Thursday, April 30, 2015

Game #38: Shining in the Darkness (Genesis) - More Like a Maze Than a Labyrinth (Finished)

A nice simple ending to a nice simple game
It's mildly interesting how I remember seeing this game as a kid, but nothing looked familiar other than the first person dungeon setting. The game is relatively easy. Exploring every nook and cranny ensures reaching a high enough level to complete the game without any additional grinding. I welcome this balance in this genre. Actually, a lot of these older games have an unwarranted specter of required grinding. So far the majority haven't outside natural exploration and random battles. To me, grinding means leveling up without making any progress outside of character building. Even during the last portion of the game I was still actively exploring and reaching new areas.
That orange-red door from the beginning of the game led to the Labyrinth Proper
Theos, the king's adviser, congratulated me on my conquest of the trials, and told me I would need to collect the Arms of Light inside the Labyrinth Proper. Strangely missing from the court was Melvyl. The second floor had a few more stone statues, but this time they came alive. Progress was slow going due to that and the Kromeball, another mini-boss encounter who had a tendency to explode. I collected my crafted items, a Mithril Helmet and a Dark Robe. The helm was great, but when equipped with the Dark Robe, Pyra randomly fell into a trance where she would only heal the enemy.
This has a chance of occurring after the first round
Throughout the second and third level I found holes in the ceiling. Like the pools of water, there was a chance for an enemy encounter to occur one space away. An enemy would drop from the hole on a rope, and it was a bit tougher than the normal enemies. Once I reached the third floor, I returned to court to find Xern the Elder. Strangely absent all this time, he was there to warn us that Melvyl was actually Dark Sol. He bestowed upon the party a medallion, half of which can be stored in a golden fountain that the party could return to by using the other half. I had just found such a fountain before ascending to the third floor, and wondered if I really needed to scale all these floors every time I made my way back. I'm glad the answer turned out to be 'no'.
Not a question I had a chance of answering... makes me almost want to say 'yes'
Melvyl appeared in the town to proposition Zenic, but he was having none of that. With the small bit of choices, I wish this was one the game put into my hands. I pressed on, and halfway through the third floor I acquired a Mystic Rope. It allowed the party to ascend into the many holes I had bypassed. Most of them had treasure chests, but one near the end of the level was required to reach the fourth floor. I passed by a few iron gates, with still no way to open them, and picked up the Light Helm. One piece of equipment down, three to go I suppose.
There's a nice little cut-scene on both the second and fourth floors
More importantly on the fourth floor was Jessa, the captured princess. Finally after so much searching we found her, behind a cell door (the iron gates). She told a story of Mortred (the hero's father) turning evil, and it's he who guards the cell key. Around the corner I found the Dark Knight. After defeating him it was revealed that he, Mortred, had turned to evil due to the cursed sword Darkblade, a gift from Melvyl. Sadly, I had to slay Mortred to pass him. I found cell key, and freed Jessa. She joined the party after a lamenting thanks for the rescue tinged with the regret losing Mortred. Unfortunately I had used all my magic on Mortred, and was out of Angel Feathers to return to town automatically. My only option was to attempt to walk out.
She's really pulling her weight
Whether through luck or not, I seemed to be able to run from most battles all the way back. Once outside I returned to town immediately to recover my MP; however, Old Vik was having none of that, and refused service until I returned her to the castle. As a reward the king granted me a magic ring, which restores MP, but like all magic items has limited charges. (I also found two more of them, so really not that unique.) The repair option at the trader is used to restore these charges once they reach their last one. I was told by Xern I'd need to find defense against a Demonbreath attack, and Edward at the inn mentioned how: I needed to recover the Arms of Light, find the spirit fountain, and use a vial containing the tears of one who holds me dear.
Can I trouble you for some love and tears?
I actually took on Dark Sol before I thought to return to the castle, and Jessa, for some tears. He trounced me thanks to his Demonbreath, which wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't used it twice in a row. Seems he tends to do that when low on health. I had already collected the remaining Light equipment by using the cell key to get the shield, knock down a Grimwall to get the sword, and the armor was easily retrieved on the fifth floor. With the tears, I summoned the Spirit of Light at the rainbow colored fountain, and received her blessing as well as the title of Shining Knight. This cut the damage I received from the Demonbreath in half.
I almost beat him without becoming the Shining Knight, I wonder if it's actually possible
I emerged from my second attempt victorious. Dark Sol's chamber opened up and let the light inside once more. I restored peace to the land. The game didn't end though until I returned to the castle, but first I wanted to hear the adulation of my friends back at the tavern. Apparently news traveled very quickly. Zenic became the lord and master of the realm, and I'd guess Jessa's hand in marriage. Milo was appointed counsel to the new lord (me). Pyra agreed to apprentice under Xern. The fate of Thornwood was now locked in place, but the people enjoyed a time of peace.
Same to you old man, whoever you are
Well that was a fun adventure. A bit slow during combat, more so to do with the number of fights than the pace during each battle. I really enjoyed the mapping, and discovering what the game had to offer, but I'm not sure it holds up well after all these years. The story is very light, and at least to me on the more obvious side. I would have liked some more control over the crafting system, but coming late in the game didn't really have much effect. I did use it to get the Mithril Axe, Milo's best weapon, but I was a bit dismayed by the cursed items from the dark blocks. By the end I had nearly all Mithril equipment. I can understand having some drawback to powerful items, but I like to know what I'm getting myself into before locking myself out of other choices. In any case, fun game. Time for the review.

