Long time gamers probably associate the Shining force name with quality SRPGs. In fact, in the days of the one-sided competition between the Genesis and the SNES, the two Shining Force games were the only games on Sega's console not to have a superior parallel for it on Nintendo's. Since the Fire Emblem series did not get localized at that time, the Shining Force games were clearly the champions of the SRPG genre then.
As such, you would imagine any discussion on this series to be focused on an SRPG series. However, the Shining Force series is actually called the Shining series. While it was most well-known for its SRPGs, it actually started as a dungeon crawling RPG, and then changed genres from Strategy to Action RPGs, and then to JRPGs. After the third Shining Force strategy game, the series started releasing ARPGs of middling qualities, and the series still survives in some form today.
But wait, isn't this blogging series supposed to be about dead and gone franchises?
Well, that is mostly the focus, but we can hardly call the barely moving corpse of the Shining name a healthy series. In fact, this zombified mess should either be properly resurrected by Sega into what it should have been, or to just shoot it out of its misery.
Thanks to Sega, any retrospective about the Shining series is too complicated. Originally, the series started on the Genesis as a Dungeon Crawling RPG of mediocre quality. Immediately afterwards, and with no direct relation to the first game, Shining Force was released as a highly acclaimed SRPG. From that point, the series became well-known for its quality SRPGs.
However, nearly coinciding with the PS2 era, the series morphed into Action RPGs, and a number of little regarded games were released with the Shining name. Finally, the series emigrated to Sony's portables and the genre changed into typical JRPGs. This is probably due to the game's developer, Camelot Software, no longer being in charge of the series.
This retrospective will be divided by eras. First, there is the Camelot Software era, the developer responsible for creating the series and raising its profile. Second, the series lives after Camelot. In each section, I will divide the games by genre (Strategy or otherwise). Remakes and compilations will be noted under the appropriate game title. Due to the series being mostly in Japan, there is little commercial data available, and as such the numbers provided here are even less accurate than usual. Sales for any games before the PS2 are Japan only.
A) Camelot Software Era:
a) The Strategy RPGs:
Even though the Shining series did not actually begin as an SRPG, it is most well-known for that genre. As such, it is best to begin with the pinnacle of the series.
Excluding remakes, Camelot made 7 SRPGs for Sega.
1- Shining Force:
Its not a long stretch to call the first Shining Force game (and the second Shining game) one of the best Sega Genesis games. When the majority of Genesis games had little story, too little content, and no ambition at all, Shining Force was a huge advancement to the system. Better for Sega, the SNES did not really have a counterpart SRPG game in the west.
Technically, the first Shining Force game was more than a passable game. With bright and clear sprites, as well as some solid tactical gameplay, it introduced a number of core features for the series.
First, it introduced the variety of character classes the series is well known for, along with the varied races. Centaurs fulfill the traditional knight role, and Birdmen act as advance aerial scouts.
Second, it starts the series with a solid SRPG core, where the synchronization between the variety of classes is a key to success.
The game was remade on the GBA, with expanded plotline, three extra characters, and difficulty options.
2- Shining Force Gaiden:
There is nothing much to say about Shining Force Gaiden except that it is a distilled version of the first Shining Force game into a portable form. It actually takes place 20 years after the first game.
While this game was never released in the West, it was remade along with the second Gaiden game into one of the very few Genesis CD games as Shining Force CD. It actually turned out to be a fine remake, and is probably one of the best Genesis CD games, which is not really surprising.
3- Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya (aka Gaiden II):
Before Shining Force CD was released, Western gamers were probably confused why the cast of The Sword of Hajya seemed to talk about some past event with vague familiarity. That's because this game takes place only two months after the first Gaiden game, and until Shining Force CD, there were many blanks for the player.
Again, this is basically Shining Force in limited portable form (due to the short battery time for the Game Gear), predicting a healthy future for SRPGs in the portable market.
