Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Game #38: Shining in the Darkness (Genesis) - The Four Trials of the Ancients

No title screen when loading... how strange
Game 38

Title: Shining in the Darkness
Released: Auguest 1991 (March 1991 JPN)
Platform: Genesis
Developer: Climax Entertainment and Camelot Software Planning
Publisher: Sega
Genre: RPG
Exploration - First-person
Combat - Turn based
Series - Shining

This is the closest the game gets to a title screen
Compared to most RPGs that is an impressive localization time. I think most people are familiar with the Shining series, but many are probably more so with the Shining Force games. This however was the first, and Camelot was not the lead developer even though they would take over full-time development of the series after the first Shining Force. Climax is the company responsible for the loosely related Stalker series of games--LandStalker, Lady Stalker, and Time Stalkers--of which I'll review only two since Lady Stalker wasn't released in the US. This all makes sense now since I've heard Pyra, one of the characters here, makes a cameo appearance in Time Stalkers.
Of course I am, and don't forget modest, extremely modest
The kingdom of Thornwood is facing a crisis. The king has misplaced his daughter, last seen with the hero's father, and desires to find her. Seeking the princess, the hero hopes to find the whereabouts of his father as well. The king fears some dark deed has whisked them away. I received 200 gold and instructions to equip myself for the task.
I wasn't quite sure what to buy. Zenic, what I named the hero, had a basic weapon and armor, but lacked a shield and helmet. Helmets were quite expensive, so I settled for a gauntlet, an antidote (called depoison), some healing herbs, and an Angel Feather that returns the party to town. At the tavern the local riffraff were discussing the disappearance of the princess and Mortred, Zenic's father. When I returned to the castle, the local labyrinth was pointed out as potential launching off point for the investigation, and confirmed with the sudden appearance of the antagonist.
Oh good, she's safe with Dark Sol (aka Mephisto in the Japanese version)
Dark Sol, not to be confused with DarkSol from Shining Force, requested the kingdom in exchange for the safe return of princess Jessa. The king instead decided to depend on Zenic to rescue the princess from Dark Sol's clutches. With that, the game opens up most of what it has to offer.
The first of many battles: like other RPGs this one begins with slimes
The problem with describing the play-by-play is eventually I get to dungeon crawlers where the story slows to a crawl. Most of the game centers on combat. Combat that occurs erratically. Available commands are limited to attack, magic, items, and running. Actually, only the first character, Zenic, the hero, has the ability to run; both other characters, which come later, are able to use their turns to defend. So far this resembles how Dragon Warrior II's battle system worked, with about as many options. Since the hero doesn't have magic attack and item use are the only choices. Glad I picked up those herbs.
I tend to enjoy making my own maps for these type of games. Actually, I've noticed that it's rather the most enjoyable part of the game. Combat is so simplistic and the story so sparse that the minute to minute game I'm happiest about is marking my progress down by hand. In the end, once the game is done, if I weren't writing these blog posts, I'd have the maps as a tangible reminder of my days playing this game. Back in town the tavern owner spoke of friends looking for me, but they were nowhere to be found. A brother and sister were split apart when Dai was summoned to the castle to assist in the search of the princess. The tavern doubles as the standard inn to replenish HP, and eventually MP, for the party (currently of one).
I listened to this bard's song once, and never saw him again; hopefully he went to practice
I continued, as is the case in these games, to fight many battles, gain a few levels, and refresh myself back in town. I bought myself a sword called Sword and a helmet. Eventually I delved deep enough to find a steel door, a solemn statue, and fight a Kaiser Krab. The latter of which had a Royal Tiara in its possession. Back at the castle I presented my finding to the king, confirmation that the princess was inside the labyrinth. If she was in the Labyrinth Proper though, she was currently beyond my reach. First I had to form a party, after which I would learn from Melvyl and Theos, the king's advisers, that I needed to pass the four trials of the ancients to be accepted into the Labyrinth Proper.
I probably could have gotten more at the store for it you know...
Back at the tavern I met up with Pyra, a magician from a fine line of magic-users (her own words). After picking her up I ran into Gila, a mercenary hired to search for the princess. It's rare for a game to have a cast of NPCs on the same quest, even if I know they won't make any progress. Milo was waiting for me at the shrine, which acts as the sole save point and place to restore ailments, remove curses, and revive characters. Milo takes on the role of the main party healer and defensive caster, while Pyra specializes in aggressive magic. Both are fairly capable melee fighters though, and magic is often better used for healing (like most games).
Party assembled for the first time
At the castle once more, this time with my friends to back me up, I was told I needed to face the four trials: Strength, Wisdom, Courage, and Truth. I received the Dwarf Key, and was told the first trial began beyond the door it opened. Apparently there was no record of any knight that actually succeeded in passing this test. Best to send their youngest knight, and his two childhood friends.
1 / 24 inventory slots permanently used
