From the pages of the past, ads of yesteryear – Shining in the Darkness

The game that started it all for the Shining series is still a classic JRPG that holds up reasonably well today, especially if you’re a fan of turn-based combat.

If you haven’t already heard, Sega has been cracking down on anything “Shining Force III” related on Youtube. Sites such as Eurogamer to Neogaf’s forums broke the news several days ago as warnings were being received by channel owners with more than a few shutting down. Theories postulate that Sega is trying to clear the air for their new “Shining Ark” game that is slated to come out for the PSP, while others think it might be a hoax — though the cease and desist requests seem to be real enough to shut them down.

Sega has always struck me as one of those companies that kept a wide berth from its fans in regards to the free advertisement that their efforts brought to their products. Now, suddenly, they’ve brought down the hammer on Shining Force III confusing, and infuriating, a number of fans.

Is what Sega’s doing akin to serving up a hot steaming cow pie to a number of its fans? It certainly is, especially if all that Sega wanted to do was drum up interest in their newest “Shining” game. This was one of the worst ways to do it.

As for me, I loved most of the games that I’ve managed to play out of its long history. The Shining series is also one of the more eclectic franchises out there.

Not only is it mostly remembered for its tactical games, but it was also represented as a classic JRPG and more than few ARPGs. Unfortunately, it has also had as many ups and downs whenever it tried to transition into something new. As someone that has had to suffer through Shining Force Neo’s “Hot stuff, coming your way!”, I can only wish that later installments would only improve.

Perhaps one of my most favorite “Shining” themed games was Shining in the Darkness, the title that started it all in the hands of Climax Entertainment who were also behind the awesome Landstalker.

Published by Sega in 1991 for the Mega Drive/Genesis, this was an incredible game that pulled my imagination into its colorful, cartoony world of characters, shops, NPC bars, and a huge first-person dungeon. It had the kind of childlike charm that made its fantasy trappings uniquely fun to explore, something that I’ve always thought Sega was good at doing.

An old wizardly guy rocking back and forth greeted players asking for their name and guided them through setting the game up as if he were right there. After all that was done, he’d set the stage and cut you loose into the story as a young knight on a quest to rescue a kidnapped princess from the dastardly Dark Sol.

Granted, the game felt as if it were aiming at being a player’s first RPG with its presentation. Even so, it was still an amazingly fun game regardless of your age level with one or two innovative ideas.

For one thing, everything was seen in first-person. It wasn’t the kind of free roaming first-person dungeon crawling that later RPGs such as Origin’s Ultima Underworld would help bring to players everywhere, but it was more akin to the kind of grid-based adventures that classic titles such as Sir-Tech’s Wizardry, FTL Games’ Dungeon Master, or Westwood’s Eye of the Beholder on PCs which was also released in 1991.

It was still an old, but well used, formula that CRPGs were using at the time and console JRPGs employing a first-person look would also embrace and Shining in the Darkness was no different. Much like how Phantasy Star on the Master System wowed players with its first-person dungeons, Climax expanded on the same concept with Shining — and it worked wonderfully thanks also in part to the fantastic soundtrack behind it.

The “Labyrinth”, town, and castle were the only places you could visit in Shining’s world which kept things simple. The sole town in the game was seen in first-person as the player “panned” around it instead of actively walking down streets or alleys to see the shops, temple, and the bar that was there. The same with being in the throne room at the castle were several NPCs waited, or the bar where you could pick up tips from dog-headed mercenaries. Many of the icons — such as the shaking head for yes or the nodding one for no — would also become staples in the series as it went forward.

The screens above in the ad show off some of that combat and it could be tough at the start, especially if you hadn’t hooked up with your two friends yet. Surviving early on could be a brutal slog requiring you to often visit the town to patch up and sleep your wounds away at the inn early on. But once you found them, your party of three made it a bit easier to plunge down into turn-based combat against a wide variety of horrors deep within the mega-dungeon forming the heart of the game.

Part of that difficulty was that, like a number of console RPGs at the time, auto-mapping wasn’t one of its luxuries. Combat was also a classic grind peppered with plenty of random encounters making it a gamble in pushing your party as far as they could go without suddenly wondering if you would be able to make it back to the surface alive to save your spoils. Yet in regards to its PC counterparts, it didn’t necessarily employ the kind of dangerous tricks that made the sewers of Waterdeep or Mangar’s maze deathly lethal in comparison.

From start to finish, however, I loved the time I had spent with Shining in the Darkness as a refreshing, light-hearted romp. It less serious faced in its demeanor than a Bard’s Tale but embracing the kind of charming, and spirited, anime-like fantasy that JRPGs wore on their sleeves at the time thanks to its character design, story, and acute focus on being a classic tale of good versus evil.

It’s also an encapsulation of the kind of fun joy that Sega seemed to revel in back in the 16-bit days when they went head-to-head against Nintendo. Shining in the Darkness is also a game that seemed to define a part of Sega’s history at odds with their behavior over Shining Force III today — a welcoming introduction to the imagination and a world of gaming that their philosophy fought to share at the arcades and into the home. And as the ad suggests, perhaps Sega should take a look at its own roots and the fans that love their games to help put things back into perspective.

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