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Shining Force EXA
Score: 68%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Neverland
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
Shining Force EXA is brought to us by the publishing department of SEGA and developed by Neverland. The cute and cuddly anime-inspired figures will look quite familiar to fans of the long-running series, which has transitioned from classic, turn-based RPG action, to a more action-oriented, real-time combat system. Personally, I haven’t had a ton of experience in this particular genre; so tackling some different dynamics from my usual FPS and strategy titles was a welcome change of pace.

Graphically, this title is a pretty decent showing in the fading era of the PS2. The character models are vibrant and full of over-exaggerated features, as well as insanely flashy weapon effects. In likewise fashion, the monsters and other enemies are really tricked out and diverse, with some crazy looking humanoids, robots, flying creatures and more. Some of these suckers are plain HUGE! The cel-shaded textures seem to pop off the screen, and when the action is intense, it can get pretty crazy …but not in a good way. Sometimes, there can be so much going on that some wicked slow-down can occur, which needless to say, is no fun for anyone. Along with some diverse and charming environments, there are numerous high quality CG cut scenes throughout the title, linking the story along quite nicely.

On the sound front, the music adds a nice mix of relaxing exploration tunes, along with the customary action beats that thump with a heightened tempo. Along with this, the sound effects are pretty solid, but at times the onscreen mayhem can overwhelm the sequence of effects, sometimes garbling it in the process. Finally, the voice acting is pretty dang annoying to be honest, and really grates at the nerves after a while. Even the battle cries and whatnot get very old too. Perhaps the American audience is less receptive to the whimsical script, but I just found it hard to stomach after a few short hours.

Shining Force EXA is about a band of adventurers -- primarily Toma and Cyrille -- on the quest for the epic Shining Force sword. Whomever wields said sword can become the ruler of the world. Along the way, they uncover a massive fortress that is filled to the brim with all manner of beasts, teleporters and weapons. This is the ultimate weapon in the ongoing war and must be used wisely lest it wreak havoc. Yeah… I know… kinda kooky…

Unlike other RPGs, the action is pretty fast and furious, and comes at you all the time. Lets just say you will become intimately acquainted with your (X) button in no time at all. Cyrille is the magic caster with a crossbow, while Toma is the bruiser type using a sword. Together, you can use a variety of uber combos using timed button presses that are quite fun, to tell the truth. As you wade through tons of enemies, you will have the assistance of a few NPCs you can add to your party, allowing you to equip them, but that’s about it. These are kinda throwaway helpers anyways, as you will dish and take most of the punishment. In a lot of ways, this title’s combat style reminded me of the Dynasty Warriors series, where there again, the (X) button became your trusty friend as you spammed it to death. You even have a similar charge ability that triggers a special attack move, but here it requires a bit more timing. Sadly, there are no block, parry or throw moves, so really just equip the best loot you can find, and mash away to your heart’s content, and you can’t go wrong in this tactically dumbed-down game.

Along with the combat, there is an ample amount of exploring the various portals and areas, especially your Geo-Fortress. You will have to fend off numerous attacks and shore up your defenses, facing a wealth of monsters and having to defend your all-important engine. You can even add cannons and other defensive measures later on. However, it is very important to level up all your characters equally, because whoever is back at base during these attacks will have to shoulder the load. Please note that you can’t skip over these battles either, so try and pay attention to the experience of your small band, and be creative with your save files so you don’t get stuck without a way to progress.

There are also Arts that can be trained in and tweaked with that provide a good chunk of the RPG-leveling aspect. You can specialize in things like resistance to stuns, bonus to damage various enemies, mana regeneration and more. To add to this, you can use the mithril in much of the items and weapons for cash, or turn some of these into weapon specific power-ups. This is kinda interesting and does provide a little variety to how you want to attack the game, but doesn’t come away as overly innovative.

To gamers new to the RPG genre, Shining Force EXA is a nice hybrid to learn the ropes with. Sparing you the grueling, turn-based action made famous in many popular titles like the Final Fantasy series, this instead works the action angle as previously mentioned. As a result, the hack ‘n slash gameplay is pretty easy to pick up and play, as you plow through enemy after enemy.

As long as you focus on leveling your characters across the board, and keep a keen eye on what to upgrade or purchase with your mithrill supply, this game is a relatively straightforward and simple adventure.

Game Mechanics:
First, the aforementioned framerate drop during onscreen action is quite bizarre in such a late generation title for the PS2. I’m not sure if the developers were trying too much for the wow factor on this one by trying to cram the screen with as many baddies as possible, but it really distracts from the action. Another annoyance is the camera, which for the most part works, but is locked into one spot and I just wish you could fiddle with it some more, especially in such a combat intensive game such as this where correct alignment is key throughout.

All in all, Shining Force EXA is a decent foray into the realm of action-RPG by SEGA and Neverland, with some nifty graphics and style, but ultimately lets you down with monotonous combat, and some funky mechanics - notably the slowdown and leveling disparities. Fans of previous installments may find something to like here, but most other gamers may want to just rent this puppy for now, considering the hefty $50 price tag.

-Tybo, GameVortex Communications
AKA Tyler Whitney

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