (unaided) play through the game to find everything.

Once you know the labyrinths, the game would be easy to play through again, meaning you can spend more time searching for items and following the story than trying to find your way around. It's not a game that could be played over and over like some of the others, but certainly it's not one you'd hide away in the attic after the first time through it.

Score: 4/5
Difficulty
The majority of the game is quite linear, and you'll almost always know what your current goal is in order to proceed. However, the labyrinths are big and take some time to get used to. It can be frustrating and time consuming getting through these on your first time through, likewise, some of the puzzles in the labyrinths can really make your head hurt too!
Score: 5/5
Graphics
Absolutely beautiful! The character designs are lovely, and the scenery in general is too! Everything has been made to look so nice in 3D. The monsters themselves are well designed and animated, each characters attack and magic scenes are well done, even the villages are a joy to wander around.
Score: 5/5
Sound
Ah, the works of Motoi Sakuraba! The music captures the moods perfectly, and sounds just great. The sound effects are (of course) far better than in previous Shining games, and the music is well varied.
Pros
  • Very easy to get into and play
  • Great selection of weapons and armour
  • Beautiful graphics and designs
  • Music that won't make you reach for the mute button
  • Long lasting gameplay
  • Good range of difficulties in labyrinths
  • Nice plot, connects well with sequels
  • It's Shining in the Darkess - but better!
  • Cons
  • Some puzzles frustrating
  • Labyrinths can take some time to navigate
  • Have to search absolutely every wall, just to make sure you have everything!
  • Overall Score: 4/5
    Summary
    A wonderful game on the whole, although the frustration level can get quite high at times. What's keeping it from getting that 5th star? Well, lovely as it is, the gameplay is still basically the tried and tested formula of so many other RPGs, instead of the more unique Shining Force style. Don't get me wrong, I love that the series varies the gameplay styles and still maintains the storylines, but there's something so much nicer about the Force style battles! Nonetheless, a classic, and well worth buying if you own a Saturn. If you don't own a Saturn - get one!
    Review by: Moogie