Shining Force II

The infamous Chess Army battle
   Suppose someone made a game in which you travel around the world, collecting party members and equipping them with items purchased in shops. Later in the game, you acquire a number of vehicles, which allows you to travel back to earlier areas quickly and hunt for secrets. Okay, that describes just about every RPG ever made... but what if it was a strategy-RPG?

   All strategy-RPGs have varying degrees of RPG features, but Shining Force II was the first strategy-RPG (and, aside from the Arc the Lad series, still the only) that actually functioned like an RPG. Unlike traditionally linear strategy-RPGs, you can wander the world on the map screen and return to previous locations (a feature unfortunately missing in Shining Force III). You can even explore towns and talk to people, just as you would in a traditional RPG.

   Of course, despite its non-linear trimmings, Shining Force II is at heart a strategy-RPG, and it doesn't fail to deliver in that department. The battles require actual strategy to complete; don't expect to succeed by rushing in without a plan. They never grow too difficult, though, and you learn from your mistakes -- after a couple of tries, you can almost always prevail. You'll have to keep adapting your strategies, though, as almost every battle is unique in some regard. In one, you square off against an army of chess pieces, while in another, you desperately try to stay alive as the raft you're riding is assaulted from all directions. SF2 even goes so far as to include four difficulty levels (ranging from Normal to "Ouch!") to keep you challenged after you beat the game.

Peter the phoenix -- the T.G. Cid of Shining Force II

   The Shining series is famous for its creative characters, and SF2 is the best example of all. Among the 30 different characters you can obtain (12 of which can be used in your team at a time) are a phoenix, several centaurs, a robot, a rat ninja, and even a golem. Some of these unusual party members are in fact among the best characters in the game -- but almost everybody has some value, certainly a welcome sight after games stocked with utterly useless characters. (Rafa and Malak, anyone?)

Hidden characters abound

   If you're expecting to be given all these characters, though, guess again. Around a third of the characters are hidden -- some easy to find, some obscurely tucked away. It's extremely unlikely you'll find them all your first time through, and even if you do, there's plenty of other secrets to uncover, such as all the hidden pieces of Mithril, which can be used to forge special weapons.

   Being a Genesis game, you obviously can't expect a whole lot in the audio-visual department, though SF2 puts up a decent effort. You wouldn't want to listen to any of the music outside of the game, but it is catchy, and tends to get stuck in your head, like it or not. And although the graphics can be detailed at times, they're motionless, and only occasionally manage to cough up a single layer of parallax. On the more positive side of things, the animated character portraits are a great touch.

How do you reach this chest? Beats me.

    Shining Force II focuses on gameplay, but its storyline actually clocks in at an above-average level (especially for 1994). It still all boils down to "Use the Legendary Sword to kill the Big Bad Demon King", but there's a number of clever plot twists, and a great cast of villains. The ending in particuar deserves mention; it's quite long and holds a number of surprises.

   Indeed, the only thing really wrong with this game is... ... ...okay, there isn't anything wrong with this game. Simply put, Shining Force II is one of the best strategy-RPGs ever made. If you haven't experienced it yet, drop everything and go play it now. It's one of those rare games that stays entertaining no matter how old it gets, and is just an all-around great game. As cliché as it is to call a game a classic, this is one game that truly deserves the moniker -- Shining Force II was, and still is, a true classic.

Retrospective by Fritz Fraundorf.
Shining Force II
Developer Sonic Team
Publisher Sega
Genre Strategy RPG
Medium Cartridge
Platform Genesis
Released 1994
Shining Force 2 FAQ
50 screen shots
7 black-and-white manual pictures
Character portraits