Shining Soul
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2007-03-12 GBA Action/RPG E (Everyone) SEGA / Next Entertainment

The Shining Force series has been one of my favorite game series for quite a while, but I had never seen a copy of Shining Soul until this year. It was a near-mint copy, the booklet had never been open (in fact, it still smelled new) and it cost me around $20. Since I am mostly familiar with the Shining Force games, this one seemed like quite the find to me, so I had to grab it.

Shining Soul is an action RPG released in 2003. To compare it with something more recent, it's a lot like Children of Mana, only much simplistic. Although classified as an RPG, what you're really getting is a hack-and-slash with minimal plot.

As the story goes, this takes place before the Shining Force series. An evil dragon has come back to wreak havoc in the land and only a small group of adventurers knows how to get rid of this Dark Dragon. The Five Generals under the command of the Dragon must be annihilated prior to defeating the Dark Dragon, and that's where you (the hero) come in.

You begin by choosing one of the four characters: Warrior, Wizard, Archer or Dragonute. Each class uses specific weapons and armor. For example, the Archer will only use bows and spears while the Wizard can only equip cloth. Dragonutes and Warriors are strong melee types, perfect for close-combat, while the Archers and Wizards are weak but better for ranged attacks.

Leveling up isn't difficult, but it's the repetitiveness that can make it a tedious task. Enemies usually show up as you walk into an area, and they like to gather, chase you and attack in numbers. And of course, you level by endlessly killing monsters, or in other words, mashing that attack button over and over. But you can also use a charge attack, which happens when you hold down the attack button. The power of this attack depends on your weapon skill.

Each of the four characters also has a different set of skills to learn and build up as you level, so you can customize your Warrior to have a really high defense, be multi-skilled in three different weapons or have insane resistance to magic attacks. It all depends on how you distribute the points, because when you level, you get 5 points to distribute among your stats, and one skill point to attribute to any skill you want to level up. The higher the skill level, the more points you need to level up again (shown by little yellow and gray smileys).

The game is pretty easy to learn and get used to. The interface and menus are simple. The inventory screen lets you swap equipment and assign weapons and items to "shortcut" slots, so you can use them with the left and right trigger buttons whenever you need them. The only problem with browsing the inventory is that while you do it, you are vulnerable to enemy attacks, take damage and can even die. There is no pause feature, so this becomes a bit of a nuisance at times. I found the best way around was to use an Angel's Wing to go back to town, organize my inventory there (selling and buying), healing and then going back into the dungeon. Since inventory space is limited anyway, this works for me, but it takes longer to clear a dungeon.

Speaking of clearing dungeons, that's actually the only way you have to save your progress. You can't abandon a dungeon half way, save your game and come back expecting to resume where you left off. Nope, that would have been too easy. If you want to clear a dungeon, be prepared to spend an hour or two playing it from start to finish. Your progress won't be saved until you clear the final boss, which is a shame. If there's one particular thing that I enjoy on my handheld games is the ability to save anywhere, anytime.

On to a more technical approach, if you look at the graphics, you can almost right away fall for the cute little sprites. But unfortunately, the dungeon designs could have been better. There should have been a randomizer so that when you enter an area you have already cleared, the dungeon would have a different layout. Monster collision is inexistent, and I don't know if this is good or bad, since being able to walk right through a pile of monsters saved me in many occasions.

The music and sound effects are mostly forgettable. They don't really add much to the game, except when you're playing a dungeon for the first time. I mean, it's not bad music, but considering some of them have 8, 10 levels or more, hearing the same music the entire time is tiresome.

The strong points of Shining Soul are the multiplayer option, which allows up to four players to adventure together and swap equipment, and the replayability value that lets you go through the game at a higher difficulty setting after clearing the final boss.

Although an average title with its strong and weak points, I enjoyed playing Shining Soul. It was a simple, light-hearted experience that didn't require much thinking at a time I didn't have the spirit to get into more complicated games. However, if you're looking for a shining plot, you should look elsewhere.