Sadly after the release of ‘Sword of Hajya’, Sega decided not to translate any more mobile offerings from the Shining Force series onto the Game Gear, leaving it with just 1 out of 3 titles available. In over 20 years since its release it’s become painfully obvious that they have no intention of modifying this. Luckily Shining Force Central has a dedicated group of fans who have.
I’m not a massive advocate of emulation, but I will admit that it exists and see no harm in translations of games that will never see the light of day outside of Japan. In many cases collectors have purchased copies of games that they cannot read or in some cases are incompatible with their localised systems just to complete a collection. These individuals deserve to be able to play and enjoy these titles. Shining Force Central is perhaps the single best fan-hub of any kind to be found online, collecting information on all ‘Shining’ titles in great detail and hosting it for the world (I strongly recommend people with an interest donate at least once to keep it online) and bringing fans together on its forums. It was in this manner that the first and (to my knowledge) only translation of this portable title was made and released to the public. The translation is clean, well done and uses good English without taking the story on a detour at any point. As fan-translations go, this is a masterpiece.
Graphically, there is little changed from the previous two titles as the existing engine remains a powerful recreation of the console Shining Force experience on a smaller scale. Sprites have been redrawn to represent a new cast however, though some monsters make a return. Additional tile sets for new locations are also included, and older sets are used in new ways that keeps this title from feeling like a drab re-tread. Character portraits are once again inspired and lean heavily on an anime aesthetic that works in the series favour, lending a great deal of charm and associating character with a small sprite representation on the screen. The game also makes use of the 4-option menu traditionally associated with Shining games and this lends itself well to the reduced screen size.
Sound effects are used wholesale from the previous titles, many of which were originally scaled down versions of those seen in the original console edition of ‘Shining Force’, and there appears to be no new or original SFX added to the mix for the third Game Gear outing. Musically the game features a shrill sound that can quickly become annoying, but uses some original tracks that show a mastering of the handheld’s limited capacity over previous games. Some of these pieces work very nicely and when played using real instruments are very well composed.
The narrative for Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict is something of a linking story between ‘Shining Force’ and ‘Shining Force II’ on the Mega Drive. We reconnect with Max, the leader of the original Shining Force who was presumed dead by his friends at that game’s conclusion. He’s chasing the witch Mishaela, who was a servant of the devil king Darksol that the Shining Force defeated and who narrowly avoided death at their hands once before. Accompanied by the robot Adam, who is damaged in an early encounter with the witch and forces Max to leave him behind, he then vanishes. Adam then takes on an advisor role to new hero Ian, who leads a new generation of Shining Force in search of him. The game runs concurrently with the original ‘Gaiden’ and ‘Sword of Hajya’ releases, taking place in a separate location over the same period of time and sets up many factors that affect ‘Shining Force II’. The principle function being to see Zeon, the rising evil that takes centre stage in that game, competing for supremacy with the vestiges of original series villain Darksol’s followers. This even includes taking a servant of Zeon into your party for a short time, due to his fighting for a common cause and the return of fan-favourite character ‘Odd Eye’ sees him at the height of his powers. Mishaela too is a good choice of antagonist, using her army of dolls to fight and escape capture with plenty of fake-outs throughout the games short length. She’s portrayed as cunning, malicious and arrogant whilst being extremely formidable.
Gameplay uses the same engine as other Game Gear titles in the series with almost no changes, which is itself a slightly scaled back rendition of that seen in the console versions. Combat takes place on a grid, of which 10×8 can be viewed on the small screen of the handheld at any one time. A variety of different tile types affect movement, with characters of various classes and race able to move, attack, defend, use items and cast spells within the confines of their turn in battle. These characters can be levelled and promoted into a more powerful class type and new gear can be purchased and equipped to them between battles. Unlike modern Tactical RPGs, you can approach monsters from any direction and deal the same damage and pass through friendly troops. Holding the start button down also helps to unclutter the screen and let you look around by removing the menus. Where the game differs from its console equivalents is in its linear approach to gameplay. Essentially a series of battles linked through cutscenes where the plot is outlined and the next fight set up for dramatic effect. There are no exploration segments nor wandering to speak to NPCs here. Instead players can return to a camp site between battles to save, promote, alter their line-up and buy items/accessories from a single screen. The battles themselves retain all the tactical fun of the bigger games however, and take place across a series of different settings and scenarios.
Overall, Final Conflict is probably the best version of Shining Force that can be played on a handheld device. The story is original, but acts as a bridge between bigger instalments, and can be played out of context without too much being spoiled or missed due to the games clever narrative choices. A mixture of new and returning characters (some hidden) makes for a likable cast and the game looks stunning on the Game Gear’s smaller screen. I highly recommend downloading a copy of the rom and the English patch, which can be found at Shining Force Central.