In the remake, Shining Force CD actually also adds to the two Gaiden games, and introduces an original scenario after the events of the second game. For all intents and purposes, the Shining Force CD game is a superior version of the two, and any fan of the series should play it over the Game Gear games.
4- Shining Force II:
With the development of Shining Force II, Sega showed a glimpse of how they were going to treat the series in the future. Despite the relative success of the series so far, Sega gave Camelot the same budget of the first (Dungeon Crawler) game, and gave them little time to complete it.
After some precarious development period, Camelot actually managed to outdo the excellent Shining Force, and provide a game that is nearly twice the size with twice the ambition.
While retaining the core gameplay of the first game, Shining Force II was a more consistent experience, and it simply did everything a little bit better than the first. It ends up as easily one of the top five Genesis games.
6- Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict:
What should be called Gaiden III, this game was the final Shining Force game released on the Game Gear, and was never released outside of Japan. It take place between the two main Shining Force games, and is probably the least rated between the three Game Gear games.
7- Shining Force III:
Shining Force III was always a very strange game. Essentially divided into three Scenarios, it was Fire Emblem Fates before Fire Emblem was even cool. Of course, the west didn't get all scenarios, and we basically ended up with an incomplete story, but a very good game in the form of the localized Scenario 1.
Given that all scenarios must have been sold as physical copies, I am unsure how Sega thought this would be a smart idea.
Regardless, the game wasn't a revolution of the franchise otherwise, with the solid gameplay simply translating into early 3D graphics (meaning this game actually aged worse than Shining Force I and II). All the good strategy bits were left intact, but the game also added more light RPG elements outside of the major battles.
While it ended up being a successful entry to the series, this was the last game developed by Camelot Software. I am not sure what caused the break in he relationship between Sega and Camelot, but the performance of the Shining series was similar to the performance of other Sega franchises at the time.
b) Other Titles:
The start of the series was actually a surprising Dungeon Crawling game on the Genesis. Even though the series then went into a different direction, Camelot ended up making another Dungeon Crawling game, as well as experimenting with Action RPGs.
1- Shining in the Darkness:
In terms of legacy, Shining in the Darkness is probably more appreciated for being a pioneering JRPG game than for an actual merit. As one of the earlier RPGs on the Genesis, the game occupied a central role in the console's early narrative focused games. Except, the fact that Camelot got such a tiny budget, meant there were many shortcomings in the game.
Today, despite many interesting elements in the game, Shining in the Darkness is a mainly tedious game that is a slog to play through.
I don't think the series would have moved forward if it continued with the same style, and the move to the SRPG genre was a great move in Camelot's part. This doesn't mean that Camelot didn't appreciate their first game. They retroactively added its story to the Shining Force continuity, and even made a sequel in the same style on the Saturn.
2- Shining Wisdom:
In the development and publishing of this game, we see the first signs of Sega's deteriorating relationship with the series. Shining Wisdom was supposed to be an action-adventure game in the Legend of Zelda series mold for the Genesis. However, due to the release of the Saturn, the game was hastily ported to Sega's new console.
The result was a game that could have been a technical marvel on the Genesis looking dated and clunky on the Saturn. For that reason, the game was poorly received.
It didn't stop there though. For some reason, the game was actually published in the US by a company other than Sega, Working Designs. I don't know how this deal went through, because Sega refused to release the rights for the names. This probably means Camelot made this deal with Working Designs, and that could have contributed to their break from Sega.
Anyways, the Working Design translation changed a lot from the original story, distorting an already confusing continuity. Also, the translation had the nerve to make fun of other superior games in the market, and that only added to the hostility of public opinion towards the game.
3- Shining the Holy Ark:
This game is basically a fulfillment of what Shining in the Darkness was supposed to be, an RPG that transfers the player to an immersive first person Dungeon Crawling experience.
Attempting to tell a more mature and involved story than the usual Shining game, the plot actually is the least connected to the Camelot Shining continuity. It is generally considered a solid story, and the game is well appreciated by Saturn fan.