Elapsed Time: 13h17m (Final Time: 26h56m)
An alternative title screen only shown after selecting not to continue the adventure
Combatant - Combat was a nice mild challenge. The only exception were the times certain characters were instantly killed. The times I wiped out were obvious times I was overreaching with my resources. It was strange when I seemed was able to run from most encounters while escaping with Jessa, but I might have been over-leveled even without grinding. Rewards were good, and leveling has a nice pace. Enemies were interesting, and even though there were a number of palette swaps, the game continued to introduce new monsters with a nice frequency. Magic played a vital role in the late game, but early on it's only use was healing.
Rating: 6
That crab
Admirer - Most of the first-person games aren't going to do well in this category, and until we get to the really customizable characters we're going to continue to see lower scores. The only choice to exercise is equipment, which doesn't change appearance, but does allow the hero to use things like the healing ring. Of course if you're doing anything other than attacking with him, then you're doing it wrong. Controls are good, I'll give it that at least.
Rating: 3
I wonder if this bard will continue to make an appearance in the series
Puzzler - It's a very straightforward game. The main quest's next steps are never foggy, even if reaching them takes a while. Each point along the way had enough guidance. I'd count the crafting as either a side quest or mini-game, but I didn't really enjoy it. The whole game is a bit contrived with ancient trials and intangible passing of each allowing access to the next. There aren't any alternatives or branches from the main path.
Rating: 3
Pit traps are not fun puzzles
Instigator - The game does well to present an interesting narrative in-between the lengthy combat. As you can tell from these post lengths though, that's where the majority of time goes. There are times where choices are given, but I don't know how much they affect the game. Like if I had told Pyra's mom that she wasn't integral to rescuing the princess. There were other times where a choice was made automatically, like not joining Dark Sol. I enjoyed the item descriptions given by Milo's Vision spell, which offered a short description of each item; however, in the end it was rarely enough to make decisions about what to use. I had Holy Water, Herb-Water, and a Magic Mirror, which I had no clue what they did throughout the game
Rating: 5
I take it back, I found out it shatters right after using it too many times
Collector - A great variety of items, but I wish I knew what they did. Inventory was so limited: eight slots, four of which were taken up by equipment. Add in the keys necessary to make it through the dungeon, and there's really no more than 4 - 5 slots at most times. By the end of the game gold mattered little, so tossing one item for another was usually an easy choice. One nice thing, actually one brilliant thing, was the shops stored unique items after selling them. Meaning an item never really disappeared unless dropped. That's a first, and rarely seen in this era.
Rating: 5
I was expecting this drunk turtle to do something interesting, but he never did
Explorer - Graphics, music, and sound effects are all consistently well done. There's not much to see here though. Caves and labyrinth vary in color, but most of the textures remained the same throughout. Exploring everywhere was equal amounts necessary and rewarding, just not visually. What's here is well done, but the number of locations to visit for the sights is easily counted on one hand. The "world" opens up in a carefully choreographed manner, and while each key is understandable it's not consistent when NPCs wander into locked areas.
Rating: 3
Best view in the game
Final Rating: 25 [42%]

