The 'Shining' series has been knocking around for some time now and has proved quite popular amongst the RPG community in the past. Sega's hardware through the ages has played host to the series, having witnessed titles such as Shining Force (Game Gear), Shining in the Darkness (Megadrive) and Shining Wisdom (Saturn). This, the latest instalment in the series, comes in the form of an involving action RPG, taking place a thousand years before the events of the original 1992 title Shining Force.
The game's story tells of an old civilisation that was destroyed by the Dark Dragon, the embodiment of destruction. The Dark Dragon had been sealed for hundreds of years with the populace living peacefully, until the fateful day it again emerged and renewed its reign of terror. In response to this evil threat, a mysterious group called the 'Crew of Light' appeared with the intention of destroying the Dragon and restoring peace to the land.
Play itself sees you first select from a choice of four character classes: Warriors, Archers, Dragonutes and Wizards, each having their own playing style. Should the fancy take you, you can then go on to customise your character, changing both the name and appearance, which is always an entertaining feature in a game because it allows you to play through with characters such as Pat Butcher or Mayor McCheese or something.
What follows is very much an entertaining and immersive RPG, in a similar vein to the Secret of Mana games, with an emphasis on action and plenty of hacking and slashing to be done. Although the entire game is played in real-time, the combat still plays by the old 'hit points' rule, which determines the strengths and weaknesses of each strike.
What's most pleasing about the game though, is its support for and encouragement of four-player, link-up gaming. You do all require your own copy of the game, however, but to team up on the adventure, each helping the other one out in battle, is definitely a great addition to the proceedings. It's also quite handy as the action never stops, even on the menus, so you might need someone to defend you whilst you attend to one of the stat screens.