Thanks to Sega’s continuing support of the 3DS Virtual Console service we now have all three Game Gear Shining Force games available to buy on Nintendo’s much loved handheld — in Japan, at least.
The emulation is so consistently brilliant on the 3DS it’s hardly worth mentioning these days: we’ll simply say that the only thing this new digital release is missing is a beautiful box and manual, as well as the constant gnawing fear that your Game Gear batteries will die at any moment.
Instead of continuing the story told in the previous two Gaiden games, Final Conflict sets itself a far more ambitious challenge – to bridge the gap between Mega Drive RPGs Shining Force I and II as well as telling the story of its own protagonist, Ian (you can change the name if you wish), at the same time. Fans of the Mega Drive classics will be in their element here with characters from both games popping up all over the place and the designers kindly putting faces to a few people previously only mentioned by name in the console games.
Those not familiar with the series shouldn't feel excluded though – this is an excellent SRPG by any measure and the decision to focus on a mostly-new team means that even a total newcomer to the series isn't going to feel left out of the action. The game is balanced like any other entry, with your small rag-tag team of young fighters starting off against nothing more than a few easy enemies before taking on more challenging landscapes and tougher foes as the game goes on. The strict streamlining means that you’re always progressing no matter how limited your Japanese skills may be, and the simplified camp screen makes getting your team ready for battle quick and straightforward.
Streamlining doesn't mean the game is only worth a single play through, though. Even though this is a handheld RPG from almost two decades ago there are two secret characters to find and most battles will have don’t-check-and-you’ll-miss-them-forever chests tucked away in a corner, always containing a special item or powerful piece of equipment inside. It’s even worth being methodical with enemies too: apart from the obvious experience boost some enemies will drop unique weapons when defeated, meaning careful players are rewarded for their efforts and those that prefer to charge through as fast as possible have something to search for next time around.
It’s easy to throw old handheld RPGs a slightly condescending “good for the system” bone but Final Conflict is truly as worthy of the Shining Force title as any other game in the series. Fans of Team Sonic’s / Camelot’s RPG series — as well as those that missed out first time around — will find an admittedly simplistic but very enjoyable SRPG here that is more than worth the current eBay asking prices, never mind the lowly ¥500 (around £2.90/ €3.50/$4.80USD) Sega are charging for the eShop release. If you have the means to play this then you really should do so at the earliest opportunity.