(Game Gear)

Game Review

Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Damien McFerran

Shine on, you crazy portable diamond

The Shining Force series may have retreated from the west of late, but back in the early 1990s it was incredibly popular in both the US and Europe, managing to attract a large audience while Nintendo’s rival Fire Emblem franchise remained Japan-exclusive. As well as scoring critically-acclaimed entries on the Mega Drive / Genesis, Shining Force enjoyed three outings on the portable Game Gear — the second of which saw an English localisation. The first two Game Gear games were upgraded and included in the Sega CD exclusive Shining Force CD, which was launched in 1994 and hit the west a year later, when the format was on its last legs.

Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya is a direct continuation of the story seen in Shining Force Gaiden, the first Game Gear game. Set around two decades after the events of the 16-bit Shining Force II, the game sees Nick — the hero of Shining Force Gaiden who has had his hand turned to stone following the events of the previous game — replaced by newcomer Deanna. When Nick leaves to meet the forces of the evil nation of Iom, Deanna and his companions are left to defend the nation of Cypress and retrieve the titular Sword of Hajya, which is stolen in the opening mission.

Like its forerunner, Shining Force: Sword of Hajya focuses totally on combat and does away with the exploration segments seen in the 16 and 32-bit entries. It’s an arrangement which is arguably better suited to mobile play; with no filler in-between missions, you can swiftly move from one to the next with the minimum of fuss. Those who like a large side-order of role-playing in their turn-based strategy titles may find themselves missing the ability to wander around towns and converse with NPCs, but the omission isn't as harmful as you might imagine.

Battles follow a fairly traditional blueprint; you and your opponent take turns to move your units around a grid-based map, engaging in combat, unleashing magical spells and using items. Unlike many other tactical titles, the order of turns is jumbled up — it’s not a case of you moving all of your units and then waiting for your opponent to do the same. The fact that you’re both marshaling your forces concurrently adds a deep strategic edge to the game, making it feel slightly more dynamic.

Combat is straightforward. Successfully attacking an enemy gives your character experience points, which allow them to level up. To add some variety, your blows are sometimes evaded, or — at the opposite end of the “luck” scale — you get a second attack. Unlike Fire Emblem, your enemy does not respond to your assault — they have to wait until their turn before they can strike a blow. Defeated foes drop coins and sometimes special items, which can be used to restore health, replenish spell-casting points, and so on. If you manage to push one of your characters to level 10, then they are able to upgrade their current class, which results in additional strength, vitality and health. Sadly, you’re not able to choose which upgrade path you pick, as was the case in Shining Force II.

The graphics are exactly what you’d expect from a Shining Force game on the Game Gear. Sega and Sonic! Software Planning (now known as Camelot) did an admirable job of squeezing the art style seen in the 16-bit versions into more humble hardware, but predictably everything takes a visual hit. Battlefields appear slightly simplistic (and they could hardly be considered overly complex and detailed in the Mega Drive / Genesis games) while combat scenes look like heavily pixelated equivalents of what has gone before. Even so, Shining Force: Sword of Hajya is still an appealing game to behold, and certainly pushes the Game Gear to its limits. Audio is very much the same tale; the music is catchy but basic, and the sound effects are your typical selection of beeps and farting sounds, which will no doubt be familiar to anyone who grew up with Sega’s handheld — or the 8-bit Master System home console on which it is based.

Presentation isn’t really an issue here, however; despite the somewhat rough appearance, Shining Force: Sword of Hajya remains notable for its engaging and rewarding gameplay. While it sometimes feels like a dumbed-down version of the two 16-bit games, there’s more than enough entertainment here to retain your interest for the entire duration of the campaign. At points, the game is immensely challenging, too — while it lacks permadeath, there are several missions later in the game which boast enemies who can kill a fully-stocked character in a single magical attack. Frustrating, yes — but such a roadblock only forces you to rethink your tactics.

Conclusion

Shining Force: Sword of Hajya isn't the best entry in the lineage — in fact, it's not even the best version of the game (that honour falls to the Sega CD port, which combines both Game Gear titles with two additional chapters) — but as a 3DS download, it's a must-have entry for fans of the series. When you consider how expensive the original Game Gear cartridge is these days, the fact that it’s available for such a low price on the 3DS eShop is sure to make it even more desirable to life-long Sega lovers. For everyone else, it should be considered a perfectly passable pint-sized portrayal of the famous tactical RPG franchise. While it doesn’t quite scale the heights of Shining Force and Shining Force II, it’s still an adventure well worth embarking on.

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User Comments (39)

CanisWolfred

#1

CanisWolfred said:

Yay! Good review man. I've been playing this, and it's really addicting. You're right that it's no SF1 or 2, or even CD, but it's still great in its own right.

Rezalack

#3

Rezalack said:

I'll be purchasing this game today now, I believe. Now Sega just needs to make a new Shining Force already..

Zodiak13

#4

Zodiak13 said:

Already bought it last week, but now I'm excited to play it even more. If only I could put down AC:NL at nighttime...

Deadstanley

#5

Deadstanley said:

Anyone try the Sega Saturn game Shining the Holy Ark? I'd love for that to make it to the WiiU or 3DS some day.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#9

Philip_J_Reed said:

Great review Damo. I grabbed this on a whim and am absolutely loving it. (I think I'm near the end...the battles get really challenging!) So simplistic but so much fun. And you're right about the one-hit kills later on...I really had to rethink my tactics, and stumbling upon something that works was extraordinarily satisfying. (Especially doing so without restore points.)

Great game.

belmont

#12

belmont said:

Too bad I can't buy anything from the store due to Nintendo not releasing prepaid cards here. I wanted some Game Gear games...

