Sega Retrospective

Sega Retrospective
The Shining Force

Lisa Gay | 25 Jan 2011 13:54
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Sega was never known as a JRPG powerhouse, but had one series that sparked serious fan loyalty - Shining Force. Although a slew of games were released under the "Shining" label, the series is generally thought to have peaked with Shining Force III. This was the Shining game that had the potential to be a massive success in the JRPG scene. That is, if Sega had only bothered to translate the last two-thirds of the game.

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Shining Force III is a tactical RPG spanning three discs released separately in Japan over the course of a year. Each disc followed a "hero" from different sides of a conflict that eventually escalates into a full-scale war. The first disc featured a young warrior of Synbios, a breakaway Republic from the Empire of Destonia, while the second disc focused on the youngest son of the Emperor of Destonia. The third and final disc wound the two narratives together with the story of a stray mercenary with a vendetta against a race of ancient demons.

This was a particularly innovative approach for an "epic" JRPG, as the version of events in each ensuing scenario became more nuanced (and the political backstabbing even nastier) as the full story was revealed. The first two scenarios show the same events in different perspectives, while the third concludes certain events from the previous versions and continues on.

Because each hero commanded his own army within a self-contained game filled with colorful, quirky characters, each scenario could, in theory, be played on its own. But to get the big picture and discover what happens to certain characters, a full play-through was necessary.

Unfortunately, in 1998, only the first scenario was brought West. Hapless gamers wanting to finish the game and know how the tale ultimately ended had to prepare for a financial bloodletting via eBay, where the imported Japanese versions of scenarios 2 & 3 commanded prices upwards of one hundred dollars. Then they had to either buy a Japanese Saturn or mod their home consoles. Oh - and purchase thick Japanese-English dictionaries.

Shining Force I and II were both successful in the West. So why did fans get the truncated version of the third? Producer Hiroyuki Takahashi gave a very revealing answer: "It's probably hard for you to fathom, but what was once a major part of Sega's market - namely the Shining series - was ejected from Sega's 'main line' of games, and the money we received from Sega to produce Shining Force III was less than half what they would spend on the development of 'main' games." Camelot Studios, the makers of Shining Force III, never worked with Sega again.

Things weren't much better across the Pacific. By the time Scenario 1 landed on shelves in both America and Europe, the Sega Saturn was already on the way out. There were no further plans to port Scenarios 2 and 3, and this bitter truth is revealed in how the English version of Scenario 1 finishes. The ending was made far more conclusive in the English version than the Japanese original intended.

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