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Shoehorning a console experience into an iPhone is a lot like trying to fit a dead body into a suitcase — it’s doable, but it’s not always advisable. Many publishers think that just because the platform now has the graphical and processing capacity (barely) to handle SNES/Genesis era games that it means carte blanche for dumping their back catalogs on the App Store. The problem here is that how a game plays is just as important as how it runs, and iPhone controls simply will never work for some games.

That’s not to say that no retro games can work as iPhone ports, but pushing platformers or other games that require precision timing and control responsiveness isn’t they way to go. On the flip side, the turn-based strategy RPG is a genre that translates extremely well; just look at the success of other SRPGs across all portable platforms. As such, I went into SEGA’s iPhone port of Shining Force with a liberal dose of optimism.

Read on for the official review!

Shining Force is about a timeless evil entity by the name of Dark Dragon that was (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) sealed away by the power of a race of Light beings known as the Ancients. As video game villians are wont to do, Dark Dragon vowed to return in 1000 years to take his revenge.

The action picks up when the forces of Runefaust, led by the sinister Darksol (no relation to Pine-Sol), go on the march to free Dark Dragon from his prison. You take on the role of Max, a young warrior of Light, who is sent on a mission to stop Darksol from reaching the Shining Path and releasing the ultimate 16-bit evil.

While other games in the Shining series have explored other genres like Zelda-style action RPGs, first-person dungeon crawlers, and even loot-based RPGs, Shining Force is a straight-up old-school strategy RPG. As such, the majority of the gameplay takes place in a square grid environment where you engage in turn-based combat with your pixelated foes. Experience is gained on a per character basis when attacking enemies or healing party members.

You start with only a few team members in the Shining Force, but by the end of the game you’ll have so many that you can field a team of ten and still have a room full of people back at HQ getting cabin fever and complaining about how they can’t get into the action. There’s a variety of classes to play with on your team, and getting a good mix of attack styles into your squads is easy to experiment with. Getting to know which team members will be your powerhouses is not only fun but vital, as giving them opportunities to level early on will pay off. By the end, my two main mages and the werewolf were clearing out whole squads by themselves.

Even if you lose a battle, you retain all gained experience from that battle, which makes it easier to play around with different combinations. This is a great mechanic which replaces random grinding, as you can simply grind the mission you’re on until you’re levelled up enough to beat it completely. The penalty for failing a mission is minimal, a mere 1/2 of your gold. There’s not a whole lot to spend your cash on in this game other than some gear which won’t match most of what you gain from fights or exploration, so that won’t sting too much.

Exploration between battles is fairly linear and backtracking is minimal; like many games of its day, it doesn’t do a great job of explaining where you need to go next, but it’s very easy to figure out without too much wandering about. Every city has similar elements — you can count on an item shop, a gear shop, your HQ, the chapel, and a castle where you’ll push the story forward to be there in each location you visit.

Despite some archaic holdovers from games of that era, like a horrible inventory system, the game is surprisingly satisfying and holds up well. The simplicity of the SRPG gameplay really works for the iPhone platform, where gaming time is often short or interrupted by phone calls. Without an overly complex battle system, it’s easy to pick up where you left off, even if it was in the middle of a fight.

Speaking of interruptions and picking up where you left off, this port does a fabulous job of maintaining your game state even when you have to pick up a call or access another app. Jumping back into the game leads you directly to a pause screen which allows you to return to the action immediately. The original in-game save system is still in place, but unless your phone powers down altogether, you could theoretically play through the whole game in chunks without manually saving once. When so many other iPhone ports are getting this crucial detail so horribly wrong, it’s good to see SEGA handle their business.

Where action heavy iPhone games suffer from the inclusion of a virtual D-pad and buttons, Shining Force ignores these drawbacks due to its turn-based gameplay. Errant misplacement of units is easily corrected before locking in your action, and for once the SEGA emulator provides a near 1:1 experience compared to the original, unlike other iPhone ports (I’m looking at YOU, Sonic).

Anyone with an iPhone and a retro itch to scratch could do a lot worse than picking up Shining Force. The throwback gameplay and easy-to-learn mechanics make for a smooth, enjoyable experience during the 15 or so hours you’ll get out of this game. I did not regret my purchase in the slightest, and fans of the original are sure to be pleased with their newfound ability to pimp-slap Darksol on the go.

Gamer Limit gives Shining Force (iPhone) an 8/10.

  1. avatar A.W.

    i got this in a pack of retro games for the computer a while back. it is surprising how addictive it is, fwiw. And yeah, turn based rpgs seem ideal for pick up and play if you don’t mind NOT getting visceral action.

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