Shining in the Darkness has some good qualities but gameplay and menu interfaces are not great. There also is not too much to explore. The whole game takes place in three locations: a castle, village, and labyrinth. None of which you travel between, you just point to which one you want to go to on a map. Most of the game takes place in the labyrinth, which you will get bored of quickly. Basically you go to the labyrinth and complete 1 objective. Next you leave and then come back. This time you go a little bit deeper and complete another objective. You have to keep passing the same areas and fighting the same monsters. The monsters near the beginning of the labyrinth slow you down and become a hinderance.
Other than yourself there are only two other characters in your party, Pyra and Milo. You are the fighter, Milo is the healer, and Pyra is the magician. Battles take place similar to those of the Phantasy Star series. The monsters stand in front of you and you choose your attacks when each turn comes up. Either you hit the monsters or you miss. No action is seen against the monsters except magic attacks. Battles are not any fun and become tedious after a while. I found the menus to be annoying also. They are all based on pictures. A text menu would have been clearer and faster to use. Before you enter buildings in the village you must call up the menu and select the picture depicting enter. Why can't you just push a particular button or push forward to enter?
Graphics and sound are definitely the strong points. Graphics are bright and colorful. A lot of detail went into the characters and magic attacks. The music and sounds are very good. Too bad gameplay was not considered as important. Despite the problems with the game, Shining in the Darkness still could have been a good game had it contained more places to go. Exploring the labyrinth gets tiresome. For more interesting role-playing on the Genesis try the Phantasy Star series. Their graphics and sound might not be as good but they will keep your attention longer than Shining in the Darkness.
Graphics: Top of the line.
Sound: Music complements the graphics nicely.
Enjoyment: Not enough areas to explore.
Replay Value: Once you finish there is no going back.
Shining in the Darkness is a fun dungeon hack RPG for the SEGA Genesis that is relatively obscure, probably because very few Genesis gamers are fans of this RPG style, and fans of hack & slash RPGs on the PC wouldn't have had the exposure to this game. Thanks to emulators (and this review, of course ;)), PC gamers can now experience another forgotten RPG gem.
While Shining in the Darkness may be the precursor to much more popular Shining Force strategy/RPG series, it's a very different kind of game. The premise is basic: Thornwood used to be a peaceful kingdom until the evil Dark Sol came and abducted Princess Jessa and Sir Mortred, one of the king's most trusted knights. You, the only son of Mortred, must journey deep into Dark Sol's labyrinth with two friends to rescue the abducted and defeat Dark Sol.
The game is played from the first-person perspective like a typical dungeon crawl on PC. You fight monsters in random encounters, occasionally returning to the village to sell the loot, buy more powerful weapons, cure your party members of poison or curses, or get tips from patrons in the tavern. Occasionally you must fight large "boss" monsters, but most encounters are random. The deeper you go, the tougher the monsters you will face. Fortunately, battles at the beginning of the game are easy, giving you plenty of time to practice (the premise for this easy stage is that you must find a special item on your own to pass the "Trials of the Ancients" and be allowed to leave the castle with your friends). One nice feature is that you can turn ore into equipment of your choice, and the locations and identity of many items in the game vary from game to game, making it quite replayable.
Intuitive interface, creative monsters, and fun battles make Shining in the Darkness a fun dungeon crawl that should appeal to fans of PC-style hack 'n slash. It's not overly complex, but it provides enough challenge to give you the satisfaction of killing a boss monster or Dark Sol himself. The game has 10 levels (some with 2 floors) that require mapping, but are not too large that you will get lost in. The game is longer than an average RPG on the console, but not as difficult as similar games on the PC (say, the Eye of the Beholder series). If you're looking for a fun, challenging, but not very difficult dungeon crawl, check out this forgotten classic on the console. Highly recommended!
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Spellcraft: Aspects of Valour, Shadowcaster, Spirit of Adventure, Sleeping Gods Lie, Ruins of Cawdor, Shadowlands, Shadowrun (Genesis), Realms of Arkania: Star Trail
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