Instead of doing the sensible thing and grinding up a few levels for Pyra and Milo I took them on a small tour of the corridor behind the Krab boss, and then delved right into the trials. The Krab boss was now a random encounter that could appear around any corner. The game has a few of these types of monsters. They are random encounters, but with set limitations such as corners, pools of water, or holes in the ceiling. In addition to random encounters, there are treasures scattered throughout the dungeon, and some are even home to monsters. Enemies encountered outside normal random battles are a bit more difficult to handle, especially during this first trial. Pyra wiped out a number of times until I raised her level to about 10.
I have a better question, how did you get past the door without the dwarf's key?
Gila, pictured above, tipped me off that the Orb of Truth was located in the Cave of Courage. Well, strangely enough, I was in the middle of the Cave of Strength when I found him, and with no idea that I even needed the orb. The Trial of Strength ended with a red wall bleeding into an angelic mural of steel. It announced that I had completed the trial, and opened up the pathway to the Cave of Courage. Passing the Trial of Courage was the same as the previous trial. Explore a 30 x 30 square map enough to find the red wall that marked the end. There wasn't any sort of boss other than the slightly more difficult enemies that appeared randomly.
It introduced these MP sapping tiles as well
Even though I'd passed two trials I couldn't proceed to the next without that orb. So, I explored the sections I had failed to map before reaching the end marker, and found another boss-like encounter. By that time Pyra had learned the Boost spell, which doubled a character's attack power. That combined with Zenic's high attack made short work of the boss. In fact most bosses seemed to fall within 3 rounds of action. Turn order is based on a speed attribute, but between my characters it's set with Pyra, Milo, then Zenic acting. This makes buffing before an attack simple. I recovered the orb, and moved on to the next trial. The orb is used to reveal hidden demons inside certain walls.
Who knew you could put a wall to sleep
In the Cave of Truth the game introduced spinners. Those anti-navigational devices aren't too bad in this game as they always spin to the same direction, facing 90 degrees counter-clockwise (true when entering backwards as well). Monsters were getting progressively more difficult. One type of enemy would strike as a group for more damage than an individual, and ghosts would appear from treasure chests to cast Desoul, which had a chance to kill a party member outright. With no revive capability at the time that meant a trip back to the shrine in town. Characters don't gain experience while dead. Another section had walls that would appear from the ceiling if I dared an attempt to enter their square.
The rare falling ceiling caught in mid-descent
The Trial of Truth ended once again with a red wall that announced I passed; however, I had bypassed an imprisoned Jessa that requested I release her with a False Idol found somewhere in the labyrinth. I actually had the item, but suspected a trap. It was a trap, but a necessary one. The prisoner turned into something called a Doppler, and a Rune Key was my reward for defeating the beast. That key unlocked the final trial, Wisdom. The Cave of Wisdom was littered with hidden pits. Two maps contained in chests showed where most of them were, so I avoided most of the time wasting backtracking. Yet, I still had the urge to complete my auto-map as much as possible. I also found Dai hiding behind a series of one-way blue doors.
It took longer than I care to admit to figure out that all I needed to do in order to open these was to push on them
Rescuing Dai, while nice, didn't reveal anything crucial, but I now have the gratitude of Dyan and Edward back at the tavern. Once again the end of the trial came rather unexpectedly and without any build-up. With the Trial of Wisdom complete I returned to the castle to announce my success in passing all four. Now I could enter the Labyrinth Proper and start the actual task of rescuing the princess. With five above ground levels I'm probably only half way through the game at this point. The last message before wishing me luck was that I needed to find the Arms of Light to vanquish the darkness. Back at the tavern I ran into my companion's parents. Apparently, they were kept in the dark about the whole rescue the princess operation.
I wonder what would have happened if I told them Pyra and Milo weren't integral to the party
Making it this far into the game unlocks the trader, a small tent between the weapon shop and the tavern. Inside was a new assortment of armor, helms, shields, and weapons. I was beginning to think the game forgot I had all this money piling up and nothing to spend it on. I had already purchased the best of what the other stores had to offer. I found some dark blocks and mithril ore during my adventure; its use was finally revealed here as I could now craft equipment. Creating items requires me to choose the material, the person, and then the type of equipment without any way of knowing what it will produce, or how it compares to my current inventory. Shooting in the dark seems to be how this game rolls.
Oh, and payment in advance, no refunds
I tested the waters a bit by purchasing a helm for Zenic, a shield for Milo, and--using the dark block-- some armor for Pyra. The helm worked best on Milo, the shield on Pyra, and the armor was cursed. I thought, how bad could the curse be since the the defensive improvement was huge. Turned out it makes Pyra heal the enemy after a random number of turns after the first round of battle. Forget those dark blocks. Knowing that I'm only half way through the game is a little off-putting. Combat hasn't been terribly difficult, although I tend to run out of resources multiple times in each cave. Getting into the Labyrinth Proper is easy enough as there's a red wall on the first floor that's been waiting for me since the beginning of the game, so I haven't been lost yet, and am actually nearing the end of the game in real-time. Wish me luck.

