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.
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.
So you, as a loyal Shining fan, buy Scenario 1 and discover it to be a fantastic game blending tactical battles with JRPG elements. You start getting sucked into an immersive storyline seemingly about political intrigue, but then chilling signs of a greater evil slowly appear. You start to become emotionally invested in the characters and wonder what lies in store for them. But now, all the characters you’ve become attached to and care about, well, you have no idea what happens to them. You know there is a larger game afoot, and that the plot is about to thicken, that something big is about to upset everything. But how that will happen, and who will be affected, you’ve no way of knowing. You are, in a word, stuck.
Bereft of a proper ending, Shining Force III fans pulled together to try to convince Sega to translate and bring the last two scenarios of the game west. Moogie of fansite Shining Force Central was one of the leaders of the original campaign in 1999. At that time, it was merely an online petition, but an unexpected response from Sega inspired her to keep campaigning.
“Sega told me that although there were no current plans for a new game in the Shining Force line, they could tell me that they receive a lot of fan mail expressing an interest in the series,” said Moogie. She started “Phase II” after the internet campaign to let Sega know just how eager Shining Force fans were for anything – be it a translation, a compilation or even a new game.
This second phase had several bases around the world that gathered emails and letters that would later be posted to Sega as well as Camelot and Climax (a studio who jointly helped Camelot make Shining Force). They compiled a package that included a petition containing over 2,000 names, but this campaign had a few logistical problems. Because the packs were sent from multiple centers, they lost touch with each other. Moogie still has no idea if the other centers ended up sending their campaign packs.
Whether by coincidence or out of desire to please the fanbase, Sega Japan announced Shining Soul in October 2001 – a mere six months after the campaign packs were sent. But it wasn’t the Shining Force fans were hoping for due to the absence of Camelot, the original creative crew. In any case, Phase III was already underway.
Moogie learned from the difficulties of the previous effort and decided to take leadership of the entire campaign herself. And she decided not to be picky about which console, and ended up targeting the three main branches of Sega and Nintendo. But the amount of work she went through was astonishing. Not only did she collect postal letters and printed emails, she was also checking IP addresses to make sure the over 5,000 entries in the petition were unique. Then she put together a professional-looking package and produced a slickly-labeled CD with all the data inside.
With a package like that on your doorstep, you respond. And Sega of America related to Moogie that the campaign pack was “well received”. Though they withheld any concrete news about future Shining games, they implied that they would bring the issue up at their upcoming Global Software Meeting. And Sega of Japan? A tiny crack in their armor – they said they were impressed with her effort. “They said that normally their policy was to not reply to fan mail from outside of Japan, but in this case they made an exception, which I suppose shows how much impact the campaign pack had.”
But in the end, Moogie and her website Shining Force Central had to move on. The website has evolved to become the go-to resource for fans wanting to import and play the Shining games themselves. A translation started by a group of fans was moved to Shining Force Central after the original team drifted apart. Fans were finally getting a glimpse of the game’s larger plot.
Project manager Steve Simmons described the sheer amount of work involved in translating such a text-heavy game: “We’re talking over 250 game files which hold roughly 2000-2500 lines each, with up to 200 of those lines being unique dialog lines.” They’ve snared a few dedicated Japanese speakers to assist with the project in the past, but Simmons laments the current difficulty in finding volunteers with the necessary Japanese language skills, although they have a wealth of volunteers willing to do other jobs.
The project has had to do its homework when it comes to even the finer details. Weapon, item, special attack and spell names had to be consistent with the rest of the series and even the game script of the first scenario has been retouched to align it more closely with the original script. “At its peak,” says Simmons, “the team was 15 or 20 strong with members from Canada, France, Brazil, Taiwan, Singapore and of course, the US and UK.” Volunteers were grouped into teams that not only translated and proofread, but did line identification, text insertion, and playtesting. The fan effort has so far released a playable English patch that is updated every six months or so as the script gets reviewed. Shining Force III has become playable in English, more or less.
But Moogie is emphatic that the fan effort is legal: “The project in no way endorses piracy and does not distribute illegal copies of the game. The instructions [at Shining Force Central] explain how to copy and patch original, official copies of the game. Unfortunately a few people have seen fit to distribute pre-patched illegal copies on the internet, against the wishes of the project – but not a lot can be done about this.”
To coincide with twenty years of Shining goodness, Moogie is preparing a new campaign, this time ignoring Sega and going straight to the Shining source, Camelot Studios. And she’s yet again tweaking the approach. “In the past our campaigns have focused on saying what we want, almost like making demands … this time we’re sending love, not demands.” The love will be uploaded to YouTube this time around, and Moogie has plans for a giant Shining series birthday card with thanks from fans around the world. And the addition of an adorably cute homemade Yogurt plushie can never hurt one’s campaign efforts. (Yogurt, for those unfamiliar with Shining Force, is the game’s unofficial mascot – a squee-inducingly adorable hamster who’s completely useless on the battlefield.)
Of course, as much as Camelot may want to make a new Shining game, there is one glaring problem. As Takahashi explained in GamesTM, “Sega maintains the rights.” The new campaign dares to hope that perhaps Camelot and Sega can put their rocky past behind them and work for a “bright, Shining future”.
Get Involved: Fans who want to take part in the newest campaign effort or volunteer to help to the fan translation project should visit Shining Force Central for more details.
Lisa Gay is a freelance writer dividing time between Tokyo and Beijing.