Anyone who has played the Atari ST classic Dungeon Master (or one of the many clones that appeared in its wake) will know full well that first person RPGs can be a hell of a lot of fun. Back when Sega first announced Shining in the Darkness (often called Shining and the Darkness), the words 'Dungeon Master Beater' were paraded around by the specialist press of the era. Indeed, Sega's game did look mightily impressive and was tantalisingly full of promise. Sadly, it wasn't to be.
SitD is a very different beast to Dungeon Master. Combat isn't in 'real time', for starters – enemy encounters are totally random (as in most Japanese RPGs) and you don’t see your foe before the battle begins, meaning you can’t avoid them and therefore the fantastic games of 'cat and mouse' that took place in Dungeon Master are totally absent here.
This proves to be something of a killer blow, as it removes any sense of being in a living, breathing dungeon. Knowing that your next battle is going to occur whatever you do removes any sense of strategy from proceedings, but anyone who has been weaned on J-RPGs in the past will probably have no issue with it.
SitD also lacks the depth and detail of the aforementioned Atari ST classic – you only have access to a smattering of items and for the most part your aim is simply to get from one end of the level to the other. There’s very little interaction with your surroundings. The battle system is also incredibly basic, offering very little in the way of offensive options – but then this was the norm for the early nineties.
Now for the good points – the visuals are lovely. Each enemy is packed with character (if a little sparsely animated) and the 'town' sections of the game are vibrant and attractive. The music is also brilliant, and in terms of packaging SitD is particularly pleasing. It’s for this reason that the game finds a special place in my heart – it may not have the depth of Dungeon Master, but it certainly has a heart and soul all its own. No one can create an RPG like the Japanese.
SitD is best described as a traditional Japanese role-player viewed from a first person viewpoint. It’s certainly not a Dungeon Master beater and is in fact a totally different kind of game. The main quest is pretty challenging and it will offer a fair few days enjoyment – providing you can put up with the annoying random encounters, that is.
As a side note, Sega’s game was outdone by Nintendo developer HAL a short while later – their SNES role playing epic Arcana (released as The Card Master in Japan) stole several ideas from SitD, but did everything so much better. The chances of Arcana seeing a VC release are slim at best, but it’s worth searching out the SNES original if you like this kind of thing.