Elapsed Time: 13h39m (Total Time: 13h39m)


  1. Ah shining in the darkness I played this before as well though I never finished it.

    Although I love shining the holy ark which is another first person dungeon crawler game.

    1. I've never played Shining the Holy Ark, but I have heard it's similar. I imagine it's a bit different with the number of staff changes and larger storage. I'm looking forward to seeing how they improve upon it.

  2. I always loved this one. It keeps a very light and upbeat vibe for a dungeon crawler.

  3. Heh, I didn't remember that SitD had a "Shooting in the dark" crafting system too.

    Camelot kept this randomized crafting tradition in subsequent games, including Golden Sun, Golden Sun The Lost Age, and Golden Sun Dark Dawn. You can obtain a strictly limited number of metals/ores that can be crafted into super-powerful gear, with the help of an expert NPC. But if you want a specific crafted item, your only option is reload and pray.

    1. Reload and pray doesn't sound very fun, but I'll keep it mind for those games. I like to know what I'm getting into if I'm supposed to consider a strategy about it. Especially after looking up a walkthrough that suggests if I wanted the best armor for Milo I needed to make the armor for the hero instead of Milo. I've already finished the game, but I've been falling behind posts due to work. I'll update this week with a wrap up. I'm also taking a break from playing, and posting, for a few weeks.

    2. I just loaded your blog with the intention of making a comment asking if you were coming back to the blog. Glad to hear you're planning on it, but I know from experience that getting back into it after a long break is a difficult thing. I'm hoping to see a new post soon!

    3. Missed updating last week, sorry for the delay. Work was more demanding of my time than I expected. This week for sure. I need to cut Pirates as well, and then back to playing next Monday is the schedule I'm expecting.

  4. So here's a fun little softlock you can do in this game... go through the Trial of Truth, get the Rune Key, then completely forget you have to leave through the back door. Leave through the front door and go do the Trial of Wisdom, then once you've finished that, congratulations! You can no long complete the Trial of Truth! The game will not acknowledge you finished either of those trials, thinking you still have only done the first two, thus not enabling you to progress.

    I did this once. Wow, what a wake up call that was!