The Japanese version of Shining Force 3 was available for purchase before Christmas, but I decided to hang-back for a little while to gauge the reaction to it's quality from the press and additionally on the Internet. Satisfied that the game appeared to have sufficient quality to demand an import buy, I ordered a copy and haven't been disappointed.
The Saturn certainly has an impressive library of RPG's, Riglord Saga, Terra Phantastica and the Langrisser games to name but a few. It's just a shame that we don't get to see the vast majority gain an official release on these shores, due to the high-translation costs and the market for this particular genre not being considered large enough to produce a substantial profit. Incidentally, this last point has been emphatically disproved with FFVII's huge success over here, all I'll say is that if the game is good enough, in most cases, it will sell enough.
After waiting four years for a true sequel to Shining Force 2, I possess mixed feelings about Shining Force 3. In the first disc players assume the role of Synbios, a brave and resolute swordsman as he and his party fight against the evil Destonia Empire. Upon booting up, you are presented with a full-screen FMV intro, which although not quite up the quality of Playstation offerings, is still of excellent quality nevertheless.
The visuals in Shining Force are of a commendable standard overall. Town scenes, churches and forestry are all present and look very good in places it must be said. Many camera angles are available and it is also possible to zoom in and out of the action, as in Grandia. Although the graphics in Grandia are far more detailed than here, the scrolling is a lot smoother and the framerate is slightly higher in SF3. The music isn't much to celebrate to be brutally honest. Apart from the intro, there is a lack of orchestral-type offerings and their appears to be a devoidance of diversity. You would expect the tempo of the music to be raised significantly for battle-sequences, especially bosses, but it simply doesn't happen here I'm afraid. To some people this will remain unimportant, but I personally feel that a games tunes are particularly beneficial to the overall atmosphere. The sound-effects are most realistic but the addition of digitised speech would have been most welcome indeed.
The gameplay is typical RPG fare although there seems to be hardly any puzzles to solve, which I found a little puzzling (?). By far the most impressive aspect of this game, certainly to onlookers, are the battle-sequences. As opposed to simple sprite-based conflagrations, Camelot have opted to deliver some graphically sublime cut-sequences. The standard moves look awesome enough, but some of the spells and specials are breath-taking.
I seem to harp on about the poor-quality of end-sequences in recent releases, but there is no fear of that happening here. This would be due to the simple fact that there isn't one. I felt like I'd played through the game only to be rewarded with a bunch of credits, most satisfying indeed. By all accounts, what you do in this game will affect what occurs in Part 2 and subsequently Part 3. From this aspect, there is a replayability factor as you can train up your party for forthcoming adventures. Additionally, secret characters are in there too.
So, the conclusion. If you are a particular fan of the Shining series I would certainly recommend this title. However, if you haven't got it already, bear in mind that it is scheduled for an official release at the beginning of June. I rank Grandia above this but that may be being a little unfair as this is part of a trilogy. SF3 lasts between 30 and 40 hours and if you're a keen RPG fan, I reckon you'll get your money's worth.
Review By: Michael West