By Nate Adcock on Fri, 08/20/2010
I never really got into the whole D&D thing, being too cool for that level of geek immersion (ahem, I might've been a ranger character of moderate EXPs once), but RPGs (role playing game) on computers are old as, well, I am. I have played some of the originals, believe me. The early games were mostly stupid by today's standards, but we loved them anyway. My friend's Dad had an old machine , on which we would play a text-only RPG game for hours (imagine that). The computer spit out a description of the scenery and game action at each move, while we would map out the mazes and dungeons on paper. Pretty arcane, but still loads of fun. SF captured that RPG magic with a 16-bit graphics processor, and featured a team of characters to quest with.
Shining Force is a tiny 6MB in size, which means it should be no big deal grabbing it on your device from the App store. I had no issues running it on my 2G touch under iOS 4. Remember to reset your device after adding new software. if you want to know more about the original title, you can check out it's wikiP page here. After viewing some background story screens, and setting up your character, you are just about ready for the first quest....almost...
You still have to go through several screens of wandering around the village and seeing the king before you are dispatched. Obviously, you can't fault the app for that, as it is just an emulation. We probably thought that was awesome back in the day, but it's merely annoying now that I'm older.
Anyway, once you go up and down to the castle, your team gets assembled and you finally saddle up to fight the evil forces that are invading the kingdom. Sheesh, bout time! The evil is probably at the corner tavern having a drink already!.
The controls on the iPhone/iPod version of SF are similar to the original controller layout. The left touchpad for movement of in-game characters and menu navigation, and 2 selector buttons (A, and B) for actions. The original SF game was a Sega Mega Drive/Genesis title, and the controllers actually included 3 right-side buttons instead of 2 (not sure if this has any impact on play). The control aspects of the touchscreen can be a little aggravating at times. Getting your character to go in a certain direction can be trying, especially when navigating in narrow rooms or alleys, around objects or facing them. Also getting used to making selections through menus becomes a tiresome affair. These issues I must mostly fault the iPhone (or iPod touch) for, and plagues many games. The iPod touch, being used by many users mainly for apps and games could have benefited greatly from a small dpad.
I admit to being soundly defeated in the very first quest multiple times. This game is a blast to play though! If you can look past the very dated graphics, sounds and music, it really does grow on you. The core aspects of all the latest super RPGs are there. Your team is outfitted with multiple player types with varying weapons attack and movement ability. Mage, fighter, healer, knight, archer, etc. Attacking and overtaking an enemy lair in strategy is not much different than it is in today's modern games. The key is effective use of your assets. Force protection and maneuver are key.
First your front rank fighters must meet the enemy pretty much head to head. The archer character has a further attack radius, and better mobility, so can be employed to attack an enemy from a bit further back. The mage can also cast spells across a longer distance, but lacks the toughness to withstand much damage. The healer must be in close proximity to your front rank to heal effectively, but of course can also not sustain much in the way of attack damage in a duel with another fighter (so not too close to the action).
The point of the overarching quest is to save the kingdom from an evil menace by successfully meeting each challenge as you journey along. The typical D & D aspects apply. You and your team earn experience points (which make you more powerful) in each melee. You also pick up gold and items along the way in each sub-quest. The gold can be used to buy better equipment, etc. The items you pick up also enhance your overall combat strength, and defense.
Actual melee occurs on a grid and reminds me of a free-style chess game. You move your various pieces into an optimal config to meet and dispatch the enemy force. As you enter a lair, usually weaker opponents are met first, and stronger opponents are then brought forward. Attacking deep and fast resulted in my defeat in the first challenge, as stronger opponents came into action more quickly. The combat screen is about as uninspiring as you can imagine of these old games. When you select an enemy icon on the grid to fight with, the 2-D screen layout of your surroundings switches to a little less cartoonish 3-D graphic representing you and the enemy in opposition, followed by the actual hit (and the resulting indicated damage in the upper right cutout).
You have to remember that in RPG games, stronger opponents not only can take more damage, but dish out more, and can often attack multiple times. Your n00b characters will get one attack per turn until they attain higher rank, so the smart player uses a reserve strategy. Leading somewhat from the rear is not really so dumb or cowardly, as your main character's defeat means you get to go back and start over. If one of the characters on your team gets fragged, they can be resurrected. Of course, you want to attain higher rank along with your other characters, so selective interference is preferable to mixing it up constantly with the troops or trying to abstain from combat completely.
I've probably blubbered stupidly enough about RPG gameplay in general, and not being that familiar with the original Shining Force version, paid plenty of disservice to this classic title. My inability to play it well should not count against it, and in fact I think it is a lot of fun. If you are a nostalgic geek like I am, you probably want to grab this game. If you are a hard-core RPG modern day gamer, grab it just to get back to the roots of the genre. SEGA pioneered some of the finest early video games, and discounting the minor control challenges, SF is a workable emulation that can go with you on your iPhone anywhere. Go grab it at the link below: