Hello there Destructoid, my name is Darkseid, and I'm a rather talented blogger if I do say so myself. Hope you don't mind if I post here from time to time.
Well, it was going to happen sooner or later.
For those who don't know, I've collected a massive collection of PS2 JRPGs over the years, and I'm nowhere near finishing said collection. At least 70% of those games are yet unfinished, so I figured reviewing some would be a great idea. You know, when I find the time.
Hey, have to keep up a quota somehow. JRPGs are draining and eat up time like I eat up footlongs. So for my first one, I picked something that was more than menus. Actually, it's kinda less than that.
This here is Shining Force EXA, the last of the Shining series to reach the states. For those who don't know, the Shining series is even more diverse and spread out than the Final Fantasy and Shin Megami Tensei series, with dungeon crawlers, strategy and action RPG games, with story connections all over the place. EXA actually doesn't have an excat place in the series, more a spiritual successor to NEO, which itself is kinda like a retelling of the first Shining Force, which isn't the first Shining game.
Yeah, it's best to say that it's completely stand alone. I have little experience with this series, so I'll just be reviewing this game on it's own merits and won't compare it to the other installments. So, it's this a looked over gem or just another JRPG? Let's find out. Story:
I think this is my first review where I'm split in half over my feelings on the story. JRPGs are usually linear games in design, or at least in terms of story, and EXA is no exception. The game focuses on a young man named Toma who wants the legendary Shining Force so he can become king of the world and stop a war between two warring kingdoms that rule the world. Along with some fellow adventures, Toma is also joined by the mysterious Cyrill, the other character in the game you'll be controlling. However, she has her own agenda that might collide with Toma's goals. When she fails to stop Toma from finding Shining Force, the blade latches on to his arm and Toma gains an all-mighty and high tech fortress called the Geo-Fortress, the true source of power for the wielder of Shining Force. However, this also attracts the attention of the two leaders of the great kingdoms of the world as they try to gain the power of Shining Force themselves. Aw shit, Ladd Russo face. Never a good sign.
Oh, and there are other characters, but they're ultimately pointless by the end.
For everything great about this game's story, it seems to do something wrong, and it gets lesser as it continues on. It starts very interesting, full of uncertainty and intregue, along with interesting backstories from your allies. It's easy to forgive the cliched characters since the two main villains are so interesting and Toma and Cyrill have a rather interesting relationship at first, even though one is an idiot but good hearted hero and the other a tusandre character.
But this doesn't last. The plot gets more and more predictable, the other characters get pushed aside and cliche after cliche pops up everywhere. It's a real shame too, because I still found Cyrill and Toma great characters later on, and was almost heartbroken at some turns. If only it all wasn't so predictable.
The entire story feels like wasted potential by the end, which is doubled by the lack of a truly satisfying final boss. Still, the first half is very well done, and the manipulations from our two main villains in the later half still keep things pretty interesting. The good outweighs the bad here, but just barely. Gameplay:
Now for the part where you guys get divided.
EXA here falls under action RPG here, mainly a top-down action RPG. The closest modern example would be the Marvel Ultimate Alliance line but without multiplayer and more focus on grinding and messing with your equipment. The game lets you play as Toma and Cyrill, bringing along your allies to help you. Really, that means that one person will always have Maebelle and the other will always have Faulklin. These two are the only two healers in the game, and you'll need them often. You have a set number of full party heal potions that you can replenish at any save point, so you'll need some healers during fights, cause the amount of enemies sometimes is just unbelievable in number. I am dead series, the later parts of the game is loaded with slowdown from the massive numbers. What a prick. BA DUM TISS
Cyrill uses bows and magic books, but you'll mainly be using magic. Toma uses one handed blades for one on one fights and two handed swords to wipe out entire hoards, and once again, you'll really only be using two handed weapons. This game is similar to FFVIII in the sense that it is far too easy to break and abuse the system. Weapons can be upgraded quite a bit, and your character's stats can be skyrocketed with grinding and the XP system. You can boost any stat you want, and with enough time, the game becomes very easy.
Before it gets really fucking hard. It looks like Sega saw this issue and made certain spots incredibly overpowered for system abusers to have some good challenge. It makes it odd when other parts are kinda easy, even some bosses.
You can also upgrade the fortress itself and improve special functions, such as the radar, self-repair and a powerful cannon.
It's somewhat repetitive, but the fun comes from seeing just how overpowered you can make your characters.
Oh, and this game has added random defense battles. Which ever character isn't in use may have to defend the base at certain times, and these battles are just insane. They just keep getting more and more intense as the game goes on, which keeps them from being annoying. Wiping out undead hoards never really gets old.
The controls and menus work just fine, and leveling up or grinding for cash is easy to do with the training ground included, so nothing much else to say. Graphics:
For a PS2 game from 2005, Shining Force EXA looks good, but the character drawings and art stills during certain story moments are absolutely beautiful. I'm serious, it makes the talking scenes worth it just to look at the amazing art work here. But as for the game? YOU GOT NAILED.....sorry, that was bad....
It's good, but nothing amazing. It's actually the X-Men Legends 2 cel-shaded graphics with fantasy backgrounds and enemy designs, along with some sci-fi later on. It's pretty nice and gets the job done, but nothing to write home about. Functional but little else.
The dub of this game is really great, which is even more impressive when I looked at the cast list. It was mostly lesser known actors, yet they did some very well done performances. The actress for Cyrill was perhaps the most impressive of the group, getting the most emotional moments, but no one was actually bad.
Well, except Phillip, but I have a feeling that character was always meant to be hammy and used for comedic foil.
As for the music, it was good but not all that catching or impressive. The battle themes do there job and little else, but I'm not complaining over it. Overall:
EXA is far from a perfect game. Some story issues and unremarkable graphics and music keep it from greatness, but the early story and addictive gameplay make up for this quite a bit. It's not a great game, but it's good and worth a buy if you come across it.
I give Shining Force EXA three strange white creatures out of five. WHAT ARE YOU!?