It’s no secret Sega has been making terrible business decisions recently, and it’s nothing new. The Sega Genesis/Megadrive was by all regards a success , but most of us know the story of the Nintendo Vs. Sega console war…Sega eventually lost. The company kept producing add-ons in an attempt to keep the Genesis relevant with the 32X and Sega CD, but it backfired and consumers slowly lost confidence in their products. This continued with the release of the Saturn, ending with the unfortunate demise of the Dreamcast. Nintendo and Sony’s market share grew and with the Xbox on the horizon, Sega was forced to abandon the home console business all together.
Sega still owned a handful of well known properties, the most profitable being Sonic the Hedgehog. Deciding to play it safe, many well known franchises faded in to obscurity as the company put all their eggs in to one basket, focusing on on the blue Hedgehog. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Sonic games (Sonic 2 being my personal favorite) but there were so many other experiences that could have gone the distance. Gunstar Heroes, Shinobi, Wonder Boy, Phantasy Star, Panzer Dragoon…all amazing games that are generally unknown to today’s gamers. These games deserve more respect, but none more than one of my favorite series, Shining Force.
Shining Force was a Strategy RPG released for the Sega Genesis in the early 90’s, and unless your a retro video game collector there is a good chance you’ve never heard of it. This game was my first introduction to the Strategy RPG.
It was an upbeat Japanese turn based RPG with strategic game play similar to the immensely successful Fire Emblem, which had been out 2 years earlier on the Famicom. Shining Force was one of the first 8-bit/16-bit Strategy RPG’s using a tactical grid based play field to hit the North American shores, to moderate success. Game play was fun with moderate difficulty and didn’t take it’s self so serious like most RPG’s at the time including Ninja’s, Robots, and a Werewolf as playable characters. Shining Force II, a technically and aesthetically superior sequel, sold well enough that when it came time to translate Shining Force III-Part 1 for the Saturn, the project got the green light… even though the console was on it’s death bed. Playstation was dominating the CD based market, taking up valuable shelf space and Shining Force III-Part 1 never got the chance to get the exposure it deserved. It was the last in the “Force” series to be released in the west.
Shining Force III was the epic pinnacle of the series. In Japan it was released in a Sychronicity System, splitting up the story over three separate games. Not only was releasing games in this manner copied by successful followers ( .Hack, Suikoden III..), the overhead 3D style was innovative in form and function. The developers at Camelot pushed the Saturn’s architecture by using the soundboard to pre-load graphical data in order to get around slow CD loading times. Even the story had matured with the audience, and game play was as smooth as ever. Everything was refined and if it wasn’t obvious, I love this game. I would have to include the whole Shining Force series in my top 50 games of all time! With all adoration aside, I still wondered how Sega could screw it up? Scenario’s 2 and 3 were released in Japan on the Saturn to resounding sales, and the Shining series to this day is still popular there.
With a cult following of Fire Emblem players, Sega fails to see the obvious cash cow that so plainly stares them in the face. For a company that does everything in it’s power to ensure no game play gets shown on You Tube, it makes you wonder how they don’t understand people uploading and viewing material about the game means there is still interest! Update the game play, graphics and story and you have a financially successful product. Sure, it would be looked at as a Fire Emblem clone, but I guarantee it would sell. The Shining Series is already ripping off the action RPG genre in Japan, why not rip off themselves? You can find Part 1 and 2 on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for PS3 and 360 but no other effort to return to it’s tactical game play seems evident.
I feel like it’s a lost cause and I end up sounding more like a whining Fan Boy then a supporter of the series. Don’t let my perceived bias overshadow the fact that these games were awesome, and a follow up to Shining Force III could still make money. With the recent purchase of Atlus by Sega, I see a glimmer of hope. I believe if any dev could reinvigorate the series in North America it would be them, but it leads to the question…Sega, what happened to Shining Force?