Shining Soul II (Game Boy Advance) Review

By Adam Riley 29.03.2004

Review for Shining Soul II on Game Boy Advance

Just think of a list of Role Playing greats. Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, The Legend of Zelda...But how about the Shining series that set many Sega systems alight? Yes, many people may have forgotten about this sublime franchise, but Sega certainly has not! Therefore here we have the sequel to the average Shining Soul. Can it make the necessary improvements? Read on to find out...

There may not be too much in the way of a strong plot, with the basic premise being that the wicked witch Wizari has kidnapped Princess Camille of the Klantol Kingdom and plans on sacrificing her at an evil palace, but each of the eight-strong cast has their own back story that unfolds as play continues. Also, the King of Klantol explains various aspects of the storyline as you continue with your quest, adding new facets each time you see him. Not a paper thin plot, but not as deep as many Final Fantasy games…

Some games in the role-playing field stick with pseudo-3D effects, á la Golden Sun, whereas other remain firmly in the flat, sprite category (Mario & Luigi, please stand up!). Shining Soul II, on the other hand, melds a little bit of both and manages to pull it off with great results, even when played on a large television via the Game Boy Player on full zoom! In fact, looking at the buildings and items of paraphernalia dotted around the game that use the simulated three dimensional effects, you would swear that this is a Rare or Camelot game if you did not know otherwise.

The flat sprites are all bordered by a thin black line that gives them clear definition against the 3D backdrops, items are nearly always easily spotted on the ground, but in those circumstances where an enemy has fallen behind a piece of scenery and dropped its weapon or item there, simply walking over the area where the event occurred will uncover the item, as its name appears on the screen. Little details like this add to what is already a very impressive package.

Unfortunately, and this is quite unfortunate as it is only a small problem but ends up recurring a lot during the adventure, the sound effect used for when text scrolls onto the screen whilst conversing with the many characters along the way is very, very annoying. It grates to the point of detracting from the overall pleasantness of the background music. Which brings us to the actual soundtrack – Sega has produced quite a mixed bag on the whole. There are pretty, 'twee' tunes that neither offend nor distract the gamer from play and then there are the out-of-place funky, heavy-bass tunes that are found on the start-up menu and general status and item screens.

Why this was done, nobody will know – but it sure does discourage you from talking to as many people as you would possibly like to! However there are periods where you just wander around or battle without chatting and these are by far the best moments, as you can absorb the serene nature of the music in towns, villages and surrounding locations. Tunes can be extremely moving and stir something deep inside, which is testament to the musicians involved in the game. There is a problem with some tunes repeating too frequently, but this is not the case with every piece in the game, so is not a major worry. Overall Shining Soul II makes good use of the GBA's limited sound system to give the player something well worth turning the volume up for!

Unlike many other RPGs, where you take you turn and can spend as much time as you like browsing through your item screens, with Shining Soul II you must watch your back every step of the way, as during battles time never stands still for you – so when perusing your catalogue of goods you could very well be attacked without even realising it! Therefore you must strategise and find the right time to make the correct move, avoiding danger at the same time.

This is all because Shining Soul II's battles take place in Real-Time, akin to the recently released Square Enix exclusive, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, with players running in to hack away at a foe, then quickly ducking away to avoid retribution, then choosing the right time to sneak in again to deliver the final blow. This time round things are far more organised than the first 'Soul' game (that has sat in my collection now, unplayed, since it was released in the UK, basically, hence the lack of C3 Review!), though, and do not lead to mindless button-bashing.

Whilst not an S-RPG, strategy most definitely in the name of the game in this iteration of the popular Shining series. A key example is regards to your Magic Resistance, which can be increased by falling into traps or even purposely walking into camp fires (sounds, crazy? I know!). Obviously there is a limit to how much resistance can be gained from using this method, or else the game would be too easy, but it is a nice addition not found in other games of this genre and can definitely give you that little bit extra during important encounters. Then there are doors that seem impassable, yet hit them a few times with your weapon and they will soon succumb, whilst others with little lock symbols on only open once all of the on-screen enemies are taken care of, leaving the zone safe once more.

Experience is doled out after the defeat of each enemy, and as with nearly all of the RPGs in the world your levels will rise as you reach a certain amount of 'EXP'. Once a level is gained, you are granted a specific amount of status and skill points that can be placed on any attribute you wish, be it strength or vitality from the status section, or one of the many skills your character has (such as Armand, the vampire, who has ones like 'Venom', which is a poison spell, and 'Morph' that changes him into a monster). So, this part of Shining Soul II likens itself to another Square Enix favourite of ours, Sword of Mana, where you character's progression is basically decided entirely by yourself – a very good thing for those that think the computer randomly throwing statistics around is quite unfair.

Everything in this sequel far out-classes the mediocre Shining Soul, thus allowing the game to rightfully call itself part of the 'Shining' series for real, rather than a shoddy spin-off as many would gladly title the first one. Gamers may not be able to avoid all of the enemy encounters as in some non-turn-based RPGs, they never have the fear of reaching a certain stage and not having enough EXP to continue further into the quest - but they can take respite in the fact they that can certainly use quick reflexes to make sure they never even get hit during the required fights! It is elements such as this that help make the gameplay as well-balanced as it is, and friendly enough to attract both gamers new and old alike…which is the highest praise you can lay on any game.

There are eight main characters that you can play as, each with their own unique attributes, class and back story, all of which alone would justify the price tag of this game. However, simply playing through with one character can provide enough entertainment for over a month or so as the battling is not as simple as it first seems, and you will find yourself constantly dying if you approach with the wrong attitude. Also there is a plethora of mini-quests to undertake, monster cards to collect and trade with others, as well as the aspect of finding / buying upgrades for your equipment and dabbling in the art of 'Fusing' various materials to create new armour, weapons and so on. A lot of effort has gone into making this the ultimate role-playing journey and it definitely shows…

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Despite not quite reaching the dizzy heights of Golden Sun, Zelda III, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance or even Mario & Luigi, Shining Soul II nevertheless serves up a worthy piece of RPG pie. Sega has struck gold with the sequel to a very average hack 'n slash title and actually managed to show Square Enix and its similar Sword of Mana how things should be done. If you have to choose between those two new titles, then the latest in the 'Shining' series just gets the nod.






Turn Based RPG



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10 (1 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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