Welcome to the first edition of General Brent’s Strategy Gaming! You didn’t expect me to call myself a general and not enjoy strategy/war type games, did you? Back in 2007, what I most wanted for Christmas was an import Sega Saturn. I had done some research on it, and found that so many great games for it were never released outside of Japan. One example of this was Shining Force III, which was actually released in three separate scenarios. While most people were struggling to find a Wii, I was daydreaming about a classic. So on Christmas five years ago, I eagerly hooked up my new console, put the game in, and thus began what would be a 180 hour journey over the course of almost the next four years.
The first thing you need to know about these games is that only scenario 1 was released outside of Japan, and even then it was not a commercial success. After the Sega Genesis add-ons(CD and 32X), the Saturn was also rushed onto the scene before most third party developers had a chance to get their games ready for sale, and this blunder was one of the reasons for Sega’s demise as a console developer. As a result of this, the PS1 and N64 dominated in sales and popularity in North America. It was a different story in Japan, however, as the Saturn held its own against Sony and Nintendo mostly because Sega of Japan released some incredible titles. Many other great games have suffered the fate of never being released outside of Japan, with some examples being Mothers 1 and 3, as well as Seiken Densetsu 3.
As HVGN says about Earthbound being “criminally underrated”, so it is with Shining Force III, and perhaps more so since it was one of Sega’s main franchises at the time. If Sega of America had released all threes scenarios in English, it may not have made that much of a difference, but it might have turned the tide a little in Sega’s favor. Anyway, the game itself is a turn-based tactical/strategy RPG in which characters are moved on a grid and can then attack, use items, use magic, or wait. The first two Shining Force games for Genesis had this same mechanic, and indeed set the standard for many games of its kind, such as Vandal Hearts, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, and more recently Disgaea and Luminous Arc, among others.
What truly set the third entry apart from the first two were a number of things. First off, the story is epic in scope, spanning three discs that tell the story from three different heroes’ perspectives: Synbios in scenario 1, Medion in scenario 2, and Julian in scenario 3. As you play through each scenario, all your progress and choices in the story carry over from one to the next as you use your previous save files. This game mechanic is all too common today, what with DLC and easy access to player data online, but back in the mid to late 90s, it was a unique idea for a console game. Next we have the presentation, and though the game may look dated and clunky by today’s standards, Shining Force III pushed the graphics to the limit and players are treated with an impressive looking game. The soundtrack is simply beautiful, and Motoi Sakuraba deserves all the praise he gets, and in all honesty is just as good as Nobuo Uematsu in my opinion. Each town, battlefield, and story event has the perfect music to accompany it.
Finally, we come to the gameplay itself. It’s so simple to learn, yet so deep and satisfying that you will want to continue playing for many hours at a time. Certain characters move farther in one turn than others, like centaurs, and there is a rock/paper/scissors mechanic at work, too: centaur beats swordsman, archer beats flying foes, magic beats heavy armor, etc. There are also terrain bonuses and movement costs, and characters develop stronger relationships with each other by helping one another out, and this incurs friendship bonuses, too. There’s quite a bit to the game, and eventually I will cover each scenario in greater detail sometime in the future.
If you have not played Shining Force III, then you definitely aren’t alone. Hopefully one day Sega will right this wrong and we will see a release of all three scenarios on WiiWare, XBL, and PSN. For a game that truly defines a series, and a series that defines a genre, gamers outside of Japan need to experience this. I can say that playing through all three scenarios was truly a shining moment in my gaming career.