Author’s Note: This review was originally published on August 4th, 2008. Like other reviews of the time, it features “witty” taglines that separate each section. I remember spending nearly an entire weekend playing Shining Force EXA. I got back from an enjoyable night on the town, and spent the rest of the weekend convalescing via playing this.
The Shining series has been receiving a lot of flack ever since it went from the SRPG realm to the ARPG realm. On the one hand, this is understandable because games like Shining Tears and Shining Soul lack the flavor of a true Shining game. But on the other hand, Sega managed to crank out a decent hack and slash by the name of Shining Force EXA. Even though it is not an SRPG, EXA has plenty of charm of the Shining world and enough action to make your fingers bleed.
One Legendary Sword. One Legendary War.
The rivalry of two nations, the Noswald Empire and Fyrlandt, has increased dramatically over the years. Many people have become sick of war, and have gone on journeys to find a mighty sword called Shining Force that supposedly grants awesome powers to the wielder. Four of these people are following this trend and hunting for the legendary blade. There is Gadfort the centaur knight, Maebelle the elfin archer, Cyrille the sorceress and Toma the refugee swordsman. As their search continues, they are unaware that their actions would ultimately lead to a massive war.
Your goal from the beginning of the game is clear; find the holy sword. You control Toma during this endeavor. Obviously, he becomes the heritor to the sword and one of two main characters in the game; the second being Cyrille. After this, the game picks up in your base called the Geo Fortress. Through the course of the game, you will learn more secrets about the holy sword and the world of EXA. For an action RPG, the story was surprisingly entertaining. I was shocked at certain points in the story with some of the various twists it threw at me.
One of the greatest parts of the story was watching the dynamic between Toma and Cyrille develop. At the start of the game, neither of the two characters have any redeeming qualities. However, near the middle of the game and up to the conclusion, they become excellent, worthy heroes. Both of them develop well over the course of the game. Other people will join Toma and Cyrille, but they did not receive as much attention. This is not to say that they are there to take up space; they just play a lesser role than Toma and Cyrille. To sum up this section, the story was a breath of fresh air. You will end up saving the world, but doing so was more exciting than it has been in previous RPGs.
The Fortifying Features of the Fortress.
The game play in Shining Force EXA is also exciting. However, it can get too exciting during certain points. In this action RPG, you will be in areas where there are battles or you will be in your Geo Fortress. There are many things to do in your Geo Fortress. You can shop, upgrade your equipment, and talk to your comrades to see how they feel about the current situation. Your equipment can also get certain skills attached to them to increase their effectiveness. You can also upgrade your Geo Fortress by using Core Metals that you find throughout the world. You can upgrade your fortress’s life, defense, the training dungeons, the cannon, the radar and the number of robots that you can deploy during Defensive Battles. I will talk more about these battles later. Finally, you can use mythril that you find to customize Toma and Cyrille.
Your two heroes can be customized and tuned as you see fit. There are tons of options at your disposal and getting everything maxed out will take many, many hours. You can upgrade your attack power, your weapon power, your HP, your MP recovery, your potency with lightning magic, your effectiveness against golems, and so much more. While it is unnecessary to maximize everything, it can be fun. This customization feature was awesome and also important. During certain situations, having the right skills will make or break a battle. In the end, the endless amounts of customization for both Toma and Cyrille make Shining Force EXA very exciting.
Blasting and Casting. Slashing and Bashing.
At a glance, one would think that Shining Force EXA is all about button mashing. While in some cases this is true, there are times in which you have to be extremely careful about approaching a foe. You can control Toma or Cyrille and let the AI control two other party members. While you can set the party members to do different things, the AI has a tendency to act stupid and run into a group of enemies blindly. Also, if the character you are controlling dies, the game is over.
As Toma, you can equip a variety of one-handed and two-handed swords. With a one-handed sword, you can also equip a shield. With Cyrille, you can equip a spell book or a cross-bow. Both types of weapons have charge skills attached to them. By holding the X button after a few basic attacks, a meter will charge. When it reaches the end, letting go of the button will allow you to execute the charge attack. Furthermore, holding the X button after a charge attack will cause another meter to fill up. This will unleash a longer version of the charge attack. However, this costs MP.
