What's the gameplay like? In a word: Zelda. Yes folks, Shining Wisdom bears a remarkable likeness to the old SNES Zelda games. It's viewed from above, and unlike the other Shining games, you only control one character, Mars. Battles are in real-time, in a hack and slash kind of style - just wander around the lands, swinging your sword at monsters.
Like in Zelda, there's a large array of items at your disposal - once you find them all ;) The items allow you to accomplish various tasks, such as digging underground, lifting heavy items, climbing up vines (gotta love that monkey suit!). You'll find yourself going back to dungeons you've already visited, so that you can use a newly aquired item to access previously inaccessible places. Within the dungeons you'll find monsters, items and puzzles galore. You'll need to spend some time working out how to reach certain parts, and will often have to use switches etc to do so. There's quite a high puzzle element in this game. At the end of each dungeon there is usually a boss.
Since the battles are in real time, and it's only your character fighting, you won't usually find yourself against more than 2 or 3 monsters at once. Even then, it can be quite easy to get away if you just make Mars pick up speed and run!
Stats aren't really used in Shining Wisdom, instead of Hit Points you simply have life bubbles, rather like the hearts system in Zelda. When you kill a monster, you might receive some gold, some life energy or an item of some kind.
There are, of course, towns amongst the dungeons, in which you can save your progress (which can also be done at dungeon entrances if you have a Record Book item), or purchase more items. It's very important that you take the time to talk to people, to make sure you know where you're going next - you also may receive items from people, and you don't want to miss out on some of those!
Despite the difference in style between Shining Wisdom and the other games, it's really quite enjoyable. It can take a bit of getting into if you prefer the normal Shining style, but it's lovely to see the series has such a variety of game styles, and pulls it off so well!
It is, however, quite well connected with the rest of the series, although sadly many of these links were lost in Working Design's sloppy translation of the game. It seems they didn't do much in the way of research on the earlier games. If you don't yet have this game, I'd suggest you go with the UK release for a more authentic translation. There are mentions of the events in Shining Force II, and for all us Shining chronologists and geographers, there are interesting references to the lands surrounding Odegan, and where it's placed in Parmecia (mistranslated by Working Designs as "Palacia"). There's even a cameo from some Shining Force II characters :)
As always, Shining Wisdom is set in a fantasy world of castles and princesses, monsters and magic. Oddly enough, there aren't really any mentions of the Ancients or ancient technologies in Shining Wisdom, but it's setting is a classic fantasy world nonetheless.
The game takes long enough to complete without even worrying about getting all the items, so it should last you a good while longer if your aim is to have a truly complete save file.
Because of the above, the game can be quite difficult, trying to work out what item you're going to need (if any - maybe there's a switch you missed somewhere!) and then going about finding it.
As silly as it sounds, until you've played the game for a while, it can be quite easy to get yourself lost in the areas between dungeons - trying to find the right cave entrance can take ages to begin with.
I find it quite hard to die in this game, as usually when your health begins to wane, you'll start picking up health from enemies you kill, or even a healing item. The battles are never really too tough, and I have found the bosses to be a little disappointing in their preditability. I suppose having bosses that don't move in a set way would make the game too difficult, but it does seem like a bit of a cop-out that by simply watching them for a little while you can work out exactly how to do so, and execute it perfectly.