Matters Of Import: Shining Force Feather

We take a look at Sega's Japan-only DS strategy RPG

Sega's Shining Force series is still well thought of, even if the PS2 instalments arguably got off on the wrong foot by drastically rewriting series canon and deviating from the strategic gameplay found in older titles. Evidently someone was buying these games anyway, as after four entries on the PS2, Sega finally turned its attention to the DS and released Shining Force Feather in 2009.

Development was handled by Flight Plan, a company with a long history and a lot of experience in creating SRPGs, such as their Summon Night and Black/Matrix series. While Feather may not have been a return to exact same SRPG style of the "classic" trilogy, it was certainly the closest the series had come to that since the GBA remake of the original Shining Force game.

The general flow of the game follows a set pattern — import-friendly plot scene, back to hub ship to prepare, go out to battle, repeat — and helpfully the game differentiates between main plot-progressing events, sub events and optional battles with “M”, “S” and crossed sword icons. Even for those that can read the language, this streamlining helps a portable game immensely, leaving the option of barging straight through the story or meandering around and taking in every last optional conversation and hidden treasure entirely in the player’s hands.

The battles themselves are a rather quirky take on the SRPG style, with the relatively traditional movement phases giving way to the timed button presses of the actual attacks. A handy descriptive shorthand for these attack segments would be “like Project X Zone”, although that game wouldn’t turn up for another three years. By default, characters attack and defend alone, although if party members are physically close to each other on the battlefield, or if their turns fall next to each other, they can use the “Union” or “Connect” commands to leap in and assist their allies in battle.

Timing is just as important in defence as it is when attacking, as skilled players can recover a small amount of HP or all-important Force energy when hit if their reactions are spot on. This simple mechanic goes a long way to avoiding something that happens all too often in SRPGs – that awful feeling that battle animations are nothing more than a waste of the player’s time. In Feather not only are they worth watching, but the player has an active role in deciding their outcome, too.

The plot that ties this all together isn’t going to win any awards or break any genre clichés, but it’s a solid enough creation from Aki Takashi, a name that has graced the credits of Suikoden II, Final Fantasy V, Super Mario RPG and plenty more high-quality RPGs. Player preference again comes to the fore here, as anyone not enamoured with Jin, Alfin, Vale and co. can whiz through these scenes simply by holding down the B button, and thanks to the clearly marked event/sub event options mentioned earlier there’s no need to worry about getting lost.

While the game is the sole DS entry in the series, it did well enough to receive a good selection of figures, art books and CD merchandise — as well as a respectable 8/8/8/8 score in Japanese magazine Famitsu. It could be argued that the positive reception to this entry is what helped mould the PSP trilogy into similar "SRPG-but-not-quite" games too, finally giving the series a sense of direction the previous PS2 titles lacked.

This is not the greatest SRPG that has ever graced the DS, but it is interesting, relatively import-friendly, cheap and readily available online. For gamers who want to try something different without feeling totally lost or leaving a hole in their wallet, Shining Force Feather is a solid and rewarding choice.