Both characters have a variety of items available. The most important is the healing water, which restores everyone’s energy. This precious item can be restored at a save spot. As the game progresses, you will be able to use your healing water more and more without the need to recharge it. Both characters can also use magic depending on the weapon equipped. While it is rare for Toma’s swords to have it equipped, he can still use it. Cyrille is the primary magic user and will gain access to a variety of spells.
Controlling Toma is more fun than Cyrille. Toma can hack his way through anything with a variety of powerful blades. While he is not skilled in magic, this comes as no problem because you can focus on upgrading his attack power so he becomes a master warrior. Controlling Cyrille is rather boring. Magic in this game is used with the push of a button. While I have no problem button mashing with Toma, button mashing a spell with Cyrille adds very little depth to the game. Her crossbows are no better. While physically weak, they deliver quick hits from afar. This makes Toma the preferred choice of characters.
However, no matter which character you use, you will often times have a challenge ahead of you when you enter a new area. Monsters come at you in hordes; ready for a fight. With the right skills, weapons, and magic, you can easily decimate a foe in one hit. Without proper preparation, they will take you out very quickly. Sometimes, monsters will re-spawn until you destroy a monster generator. Other times, monsters will re-spawn until you kill their leader. Boss battles can be the same way, but the bosses have a tendency to (obviously) have more power than any foe encountered during the dungeon. Oh, and the final boss can be an absolute nightmare. The key to winning the battles in this game is preparation. The right skills, upgraded equipment, and proper usage of customization will allow Toma or Cyrille to be safe from harm as they knock away any foe in their path.
Field and Fortress.
One of the greatest features of EXA is that you can teleport back to your base with the push of a button at any time. Also, there are multiple warp spots throughout the world that allow you to quick-jump to key locations with ease. There are arenas, hidden areas, and other secrets as you travel through the world of EXA. Thus, exploration is always exciting when it is time to begin a new area.
However, what is going on with the character who is not being controlled? Well, this is where the Defensive Battles come into play. While you are controlling one character, the game will freeze and say that your Geo Fortress is under attack. You will take control of the second character, exit the fortress and defend the base’s generator until the battle ends. To win these battles you must either destroy all the enemy machines, or destroy a mighty boss. The bad thing with Defensive Battles happens if you save your main file’s progress. In the event that you cannot overcome one of these battles, you cannot proceed with the story. Ultimately, this means you have to start your entire game over. Luckily, the game warns you when you are about to enter a defensive battle. This allows you to save your game before you are prompted to begin your defense.
As I said before, there are many things to do in EXA. Overall, the game play was a treat. There were times I became frustrated with the never ending dungeons, the never ending monster parties, and the often times unforgiving challenge. But, do the pros outweigh the cons in this department? Absolutely.
An Odd Shine.
Shining Force EXA has some of the weirdest graphics I have ever seen. The environments are breathtaking, as are the fully animated, cel-shaded cut scenes. You also get to watch a really cool anime opening. The characters themselves look a bit odd. Toma and Cyrille will change in overall appearance when they put on new equipment, which was a nice touch, but when you get out of the equipment screen you see that they look and move oddly. The same can be said about the monsters, and the characters that you let the AI control. Even worse is that, when the party gets overrun with monsters, there is a serious lag and slow down problem. The graphics are not bad, but they could look a bit less screwy. Luckily, during events, you are treated to some of the most beautiful portrait art. Nearly every character has a variety of moods and expressions.
Listen to it Shine!
I think the best part of the game was the amazing music. From the opening heavy metal, guitar theme to the serene forest songs and to the exciting battle music, the music was well composed. Unfortunately, the voice acting is less than desirable. There are tons of scenes that have fully voiced dialogue, but the voice acting is hardly believable. What is truly unfortunate is that Cyrille, the heroine of this story, performs the most poorly out of any of the cast members. For being a main character, one would have hoped that she would have had more character in terms of voice.
Shining Force EXA has some problems. The challenge can take a turn for the worst if you are not prepared, the battles can cause the entire game to slow down, some of the voice acting could use some improvement, and there are times when you will anything to have a dungeon end. However, the fun battles, the customization, the character development, and some of the gorgeous visuals help make up for some of the game’s flaws. This game did a good job at being fun using what it had to offer; the most important feature of any video game. Shining Force EXA does not strive to be the best ARPG ever created, and that is probably why I found it so addicting and fun.