It's a shame it wasn't the final game Camelot made, because it would have made an excellent closing of the circle, to start and end with the same genre.
B) After Camelot:
For whatever reason, the relationship between Camelot Software and Sega has ended after the multiple releases of Shining Force III. Afterwards, Camelot moved on to an exclusive relationship with Nintendo, while the Shining series has continued with multiple developers.
As such, the Shining series lacked any source of consistency or continuity after Camelot left, and suffered greatly as a result. The series went through many genres and rarely went back to what it was best know for; its SRPG roots.
1- Shining Soul:
The first game in the Shining series after Camelot did not waste any time in distancing itself from its predecessors. It dropped the Force moniker from the title, moved away from the SRPG genre into Action-Adventure, and removed all continuity from the past series.
Apparently, it also distanced itself from the quality the franchise was known for. As one of the first games developed by Grasshopper Manufacture, it was a poorly balanced game with little opportunity for fun. Sure, it had a number of good ideas, and it attempted to cram a bigger game into the GBA than the console was ready for. However, the end result was a poor game; the start of many for the series.
2- Shining Soul II:
With the second Shining Soul game, Grasshopper Manufacture redeemed their self. It went more toward the Action RPG genre, with increased Role Playing elements, especially in the introduction of character classes and variety of skills.
It's actually surprising that not only did Grasshopper manage to cram such a game into the GBA, they also managed to cram into a pretty respectable multiplayer mode.
3- Shining Tears:
Here is the true beginning for the decline of the Shining series. With no interest in relating in any way, shape, or form to the franchise's history, Shining Tears instead is a painfully generic Action RPG with little to no redeeming qualities.
With character designer, Tony Taka, somehow managing to blur the lines between this game's design and every Anime ever conceived; there remained little originality in the title.
The problem is mostly due to the forgettable gameplay and boring story, which had the audacity to expect players to finish the game eight times to get the different endings. Boring, generic, and trite, Shining Tears was a signal that the series was going into hard times.
4- Shining Force NEO:
Shining Force NEO should at least be commended for trying to connect to the roots of the series, even if it still favors Action RPG gameplay over Strategy. It at least brings back the beloved Centaurs of the franchise, and while its story is pretty basic, it attempts to be fun and engaging.
A main problem in the game is that only the hero, Max, gets to develop his skills. All the rest of your party members are fixed, since they are mostly temporary.
This accentuates what essentially is repetitive and basic combat, in a repetetive and basic world. At least they tried.
5- Shining Force ExA:
Proving their tenacity, Neverland made a sort-of-sequel to Shining Force NEO. Basically, this an upgraded version of that game, with a base building system and two distinct playstyles. Being a fan of base building in my RPGs, I liked this better than the first one.
However, it still inherits the basic combat system, and this time the story is more boring, with terrible voice acting to boot. Also, character designs are somehow worse than the first game.
Ironically, this may have been the last game with some connection to the franchise's early history.
6- Shining Wind:
Following the generic Shining Tears, Wind attempted to add more personality to that game by adding more cliches into the mix. It even had a poorly received anime to back it up.
Still, Sega's effort must have worked in some way, because it ended up being the most profitable (by very little) Shining game in a while. Yet, it was also not localized in the West, and the series started becoming less of a priority for Sega's overseas sales.
7- Shining Force Feather:
If you ignore its generic art-style and complete lack of connection to the franchise, Force Feather could be considered a good game; if it was released in the west that is.
Announced as a return to the series' SRPG roots, Force Feather is instead a weird combination of Valkyrie Profile (on the DS) and Arc the Lad (on the PS2). It's less controlling a large army than a small party but with a strategy turn-based element.
With the release of such a title on the DS but not returning to the VERY SUITABLE mechanics of the earlier Force games, Sega basically announce a complete lack of interest in ever going back to that format.
8- Shining Hearts, Shining Blade, Shining Ark:
After Force Feather, the series migrated to the PSP with some sort of success. With Tony Taka's designs, Sega made three genereic RPGs with generic anime tie-ins. For all intents and purposes, these games did not need to be associated with the Shining name, and at this point, the series lost any identity it had.