Windy

#14

Windy said:

Yup this is a diamond software. I keep doing some levels over and over to level up my guys for promotion. Just a great bit of portable strat/RPG keep them coming sega! At least someone besides capcom is bringing out good VC games (lookin at you Nintendo)

Windy

#15

Windy said:

@Deadstanley shining the holy ark is my favorite dungeon crawler of all time. I so wish sega would make a 3ds sequel. Or even just bring out the original so we can play it again in 3d

Deadstanley

#16

Deadstanley said:

The Sega Saturn, Dreamcast, and CD all had some really good titles. Now that Sega is allied with Nintendo, I would hope they could bring those over in some shape or form. In the vein of Shining Force, I always really liked Shining Force CD (which I think actually had this version of Shining Force within it).

Other great RPG titles I wouldn't mind seeing are the ones published by Working Designs, such as Lunar 1 & 2, Vay, and even Popful Mail.

RetrogamerFan

#17

RetrogamerFan said:

Excellent review, intersting and concise overview of the series to start.
i only played Shining Force 1 & 2, which were amongst my favourite MD games so will start this one soon.
Pink Floyd references always good too, Wish you were here is an amazing album :)

oOo-Sega-oOo

#18

oOo-Sega-oOo said:

@Deadstanley I too would love to see Working Designs RPG's released on the Wii-U or 3DS eshop. Especially Lunar Silver Star Story and Lunar Eternal Blue. I don't know if you already know but you can download Lunar Silver Star Story and Vay on the App Store for your iPod, iPhone or iPad.

DamoAdmin

#20

Damo said:

@oOo-Sega-oOo I've got Vay (which is a really underrated RPG) but it's not the Working Designs translation, which is annoying. I'm guessing the same applies to Lunar: SSS?

oOo-Sega-oOo

#21

oOo-Sega-oOo said:

@Damo The port of Lunar Silver Star Story for iPod, iPhone or iPad does contain the original translation by Working Designs. The graphics and cutscenes are from the PSOne and the music is from the updated PSP version so it's a bit of mixed bag but I do highly recommend it.

DamoAdmin

#23

Damo said:

@oOo-Sega-oOo I'm sorely tempted now...I loved the PSX version of the game. I just hate using touch-based controls, but I guess it doesn't matter quite so much in an RPG - it's not like reaction time is a factor!

I might try it out, thanks for the info!

RR529

#24

RR529 said:

@Damo, yeah, mobile touch controls work wonderfully in turn based RPGs (Chaos Rings is fantastic).

I'll probably pick this up someday, but I'm saving up for a retail title now.

slidecage

#25

slidecage said:

UMMM What are you talking about

hining Force: Sword of Hajya isn't the best entry in the lineage — in fact, it's not even the best version of the game (that honour falls to the Sega CD port, which combines both Game Gear titles with two additional chapters) — but as a 3DS download, it's a must-have entry for fans of the series. When you consider how expensive the original Game Gear cartridge is these days, the fact that it’s available for such a low price on the 3DS eShop is sure to make it even more

on amazon
Note: This item is only available from third-party sellers (see all offers.)

Available from these sellers.

Genre: RPG, Strategy
Top-Down Perspective
12 used from $9.95

would not call 10 bucks expensive LOL

yojo

#26

yojo said:

How long would you say this game is? I am deciding between this and getting Oracle of Seasons in addition to Ages which I already got.

Marakuto

#27

Marakuto said:

I didn't realise this was on the eShop last week! I played a tiny bit of this at my cousins house a few years ago and I like that it is a turn-based battle game. Hopefully I'll buy an eShop card and purchase this the moment I remember to!

Relias

#30

Relias said:

Shining Force when done like this is a classic and masterpiece.. much the same way FF Tactics was.. but better in my humble opinion...

kurtasbestos

#33

kurtasbestos said:

I still have this cartridge! And the other two games! ...and no Game Gear to play them on anymore. I would love to play this game again on 3DS, though, even if I would probably just be wishing that I was playing the Sega CD version the whole time (which I also own).

DoctorJonAngus

#34

DoctorJonAngus said:

If Shining Force 1 and 2 ever made their way to the eShop, I would be so damn happy! I still need to play Shining Force CD, but man, I can never get enough of Shining Force!

Donald_M

#35

Donald_M said:

I loved the Shining Force games on the Genesis and never got to play this, so I snatched it right up. Glad to hear it holds up pretty well. Now then, how about Shining Force 1 & 2 for 3DS Virtual Console? They'd be an instant buy for me, not hesitation. Hell, there's a lot of Genesis games I'd like to see on 3DS. Not sure why Nintendo chooses to focus so much on handheld games for 3DS Virtual Console, the 3DS can certainly handle any SNES or Genesis game they throw at it. How about some TurboGrafix 16 games while they're at it?

Really, the Virtual Console scene on the 3DS is pretty disappointing. It could be so much more than it is and there's no good reason why it isn't.

CanisWolfred

#36

CanisWolfred said:

@slidecage if you'd actually check the sellers, you'd see that only one person is selling it for $10, and the rest are selling it for 18 or more dollars. Complete it goes for much more. On ebay, there were only 2 sellers of this game, one for $15 and another for $20. That's 4-5 times as much as what SEGA is asking for on eshop, before even including the shipping.

TonLoco

#37

TonLoco said:

I always want to like strategy RPGs but have a hard time getting into them. Any suggestions for a good game to start with for beginners?

GreatPlayer

#38

GreatPlayer said:

Sega, please make more old-school style Shining Force games. (I do not care about the new Shining Force games as they suck.) Also, bring Shining Force 3 to Wii U console... shining force 3 was so good that I will definitely play it again!

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