Released in June in the 3Ds eShop, Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya is the second of three Shining Force games which were originally released on the GameGear portable system. Unlike Nintendo’s rival Fire Emblem franchise, which remained a Japanese exclusive, many Shining Force games were very popular releases in both US and Europe back in the 90’s.
The Sword of Hajya picks up right where Shining Force Gaiden (the first GameGear Shining Force game) ends… about 20 years after the events of the 16-bit release Shining Force II. In the opening scenes of The Sword of Hajya, we see the hero of the first game, Nick (whose hand had been transformed to solid stone during the events of the previous game), more or less hand over the lead character role to returning character Deanna (of Shining Force Gaiden II).
The game opens with Nick leaving with an army to meet the forces of the evil nation Iom, while Deanna and his friends are left to protect the nation of Cypress and retrieve the fabled sword that the game is named after (Spoiler Alert: the Sword of Hajya gets stolen in the opening sequences of the game).
Just like the first game in the series, Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya focuses totally on combat and eliminates the exploration segments we saw in the 16 and 32-bit Shining Force games. This mechanic will please those who prefer no filler in between their battles, and prefer to swiftly move from one mission to the next. However, players who enjoy an RPG game with depth (and role-playing story in their turn-based titles) may feel somewhat left out in the cold when they discover they can’t wander around the world talking to NPCs and exploring.
The gameplay itself is fairly standard for tactical RPG strategy games. You and your opponent take turns moving units on the grid-based battlefield. Unlike other similar titles (I’m looking at you Final Fantasy: Tactics), turn order goes back and forth between you and your opponent, rather than one side moving all units and then the other. This mechanic will require you to plan a little more carefully, as you won’t necessarily be able to pile on attacks from all your units against one of your enemies units before he has a chance to retaliate.
Experience (to level up your characters, duh!) is gained when successfully completing an attack against an enemy. When your characters reach level 10, they’ll have the option to transfer into a more powerful class. Some unpredictability is added into combat where random chance will have some attacks “Evaded” and others generate a second strike.
When foes are defeated, they drop coins and sometimes special items that can be used to restore help or magic points.
There’s not much to write home about here, but it’s as good as can be expected for a game developed on a hand held console in the 90’s. The developer (Software Planning at the time, but now known as Camelot), did a fairly good job of condensing the art style of the 16-bit versions onto much less powerful hardware, but as you can expect it’s not quite the same. All that being said, I’m going to venture out on a limb and guess that if you’re playing a game that was released about 20 years ago, you’re not playing it for cutting edge graphics, so you’ll be willing to cut it a bit of slack in the graphics department.
This isn’t the best Shining Force game in the Gaiden series, but as a very reasonably priced 3DS eShop download, it’s a great little tactical RPG for some fun on the road if you enjoy the occasional retro game nostalgia. That being said, if you don’t care for retro game, or tactical RPGs, then give this title a pass, as despite the inexpensive price, you’ll probably still be left feeling let down.