Since then, there was no indication about a new Shining game, and I doubt a new one would be released in the west.
When analyzing why any series die, the most obvious answer would be a financial decline. Sometimes, that decline is related to the series itself, or it is related to the developers and/or publishers of the series. Still, it is always interesting to research those exact trends, and learn the reasons behind such a decline. In many way, we wish the gaming industry would actually do this to learn lessons, but we know that they unfortunately rarely actually do so.
In this case, the Shining series did not really die, but it is in some serious decline. Also, we can frame the question not about the series itself, but about the early Shining Force games which originally put the series in the map.
Ultimately, Sega's multiple bad decesions caught on against their own franchises
Lukewarm Commercial Reception:
There is little resources to know how the series performed in its earlier days. However, from what information we have, I think the Shining Force games were moderately successful, especially considering the rest of the Genesis and Saturn library. Also, if it wasn't originally successful, Sega would not have continued with the system.
However, we have more information on later games, and the numbers are not flattering. The Shining series has struggled to go over the 200K Units threshold since Shining Force III. Its best performances came with the generic PSP games, which means that if the series is to continue, it will most likely continue in that mold.
Breakdown in Sega and Camelot Relationship:
This may be the biggest reason the Shining series lost its identity after Shining Force III. Simply put, Camelot Software created the series, and it was their baby. It was their first game, and until their exit from Sega, they only made two non-Shining games. Their president loved the franchise, even handling most of the programming for the early games himself, and its entire history was visualized by the team, as evidenced by their ambitious 3 part development for Shining Force III.
Investigating the breakdown between Sega and Camelot is difficult. Despite its success, Sega never released enough budget for the Shining games. When Shining Wisdom was being developed for the Genesis, Camelot were forced to re-configure it for the Saturn, with disastrous results. When the final scenario for Shining Force III was being developed, Sega withdrew all funds in preparation for the Dreamcast's release, and Camelot had to finish it on their own budget.
Eventually, Camelot moved on and the series continued without them. I think its safe to say that neither Sega, nor any of the developers who handled the Shining franchise, had any interest in its legacy. From that point on, the Shining name simply became an empty tag; something to suggest a pedigree that no longer existed.
Sega's Exit from the Console Race:
When Sega was still making their own console, they needed Genre parity between them and their rivals. As such, they needed to have RPGs, Platformers, Action-Adventure games, and of-course, strategy RPGs. In order to compete with Sony and Nintendo, all these genres needed to be adequatly represented, and there is no better publisher to do so than the console manufacturer themselves.
In the Genesis, Saturn, and Dreamcast eras, Sega were the foremost game publisher in all three of them. When most 3rd part games migrated to Sony's console, Sega needed to do like Nintendo, and have a stellar first party offering.
After exiting the Console market, Sega had no real need to diversify their portfolio, and instead attempted to focus on their most well-known franchises. Of course, in hindsight, Sega did such a terrible job going 3rd party, and keeping franchises like Shining alive and well would have been better for them.
Also, it is difficult to ignore the possibility that Sega failed specifically because they failed to maintain a stellar first party games. In that way, it was the decline of peripherall franchises like the Shining series that led to Sega's decline, rather than the other way around.
If a series doesn't deserve to "live" then we wouldn't be upset when it stops. Of course, the Shining series is now technically "alive", but its only a zombie of its former self. For it to truely live, it must go back to its SRPG roots, back when the Shining Force name was the pinnacle of Strategy RPG gameplay.
This is the Shining Force games that are still celebrated today
The Special Classes of the Shining Games:
What differentiates the Shining Force games from its other SRPG competitors was basically their unique depiction of the regular SRPG class system. Knights were Centaurs, aerial scouts were Birdmen. This unique depiction created a world where many races live, and there is as a result great potential for characterization.
