The original Shining Force was a massive success for Sega, granting the Genesis/Megadrive with a strategy RPG to rival Nintendo’s popular Fire Emblem franchise. A sequel of some description was inevitable and when it arrived the result was truly mind-blowing; it’s little wonder that this game is held is such high regard by hardcore Sega fans.
Shining Force II basically takes the core elements of the first title and amplifies them to create an even more engaging title. The graphics are noticeably improved (although they still have the same bold use of colour, which some people have commented makes it look a bit basic), with highly detailed overhead maps and well-animated characters. However it’s the battle sequences that impress the most; the detail has been ramped up to almost insane levels and each character sprite is a work of art.
Sonically things are very much the same; sound effects are pretty average but the music is uniformly excellent, with some stirring military-style tunes to get you in the mood for battle. I have a soft spot for the music in the first Shining Force game and would honestly say that I prefer it over the tracks heard in this sequel, but there really isn’t much to choose between them in this regard.
Taking into account the fact that the gameplay in Shining Force was pretty much spot on, Sega wisely didn’t tinker with the core concepts all that much. One thing that is noticeably different this time around is the amount of freedom the player is granted; rather than being relentlessly funnelled down a set route (as was the case in the first game) here you can explore more freely and even backtrack should you wish to revisit older locations. At times it can be confusing and you don’t always know what to do next, but these moments are rare.
As the title suggests, you’re tasked with putting together a crack team of do-gooders known as the ‘Shining Force’. The number of possible recruits is higher than in the previous game, although it should be noted that not all additions to your team are worth the time and effort required to boost their abilities. Levelling up (or ‘promoting’) your characters is a key facet of Shining Force II; this time around, you are able to promote your units at any point when they reach level 20 experience. However, the longer you leave it before promotion, the stronger their eventual rank will be. It’s a game of delicate balance, because you often find that promoting a unit as soon as it hits level 20 actually results in a weaker character, but leaving it too long obviously means that you may be missing out on improved stats. This side of Shining Force II lends it an incredible amount of replay value and you could literally play the game 100 times and find a different way to approach your promotions each time.
Shining Force II certainly doesn’t attempt to do anything new and is essentially a solid extension of the first title. If you couldn’t get on with the original then there’s nothing here that will entice you back into the fold, but if you consider yourself a fan then this may just be one of the best investments you make on the Virtual Console.