Shining Soul is an isometric RPG with real time combat, developed by Nextech and Grasshopper Manufacture and published by Sega in Japan and Europe and Atlus in North America. It was first released for the Game Boy Advance in 2002.
The game can be played single or multiplayer and features four different character classes: Warrior, Wizard, Archer or Dragonute. Each class allows you to evolve different play styles, either concentrating on weapons-based combat, magic-based, or both.
You start in a camp with advisers, NPCs and shops and participate in individual multi-part missions, exploring dungeons and external locations in the land of Rune. The story follows a creature called Dark Dragon, who has amassed an army and is trying to take over the world. You are on a quest to stop it.
As you explore and defeat monsters you gain experience points that allow you to develop your skills in different areas. Pressing start brings up a menu where you can view your status/skills and your inventory, but it’s important to know that the game continues on while you’re in these menu screens, so you have to be careful when you’re doing it (because you can still die while arranging your items or assigning your skill points). Weapons and healing items can be bound to three quick-use slots apiece and you can cycle through them by pressing the L and R buttons. You also have three slots for equipped armour (head, body and accessory).
A HP bar in the top left-hand corner of the screen shows your health and if it gets dangerously low a bubble saying “ouch” will appear over your character. If you die during a mission you’ll be dumped back to camp and lose your money and non-equipped items. Thankfully there’s a bank back at camp where you can store items and deposit money for safe-keeping.
When you’re in the field you’ll occasionally find items that have a big question mark on them, which are items that need appraising (to reveal exactly what they are), and these are usually weapons or armour that have magical abilities and are therefore more powerful than their non-magical counterparts. Appraising found items is important but is expensive and can only be done back at camp. Since you only have limited carrying abilities that means you have to decide what to take with you to the end of the level, and what to leave behind.
Initial levels are easy as enemies don’t re-spawn, but subsequent missions are much more difficult as enemies constantly re-spawn. At least in most places. In some places you need to kill a bunch of enemies to reveal a hidden staircase to continue onward. At the end of each dungeon is a boss battle, which will test your resolve as a fighter. After beating the boss you then return to camp to heal and sell your plunder.
I really enjoyed Shining Soul. It’s a simple game to play, but is refined, with nice graphics and excellent controls. Critically, the game was not well-received at the time, but I think most of those critics got it wrong because they were jaded. As far as I’m concerned I think it’s a game still worth playing now. A sequel, called Shining Soul II, was released the following year, in 2003.
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