This potential was not sufficiently explored in the Genesis and Saturn eras, as games rarely had that narrative heft to them. However, in the current gaming climate, it would be a cool differentiator.
The Fire Emblem Series Needs a Competitor:
This point is more to do with the future of another franchise, than of the Shining series itself. Still, it is an important point to consider for any SRPG fan. It is no surprise that the Fire Emblem series have changed directions significantly after the unexpected success of Fire Emblem Awakening. However, it sure must have been a surprise to see as many Fire Emblem games released in a short span of time.
Arguably, this rapidity of releases, coupled with the change of direction, could dilute the level of quality the franchise is known for.
A strong competitor is needed to make sure the Fire Emblem series continues to calibrate itself. If we have a strong showing from the Shining Force series, it will provide a point of reference to judge the FE franchise, and Nintendo will look at improving themselves against that reference point.
It's a Perfect Time for SRPGs on the Switch:
Just like the Fire Emblem series got a second wind on the portable 3DS, another SRPG series can get its groove back on the portable Switch. The system is built for such games (not as much as the 3DS with its dual screens, but still good enough). It's not fantasy to expect that a reboot of a celebrated SRPG series can work on the Switch.
The system is built for it, the numbers are there to support it, and an SRPG is a relatively low investment.
Not every Switch game needs to be a huge AAA effort, as the system clearly is menat to have mid-of-the-road games, and that's what the Shining series basically is.
Ironically, even if the Shining Force SRPGs never make a return, we may still find the new bastard Shining games released on the Switch after the PS Vita's death.
Of the many franchises under semi-indefinite hiatus, the Wild Arms series one that is in the midway between unlikey return and forever gone status. Being owned by Sony, it does not look likely to go to any other publisher. However, Sony are known to go back and leverage forgotten IPs in some cases. Any way, here is a possible future for the franchise outside of oblivion.
Continuation of the Generic Shining Series on the Switch:
After Sony's line of portables started to struggle with the Vita, the Shining series which was decently successful on the PSP never released a new full game.
While the series may really end at that, the same style of generic games may exclusively release in Japan on the Nintendo Switch. This may be the most likely scenario, but the least desirable in my opinion.
This actually a weaker possibility than the last option; mainly because Sega stopped releasing Shining games on mobil after their early porting efforts. Nearly all the Gaiden games were released on mobile, and some original similar games as well.
In terms of actual gameplay, this option may not be so bad. Any Shining game released on Mobile will probably be an SRPG. However, the quality and scope of such games will probably never even reach that of the first Shining Force game back in the Genesis days.
Ironically, this is a case where I wish a series would rather go mobile than get paraded in its current form. Still, neither option is great.
Sega and Nintendo Should Hash Something Out with Camelot:
Here is where fantasy replaces reality, and the world will seriously be a better place if it did. There is no indication that this could happen, but it would be great if Sega and Nintendo somehow got together and made a Camelot developed Shining Force game.
Obviously, this would work for all involved. Like with Ubisoft's success with Mario + Rabbids, Sega would benifit greatly from Nintendo pushing their game on the Switch. For Nintendo, this will be another exclusive game on the Switch, and a proof of concept for smaller game succeeding on the platform. Also, this will provide the competition the Fire Emble series needs to improve and to avoid franchise fatigue.
Camelot Shouldn't only be the Nintendo dev responsible for doing something with Waluigi
Most of all though, Camelot will finally get to make a game worthy of their talent. Other than the Golden Sun games, Camelot software were stuck mostly making Nintendo sport games. This was a waste of their talent, and they are capable of making better games.
This collaberation will ultimately ensure that another great SRPG Shining Force game is made, one that will surely bring the Shining franchise back from the living death.
The "Where the Hell is" is going to be a series where I discuss the decline and disappearance of game franchises that interested me greatly, and now are gone. For a series to be covered, it needs to have three or more games, an unresolved conclusion or different storylines, and is a series I somewhat played. Please feel free to give me any feedback or recommendation, as I always try to write better blogs.