Shining Force Neo
PlayStation 2
Reviewed: 01/29/2006


When I hear the word “neo” put before or after something I at one time cared deeply about, I get concerned. I cannot think of a time that the use of “neo” hasn’t bastardized the source, much like fan fiction written by a 13 year old. Shining Force Neo suffers from some of the fears and uncertainties one would expect to be realized with the “neo” moniquer. While the lack of Strategy RPG elements expected from a Shining Force game could prove a deterrent for many, it would be hasty to overlook this title because of such.

Shining Force Neo is the story of Max, a 17-year-old training to be a Force (think fantasy global police force member) who is destined to save the world. His past is intertwined with an epic battle that happened when he was but a toddler which was believed to have taken his brother. In a quest to better himself and understand his past, Max crosses the paths of a plethora of characters that stepped out of an Anime Cliché 101 textbook. Despite this, the story offers many twists and turns that, while not particularly surprising or genre breaking, still feel fresh.

Sadly, it is difficult to enjoy most of the story when it is narrated and acted out with such shamefully horrid voice acting. While the voice acting is not as terrible as, say, Brave Fencer Musashi‘s or the North American dub of Ranma 1/2, it gets pretty damn close. Sure, the spoken dialogue can be cut with a tap of the button or with by muting the television and reading the text, but why should anyone have to? Worse yet, the CG cut scenes have no subtitles, so it is impossible to know what’s going on without listening to these voices. To solidify the voice acting fiasco, each character has a battle cry they repeat ad naseum every single encounter. These will drive any player insane three times over.

Screen Shot
Fortunately, my childhood communions never broke into fights like this.

Combat is not particularly full of depth, yet is remarkably solid. There are four different types of weapons: swords, greatswords, bows, and rods. While each style of weapon has its own selling points, rarely is there a reason to use a particular style. There is no real reason to aim towards a specific foe, as the game will compensate by attacking the nearest creature–a feature that is functional, but cheapens the game experience. Up to two computer-controlled characters can tag along, and the intelligence for them is remarkably solid, but the inability to bring a real life friend into the fray could be a deterrent for some. Despite the repititous nature of combat, however, the legions of creatures that rushed coupled with level design kept it from being boring.

Another issue with this game is character customization. While the ability to customize Max can be daunting at first, this quickly becomes second nature. Customizing his weapons, armor, and passive attributes adds a feeling of control that will make the most die-hard gamer smirk. Strange, then, that secondary characters are surprisingly less customizable, to the point where not even their equipment can be upgraded. This creates a bizarre imbalance where the main character can be played in several different roles, but secondary characters always fall within the same grind.

Graphically, this game’s cel-shaded characters and lush environments are above par. Whereas most dungeon crawlers aim to be dark and dank, it is pleasant to have a brighter and more detailed feel in one of them. Characters are well designed and palette-swapping monsters is few and far between. The rare CG cutscenes are pleasing, though not awe-inspiring. At times, the massive amount of characters on a screen at once can be so overwhelming that trying to tell player characters from monsters can be ridiculously annoying, and it doesn’t take environments long to start looking repetitive. The world feels functional, but not immersive, which after several hours can add to the tedium of the game.

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Somewhat cliché characters, but the story is still alright.

It is important to note that this game is long for its genre. One can easily put over 50 hours into this title, and most certainly will break level 99. While this may seem like a boon, this game proves that longer doesn’t always equal better. There’s only so many million times one can hit an attack button relentlessly before the title loses its luster. Most of the challenge in this game is pure button mashing coupled with the hope that the gear on Max is up to par when legions up legions swarm the playing field. Still, in moderate doses the game is quite fun. Worthy of note is the optional dungeon made available upon game completion, which throws 50 floors of mayhem and truly puts skills to the test.

Overall, Shining Force Neo is a solid game, and a fair if perhaps unremarkable addition to the Shining Force series. Those who grew up equating Shining Force to Strategy RPG are sure to treat this game with raised ire and sharp tongues, but as a stand alone title it does a slightly above average job. Shame, then, that the many flaws of this title overshadow the fact that on the whole the game is well executed. While perhaps not quite the “bold new direction” the game was hoping to be, it still proves a worthy rent.

-Tim Olsen

Score Breakdown
Below Average
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Average
Story Good
Graphics Good
Sound/Music Bad
Replay Value Bad
The Verdict: 4