Tag Archives: Hiroyuki Takahashi

Mario Tennis: Power Tour, Game Boy Advance

This 2005 tennis game is one of my favourite sports games of all time.

Mario Tennis: Power Tour was developed by Camelot for Nintendo and is known as Mario Power Tennis in Europe and Australia, but I’m sticking to the original title.

Continue reading Mario Tennis: Power Tour, Game Boy Advance

Shining The Holy Ark, Sega Saturn

A direct follow-up to the classic Megadrive game, Shining in the Darkness, and arguably the best level-grinder on the Sega Saturn, the awkwardly-titled Shining the Holy Ark is a superb first-person, party-based RPG with turn-based combat.

Developed by Sega‘s own Sonic! Software Planning team, Shining the Holy Ark was published in 1997 and is a mix of 3D and 2D graphics. The environments are made of simple 3D polygons, and all the characters are animated using 2D graphics (by the looks of it: possibly rendered on a high-end 3D workstation). Like most “Dungeon Master clones”, you explore tunnels patrolled by belligerent monsters and can step from tile to tile on the map using the joypad. Unlike Dungeon Master: you don’t really get to see the monsters in the distance before they attack you. Just like in Shining in the Darkness: when you step on certain tiles, scripted battles will take place – usually with the combatants sidling-in from the side of the screen, as if to surprise you. The direction the enemies arrive on-screen to fight you is crucial to the gameplay because you can use ‘pixies’ to counter your opponents before the battle starts – that is: if you get the direction right when you counter. Random battles also happen from time to time and the direction thing also applies. Combat is icon-driven, but very easy to understand. You can fight, run, and do all the usual stuff, and you choose your commands from a series of pulsating icons (which are very similar to those seen in a later game: Golden Sun, developed by Camelot Software Planning).

The story in Shining the Holy Ark isn’t anything to write home about. Like most games of this type: dialogue and situations are simple and a bit dumb, but that doesn’t really matter because the game is both extremely playable and very challenging. Like the original Shining in the Darkness, Shining the Lost Ark is tough. You can forget trying to complete any of the dungeons in one visit. The tactic that saves you is in using an Angel Wing, or a Return Spell, to warp back to town to heal-up. Then go back in. Thankfully there’s a very nice automap feature (brought up by pressing Start) when you’re actually in the dungeons, which helps make exploring fun and not confusing.

I hadn’t played Shining the Holy Ark until recently, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I’m a big fan of the original Shining in the Darkness, and this is a perfect continuation in many respects. Graphically, it’s a little dated (it’s those pre-rendered character graphics that date it), but gameplay-wise it has survived the rigours of time extremely well and is very much worth playing now; if you can find a copy. If you like JRPGs this is a must-play game.

More: Shining the Holy Ark on Wikipedia

Golden Sun: The Lost Age, Game Boy Advance

The second game in the Golden Sun series is pretty much identical to the first, which is fine because the first Golden Sun game was so good. Again: this sequel was developed by Camelot and published by Nintendo in 2002 (2003 in Europe).

In Golden Sun: The Lost Age you can import your characters and items from the first game if you like, via the Game Link Cable or a password system, or you can start afresh if you haven’t played the first game. Playing the first Golden Sun is not compulsory, but if you do complete both games you are apparently rewarded with special items.

Golden Sun: The Lost Age plays the same as most JRPGs: colourful towns and villages with shops that you can explore at will; a pseudo 3D map for exploring the “overworld”; and a long procession of dungeons and caves to crawl through. And, if you don’t enjoy a bit of turn-based dungeon-crawling, then maybe this game isn’t for you.

For those who love level-grinders, though, both Golden Sun games present an opportunity for weeks of absorbing adventuring and are well worth a play if you’ve never tried them before.

More: Golden Sun: The Lost Age on Wikipedia

Golden Sun, Game Boy Advance

Golden Sun is a brilliant and richly-detailed handheld Role-Playing Game developed by famous Japanese studio Camelot Software Planning.

It was first published by Nintendo for the Game Boy Advance in 2001 and has since gone on to become something of a legend among JRPGs fans.

Golden Sun is a party-based adventure with engrossing turn-based combat. It contains pretty much everything that you’d expect from a cutesy RPG, but with a few surprises, and a ton of refinement.

A similar (and slightly better) sequel – called Golden Sun: The Lost Age – followed on the GBA in 2002. Together they form a formidable duo.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Sun

Shining In The Darkness, Megadrive/Genesis

When I first played Shining In The Darkness – a 1991 party-based Role-Playing Game for the Sega Megadrive/Genesis, developed by Climax Entertainment and published by Sega – I was ready to dismiss it, because of the unattractive, ‘cartoony’ graphics, the clunky interface, and the generic script. But after some determined play – admittedly: in an emulator, and using quicksaves – it became apparent that this was no ‘throwaway’ level-grinder. It was in fact something quite special…

Role-Playing Games are one of my favourite types of video games. Many of my favourite games are RPGs. And Shining In The Darkness didn’t initially seem that special. For starters: it is a very difficult game to get a foothold in. If you delve too deeply, too quickly, you will get decimated and it’ll be game over. You have to take your time and build your characters up slowly – especially at the beginning. Which can make the game seem boring, because the beginning of the game isn’t that great. Only when you reach around levels 8 to 10 does Shining In The Darkness really start to open up. Only when you’ve fought umpteen battles already, raised enough cash for half decent equipment, and gathered a few more party members, do you feel as though you’re getting somewhere. And, from there, the ‘boring’ characters in the game start to do surprising things, like shopkeepers giving you quests, or offering one-off special equipment.

And, as you pass level 10, you’ll begin to learn new offensive spells that make combat easier. You’ll also start to get more of a feeling for exploration and survival. It takes time to unlock the good elements of this game.

In many ways Shining In The Darkness reminds me of Thalion‘s classic “flawed” RPG Amberstar. I say “flawed” because both games are archaic, seemingly dated, initially very annoying, and overly difficult to play. But once you get a foothold, they finally begin to become enjoyable. Anyone playing Shining In The Darkness might be tempted to give up too soon – very much like Amberstar. But I would say: persevere. Use quicksaves if you need to – there is no embarrassment in “cheating” to get a foothold in a game as tough as this. I probably wouldn’t play it on a real machine anyway, it would just be too frustrating and slow. If you die: reload your quicksave and try again. If you open a treasure chest and meet a Chestbeak (a tough kind of monster that acts as a kind of treasure chest trap), reload and bypass that chest. Don’t waste your HP fighting it.

Make no mistake: Shining In The Darkness is a game meant for a) hardcore RPG fans only, and b) people with time on their hands. It’s a pity, actually, that the game is as difficult as it is – especially early on. Usually, RPGs have a more gradual learning curve, and I think that this game could have benefited from one.

But – and this is a BIG but… Shining In The Darkness is undoubtedly a brilliant game. There is little like it on the Megadrive, and it deserves to be played and experienced. So it is well worth the perseverance.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shining_in_the_Darkness