Ben's Beginnings: First Tactical RPG

Today I came across something unexpected. I left my home this morning expecting to spend a couple of hours waiting at my car dealership while I waited for my oil change to finish, and then I wanted to head on over to the mall to look for some supplies for C2E2 at the end of the month. Well, for the first time in about four years I got my oil change taken care of in less than 20 minutes, and when I went over to the mall I found something I didn't expect. A brand new Slackers had opened up since I had been there last. Usually Slackers does have some pretty cool classic games for sale, but up until now every store I've visited had a pretty small selection. This one though? Walls completely packed full! They had everything, PS1, PSP games (AND UMD Movies), SEGA Genesis titles, pretty much every Wii game released, a large selection of Game Cube games, and a full wall of PlayStation 2 and 3 games. That's where I came across a new copy of this lesser known release:

Shining Force EXA. About eight years ago now I did quite a lot of research into this one. When Project X Zone released on the Nintendo 3DS, EXA was one of the series included in the crossover. Because of that, I wanted to know as much as I could about the characters before I played, but I had no way of actually playing the real game. So YouTube and other articles about the game became my best friend, and by the end of it all I had at least somewhat of an idea who these characters were. Still I wanted to play the game for myself, but considering it was expensive and no longer being sold... It just wasn't happening. Until today that is.

At first I wasn't sure if I should buy it, but considering I may never get this chance again, I eventually caved. Well, that's part of the reason. Before I actually bought it I asked a friend of mine what he thought, and his response was more than enough for me. Anyway... Finally after all this time I'll get a chance to play it for myself, and see the full story of these characters unfold. That being said, this isn't my first run in with the Shining Force series. In fact although this game is an action hack n slash (by the company who developed games like Rune Factory none the less), the original Shining Force series was a Tactical Role Playing Game series, and it was the very first one I had played in my life. Not only that, it's a game that shocked me as a kid, and hope to still one day go back and actually finish. This is my story of Shining Force.

In the past I've told the story of how I got my Dream Cast multiple times, but I never really went into one of my favorite games for the system. Yes Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 took up most of my time, along with Crazy Taxi, but there was one other that I would constantly return to for years with both friends and family. That game was none other than SEGA Smash Pack Vol 1. This collection of SEGA games had popular titles like Sonic The Hedgehog, Streets of Rage 2, Vectorman, Virtua Cop, etc, but it also had ones I had never heard of like Shining Force. At the time I didn't think much of this game, but when I started hearing my friend talk about this new "Final Fantasy Tactics" game his parents had bought him it made me want to give it a try as well. That wasn't going to happen though, so instead I went to the next best thing I knew of -- Shining Force.

Going into that game I didn't know what to expect. I had never played an RPG that wasn't Pokemon, and I didn't understand the whole chess like gameplay. So I started up with no expectations, and started working my way through the story. It shocked me to say the least.

It might not sound like much now days, but Shining Force was the first time I had ever seen a character actually die in a game. Sure there was Zero in Mega Man X1, but we rebuilt him in X2. Shining Force on the other hand had an actual human character get killed at the start of the game, and it's a part of the reason you're sent out on your adventure. This was a completely new concept for me, and afterwords I didn't know what to expect out of the story. I was meeting characters, they were joining up with me, I was seeing their stories unfold -- this wasn't something I was used to, and it made me feel like I was on an adventure. An adventure I sadly wasn't able to save. Yeah, memory cards? Who needs them! I had one filled with Sonic Adventure 1 and Crazy Taxi, and another filled with Sonic Adventure 2. Shining Force wasn't something I was able to fit in, and because of that I never finished. Didn't stop me from playing it a lot though.

I still remember coming home after school and starting it up. Even though I knew who would die and what not, it didn't ruin the experience for me. It was such a different experience than what I was used to, that I didn't mind restarting. Also did I mention you got to name your own character? First time I got to do that as well. As for the actual gameplay, although it is what introduced me to TRPGs as a whole, it wasn't exactly the same as what I would get used to later on.

Unlike series like Fire Emblem which typically are linear missions with dialogue sections in between, Shining Force mixes classic style JRPGs with this tactical gameplay. Outside of battle you get to explore towns, talk with characters, and do pretty much anything else you would in an RPG, but once you got into a battle everything switched over to the standard strategy gameplay these types of games are known for. Your characters are placed on the map, the enemies tend to be spread out, and then you take turns moving your guys to accomplish some goal or to kill everyone. Different types of characters have advantages over others, and when you get into a fight you get to watch a mini battle scene with characters standing on opposite sides of the screen as they attacked. I thought this was pretty cool at the time, but some of the high fantasy stuff did bug me. It wasn't really my thing (and still isn't my favorite), but it didn't stop me from playing.

Eventually I would give up on the game though. Restarting non stop ended up being too much, and I stopped caring for the slow paced gameplay. This is what would make it hard for me to get into games like Fire Emblem later on (especially considering you couldn't explore towns in Fire Emblem), but as I got older even that began to change. Now days TRPGs tend to be some of my favorites, with Fire Emblem, Super Robot Wars, and even SD Gundam being some of my favorites to play. While I can't really say that Shining Force is what convinced me to keep going with these types of games, it was my introduction to this genre as a whole, and something I think back to pretty often. Maybe I'll go back to it later on once I finish EXA.
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