An admirable score at this stage for a sub-genre that's obviously not going to hit on all points. Overall an enjoyable experience, and I welcome the developer's next game. That won't be for a couple game years though (~40 games). Shining Force is one I hear quite often as a defining series for Sega systems, and of course the spiritual sequel Shining the Holy Ark was highly anticipated in its time. Shining Wisdom is the only iffy title. It's more action-adventure than RPG. I might just include it anyway though since it ties into the series.
Although, I believe Climax pulls out of the Shining series after the first Shining Force
For now we move on to cutting Pirates!. The release for the NES doesn't quite make it. I haven't decided yet if I'll evaluate it with the Genesis remake, but I suppose I should make that decision soon. The next full post will be about Final Fantasy Adventure. I'm definitely looking forward to that, and the next few games coming up. I haven't played any of them.


  1. Ah yes, Final Fantasy Adventure aka Secret of Mana 1. I had the game as a kid and was evidently too stupid to figure out the "Figure 8" puzzle to open a cave fairly early on. I still have the cartridge actually, but no Gameboy any longer.

    1. I got stuck on that exact same part! Was there a clue I missed for that, or are you supposed to just think of it yourself?? I got past it years later thanks to a walkthrough.

    2. In retrospect, the clue that is given is a very obvious one, but I think we were all stuck in the mindset that inventory items solve puzzles, so it was difficult. Or maybe you were just seven years old like I was.

      Curiously, the game world is set after the events of the Super Nintendo's better known Secret of Mana game despite being released way earlier. I'm getting an itch to replay the game now...

    3. The really interesting thing about the Mana series's first 3 entries is the reversed chronology. I think it's the only game series to do that.

    4. That 8 puzzle took a while for me to get too. I actually just passed it the other night before ending. The clue for it. "Palm trees.. and 8." I'm not sure I'd call that an obvious clue. I actually stumbled upon it because I figured which screen was most likely, and spent a few minutes on it.

      Interesting Jonothan. I'm not sure of any that do that throughout a series, but Lufia 1 and 2 did that. I guess that's more of a prequel than some kind of reverse timeline theme.

  2. Let me clog up the Comments some more by saying I am super excited to see Uncharted Waters coming up. I've beaten the Super Nintendo and (superior) PC version and own the NES cartridge, though I haven't played that port all the way to the end. I have an irrational love of the game and greatly dislike the sequel, New Horizons, which the rest of the Internet loves.

    I have my reasons and I feel they are good ones. Should you hit New Horizons I will certainly grace you with that particular rant.

    1. I'm super excited that you're super excited! ;) I'll hit New Horizons eventually, might just be a few years. Hope to compare notes when I'm done with it.

  3. This blog entry brought back so many memories. I especially love the screenshot of Pyra healing the enemy because of her cursed equipment.

    I've read about Final Fantasy Adventure in other blogs, and one thing everyone seems to agree on: Mutants rule, monsters suck, and humans are somewhere in the middle. I strongly recommend having no more than one monster in your party unless you want to challenge yourself. And by "challenge", I mean "become extremely frustrated when arbitrary RNG makes your monster useless".

    1. That's Legend, not Adventure, which was already covered in the blog.

    2. Good news Victar, I've finished all those posts on the game you described: My party was two mutants, one human, and one monster. I agree, monsters are useless. Also, not sure you care, but while the monster might as well be random to the casual player, there's a formula you can follow if you care to spoiler yourself.

      Final Fantasy Adventure is an action-RPG, and the first in the Seiken Densetsu series (Secret of Mana). I'm about half way through I'd guess, and might wrap it up in a single post.

    3. FFA = Seiken Densetsu = Mana

      FFL = SaGa

      Renamed in the US, presumably to increase sales. Even back then the FF name had some power to it, even if I think only the first game had came out in the US before FFL.

    4. That's what I've heard too.

      In fact, Final Fantasy Legend II came out the same month as Final Fantasy II on the Super Nintendo. Fun little chronological factoid from the Internet.

  4. FFA huh? that was a decent game.