Easily one of the all-time great RPGs, Shining Force II on the Mega Drive took a great original and improved it tenfold. The decision to ditch the chapter system in favour of freely roaming the map granted the player much greater scope to explore and discover – I remember finding an academy of monks and thinking “I shouldn’t be here!” because it was a secret!
The battle system is always the core of a Shining game, and although SFII introduces fewer new features than the series’ third instalment it’s hard to complain when it’s so close to perfection. Each character has a clear role to play, and even if you don’t like them there are plenty of others waiting to take their place, from the seemingly useless lizard (whom I named Verol after the NiGHTS enemy!) to an endless array of centaurs, archers and birdmen. There’s also opportunity to access a limited number of extra promotions for your characters such as Pegasus Knight, meaning there’s always something to come back for. The battle scenarios themselves are imaginatively designed – keeping your Force out of the sightlines of the Prism Flowers, fighting the huge Kraken (an SF staple) and felling Taros with Bowie’s Achilles Sword all stand out almost ten years since I first played it.
The music also deserves special mention for providing a wide range of rousing, chilling and relaxing pieces as high quality as any other RPG. Working on a number of themes, yet each distinctive enough to stand out, the music excels at drawing you into Granseal. Princess Ellis, in particular, is one of the all-time great pieces of RPG music. It’s almost a shame Motoaki Takenouchi was replaced by the rather less subtle (in my eyes) Motoi Sakuraba for the third instalment, but to be honest he would have struggled to beat this stunning soundtrack.
Following the traditional RPG route of a young group of friends gaining strength to vanquish a great evil, Shining Force II does little new over the first one, but does it so brilliantly it doesn’t really matter. A truly great game and, with the exception of Shining Force III, better than any Shining game since.